The runaway train that is the Kingsway High School Wrestling program just keeps on chugging along.
The conductor of this machine, Coach Mike Barikian, quite simply knows how to build a sustained championship program. When he came on the scene four years ago, he promised to put this program in a position to vie for state championships every year, and he has delivered on that promise.
In his first year, Barikian’s squad defeated Hammonton to win the South Jersey Group 4 title. The following year in Group 5, they lost to Southern Regional in the Sectional final. In his third year, they beat Clearview for the Tri-County Conference and South Jersey titles before defeating state powerhouse Phillipsburg to win the state championship.
This year, the Dragon wrestling team remained in Group 4. However, this group was stacked with Phillipsburg remaining in the group as well as top-ranked state teams such as North Hunterdon, Brick Memorial, Mount Olive, Brick Township, and Jackson.
Never shying away from the best of the best in New Jersey, Barikian challenged his Dragons with arguably the toughest schedule in New Jersey. They wrestled 10 of the top 19 teams in New Jersey and beat six of them. Amazingly, they went through much of this stretch without stalwarts Josh Palmucci, Finnegan McFadden, and Cheyney Kinner.
The lessons learned during this time helped sharpen his team.
After regular season loses to North Hunterdon (the 3rd ranked team in NJ), St. Augustine Prep (the 8th ranked team in NJ), Bergen Catholic (the 12th ranked team in the US), and Camden Catholic (the 4th ranked team in NJ), his team went on a tear. In the South Jersey Group 4 tournament, they beat Cherry Hill West 76-0 and Clearview 44-15. In the South Jersey finals, they took down Moorestown 46-19 to win the championship.
They then moved on to the state tournament where they defeated Brick Memorial 37-35, the 17th ranked team in NJ, in the state semifinals. Unfortunately, they lost to undefeated North Hunterdon 34-22 in the state championship finals- one win away from defending their state title. They ended the season ranked 6th in all of New Jersey.
“We had some nice accomplishments this year,” said Barikian. “We finished as the #2 or #3 public school team in NJ (depending on which ranking you look at). We were the #2 team in South Jersey. We won another sectional title and returned to the state finals.”
“We entered the year with a goal of winning another state title and being the #1 public school team in NJ,” continued Barikian. “So, unfortunately, it felt very disappointing when we concluded the dual meet portion of our season with a loss to North Hunterdon”.
Subsequently, after winning the South Jersey championship, Kingsway also went on to win the District 32 team title and then have individual success at the region and state levels. They had eight district champs, two region champs, and three state place winners. These accomplishments all either set or tied school records.
More important than the accomplishments, they saw significant growth and development in a majority of our kids. With a large group of underclassmen and a strong youth program providing more prospects, there is no end in sight to this program’s success.
“We have seven state qualifiers back next season and we’re adding a large group of talented freshmen,” said Barikian. “We’re excited about the future of the program.”
Truly a runaway train.
By Christian Lynch