Justin Knipper had his work cut out for him.
In pursuit of his second career state individual title, the Socastee senior had two-time state champ Zack Clary of Gaffney – who had posted a 141-0 record since eighth grade – awaiting him in the Class AAAA 120-pound weight class finals Saturday in Anderson.
Knipper had won a state championship as a sophomore at 106 pounds in AAA before coming up short a year ago. So when he beat scmat.com’s top-ranked wrestler via a 4-3 decision Saturday, the feeling was surreal.
“Once he knew he won, he was elated, very excited,” Socastee coach Jeff Gibbins said. “It’s very tough to win a state championship and it’s even tougher to do it twice. And for you to win your second one against someone who already had two of their own is even more impressive. A lot of time and effort went into his training.”
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After gaining the lead, Knipper needed all he had to hold on down the stretch.
“At one point Zack got to his feet and Justin dropped down to a low ankle single leg and basically held on for dear life as time expired,” Gibbins said.
Gibbins said several of Knipper’s teammates helped him train heading into the the individual finals. He wound up earning Most Oustanding Wrestler honors for AAAA.
“He’s not the only one who has a piece of that gold medal,” Gibbins said. “Even though it’s an individual sport, it’s a team effort.”
Gibbins said mental preparation was the biggest hurdle for Knipper this year since AAAA sports a much deeper field than that of AAA.
“AAAA is much harder because it’s more of a grind,” he said. “You don’t really get to settle in [during Friday’s first few rounds]. There are tough matches right out of the gates.”
He made it all the way through and once again is a champion.
“The toughest thing for Justin to overcome was all of the doubters as far as whether he could do it,” Gibbins said of taking on Clary.
Socastee’s Zach Mor placed fourth at 182 pounds.
St. James’ Michael Mewhorter (145), North Myrtle Beach’s Raesean Diggs (220) and Georgetown’s Jalil Smith (285) finished as runners-up.
The Sharks’ Chase Smith (113) and Logan Richards (195) each placed fourth.