Athlete of the Week: Brave Knipper rules mat at states

Socastee sophomore Justin Knipper had perhaps the toughest path to the Class 3A state individual championship he earned Saturday night in Anderson, but he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

After the dust settled from the state championships Saturday night, Knipper had defeated the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 wrestlers in Class 3A’s 106-pound class. That made him the undisputed and a well-deserving state champ.

“I had to wrestle all the placers so it was pretty tough,” said Knipper, who was voted the Mammy’s Kitchen Athlete of the Week even before he claimed the state title. “The first match I won 6-2 so it wasn’t that close, but the second and third matches were close and probably my two hardest matches of the season. But I felt like I was in control the whole weekend.”

After defeating the No. 1 seed from the Upper State, Ethan Pendleton of Union County, by a 4-3 decision in the semifinals, Knipper faced a rematch with Nathan Brazell of Gilbert, the No. 1 seed from the Lower State who beat Knipper just the weekend before in the Lower State tournament. Knipper won the rematch by a 3-1 decision.

“At the Lower State I dominated the whole match and he beat me in the end, so I really wanted to wrestle him again,” Knipper said. “He got injured with 14 seconds left and I had to choose up, down or neutral. I picked neutral because I knew I could stay on my feet for 14 seconds. I wasn’t going to let him take me down.”

Knipper, who also runs cross country for Socastee to stay in shape for wrestling season, successfully protected his lead to win the state title, but he may have been the last to know it or show it. With the crowd noise drowning out the final horn, Knipper was still playing keep-away when the match ended.

“At first I didn’t know the time was over, then I looked at clock and got all excited,” Knipper recalled. “The coaches were yelling and happy and then my teammates swarmed me too. It was a great feeling.”

Especially to win the state title as just a sophomore. Knipper began wrestling as a seventh-grader and, by spending his summers training with the local Tough Time Wrestling Club, quickly whipped himself into state-championship shape. He can now turn his attention to graduating with three state titles under his belt.

“That what I’m shooting for,” said Knipper, who finished the season with a 45-1 overall record and led the Braves to the Lower State finals. “But I want to help us win (a state championship) as a team too.”

The season was especially difficult for Knipper and the Braves after junior teammate Dylan Martin was diagnosed with leukemia last summer and was unable to participate this season. The 113-pound Martin was often Knipper’s training partner and a good friend, so winning it for him was particularly satisfying for Knipper.

And so was his victory celebration. After struggling to stay under the 106-pound mark all season, Knipper celebrated at an all-you-can-eat buffet Saturday night.

“I went to Golden Corral and ate everything I haven’t been able to for the past few months,” Knipper said.

A feast fit for a heavyweight, or at least a state champion.

Photo by Rancier Photography

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