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Hengstler-Ranweiler: Zach Kinny

Tribune file photo Zach Kinny is the 2013 Hengstler-Ranweiler Award winner.

Making the play.

That’s the primary motivation pulsing through Zach Kinny, whether the Litchfield senior is playing baseball, basketball or football.

“He’s the kind of player who loves to be in the clutch spot of the game and to perform,” said retired Dragons’ head football coach Jon Johnson, who started Kinny for three seasons at quarterback. “He loves the team aspect of sports and he always wants to make the play. Sometimes that led to a great play and sometimes it led him to take risks, but he always wanted the challenge. He was always pushing the envelope and he loves to compete.”

“I kind of like the pressure moment and trying to make plays,” Kinny said. “I like to take the blame if it doesn’t work because it’s my responsibility and, obviously, you like the reward of making the play. I think somebody’s got to do it so it might as well be me.”

Litchfield’s sporting public will notice a large hole in their universe now that Kinny has graduated and enrolled at Bemidji State and try to walk-on the Beavers basketball team.

The 6-foot-1, 170-pound Kinny started for three years in baseball and football and he was a four-year starter for John Carlson’s Dragon basketball team. Four times he earned all-conference honors and he leaves school with 10 letters.

Probably most memorable are the two seasons he helped lead the basketball team to two straight runner-up finishes in the Class AA state basketball tournament as a junior and senior. Kinny was named to the Class AA all-tournament team this winter and he made the game-winning shot as time expired against Perham in the 2012 state semifinals that sent the Dragons to the title game.

Litchfield had 26-6 records his final two seasons and the Dragons were a combined 25-5 in the Wright County Conference. They won the WCC East title once and the Section 6AA crown twice.

Kinny was the classic team player, as likely to have 10 assists as he was to score 20 points. This winter, he averaged 10.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game.

He finished his career with 1,088 points, 690 rebounds, 584 assists and 123 steals. In Carlson’s offense, he might direct the offense or he might seamlessly slip into another role, depending on the situation. Versatility and intelligence were as important to his success as athletic ability.

“Zach was one of the best competitors and leaders that I have ever coached,” said Carlson, whose Dragons teams have won three state titles. “His intelligence about the sport of basketball was amazing.”

Carlson’s colleagues echo those sentiments.

“He’s been our best pitcher for three years,” said Dragons head baseball coach Jeff Wollin, for whom Kinny appeared in seven games this spring.

Kinny won just two games but he got the win in Litchfield’s 2-1 win over Annandale in the opening round of the section playoffs. He finished with 55 strikeouts in 40 innings pitched and a 1.58 earned-run average.

 “He’s the rare type of three-sport competitor that every coach would love to have,” Wollin said. He’s very intelligent and relentless on the field, mound and court.”

Litchfield’s football teams didn’t produce the kind of success they would have liked in Kinny’s three years as a starter, with 12 victories and two playoff wins. But it wasn’t for a lack of effort or skill from the Dragons quarterback. Kinny completed 56 percent of his throws for 3,859 yards and 27 touchdowns in his career and he also ran for 324 yards and 18 touchdowns.

“When Zach was taking the snap from center,” Johnson said, “you felt pretty confident.”

That’s evident in that six times teams named Kinny a captain. Plus, he has a genuine love for sports and all that comes with it.

“I was raised around sports and I’m glad I was,” Kinny said. “It’s a humongous part of my life. A lot of my friends, I wouldn’t have met if I wasn’t involved in sports. I’ve built relationships with coaches, with the parents of teammates and it’s all built around sports. It’s taught me leadership and respect. I think sports are just as important as education because it teaches you so many things.”

Tom Larson

Tom Larson is the sports editor of the West Central Tribune.

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