ATLANTIC CITY – After Wall’s Rob Kanniard lost in the state final as a junior, the flame fueling his quest for a state championship only burned hotter. On Saturday night inside Boardwalk Hall, the Wall High School senior completed a dominating run to finish his career at the very top.

Kanniard put on an offensive show for the crowd in Atlantic City, taking down DePaul’s Connor O’Neil four times en route to a 9-4 decision that secured the 2019 NJSIAA 160-pound state championship. Kanniard scored a pair of takedowns in the first period and was on his way to finishing off an undefeated season and becoming Wall’s first state champion in 17 years.

“It’s the greatest feeling in the world,” Kanniard said. “I’ve been working for this ever since sixth grade. I’ve been working for this moment for so long and all the hard work has paid off. It feels even better than I imagined.”

Last season, Kanniard entered the state final with an undefeated record before falling to Bergen Catholic’s Shane Griffith, a three-time state champion. From that moment, Kanniard narrowed his focus even more. Every drill, every roll, every conditioning session was geared toward one moment: getting back to the center mat at Boardwalk Hall and getting his hand raised.

“I would say it’s been more fuel than anything,” Kanniard said. “It’s a dream that I’ve had and I’ve always wanted to work toward that dream. Every time I lose, I learn from it so I take it as a lesson more than a loss.”

Kanniard entered the state tournament with a 41-0 record and all of his wins coming by at least major decision. While that streak was broken by decision wins in the quarterfinals (11-4) and the state final, those results didn’t make his season any less dominant. Kanniard’s 46-0 record is a Shore Conference single-season record and he went the entire season without surrendering an offensive point. He finished his career with a Shore Conference-record 165 wins to just 10 losses. Six of those defeats came as a freshman. Three more as a sophomore. He was 91-1 over the past two years, virtually unstoppable.

“We talked about if you combined a Nick Angen (two-time state champion at Brick Memorial) and Todd Palmisano (state champion at Brick Memorial) into one you get Robby Kanniard,” said Wall head coach Brian Fischer, who wrestled in high school at Brick Memorial. “He’s super athletic, that fast-twitch muscle, that unorthodox style and the dominance he has. And he has such confidence and that is a major game-changer when you’re out there.”

“He’s one of the best wrestlers I’ve ever seen and obviously ever coached.

Against O’Neil, who is a fellow Rutgers recruit, Kanniard attacked him in a variety of ways. He hit a slick high crotch in the second period that generated oohs and ahs from the crowd. He hit a double-leg takedown to take a 4-1 lead later in the period. In the second he got behind O’Neil and returned him to the mat for a 6-2 lead, and in the third, he hit a nasty duck-under to make it 9-3.

“It’s all about making mid-match adjustments,” Kanniard said. “I just had to keep him guessing and not knowing what I’m going to shoot next.”

Kanniard is not one to show a ton of emotion. He did, of course, after he beat O’Neil to win the state title, but through the season and especially this weekend he was even-keeled.

“His mental mindset is perfect for this sport,” Fischer said. “Everything was all about business. He treats every match like it’s the state final so when he actually gets to the state final it’s just like every other match.”

Kanniard’s skills have been cultivated and honed inside the Wall wrestling room and at Triumph Wrestling Club, which is operated by former Wall standout Nick Roy. Roy won back-to-back state titles in 2001 and 2002 and was the last Wall wrestler to win a state championship before Kanniard did on Saturday night.

“Nick has been coaching me ever since I first started wrestling so having my name under his (on the wrestling wall) and being able to keep up with his records means a lot,” Kanniard said.

“I’ll put that name right up there with Nick Roy,” Fischer said. “Robby’s training is what puts him there (as a state champion). We’re very fortunate on our staff to have two former Division 1 wrestlers (Drew Reca and Ramon Santiago, both Rider University graduates) who wrestle him every day. We also have (sophomore 182-pounder) Jake Whitworth as his partner all the time so he’s constantly being pushed and he’s really reaped the rewards form that.”

No matter how talented a wrestler and regardless of the notion that it may be ‘their time’, the story-book ending doesn’t always materialize. Dreams have been crushed more than they have come true inside the old seaside arena. But that thought never cross Kanniard’s mind. This was going to be his moment because he was going to make it so.

“I’ve been dreaming of this day for so long,” Kanniard said. “It finally came true.”


Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.


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