Given a choice, Ramin Abraham’s idea of making history for Evanston athletics would be to lead the Wildkits to an Illinois High School Association state soccer championship as the team’s starting goalkeeper.
But Abraham has made his mark in another sport already.
With a fifth place finish in the Class 3A 220-pound weight class on Saturday, Abraham became only the third ETHS wrestler to earn a state medal since 1989 with his performance in the grueling 3-day test at the University of Illinois in Champaign.
Abraham won 4 of 6 matches and climaxed a 26-3 season with a 3-2 victory over Quintin Terry of Glenbard North in the 5th place match Saturday afternoon. He is the first Wildkit grappler to score a state medal since Jeffrey Brown won the heavyweight championship back in 2010.
“We all know what a soccer fanatic Ramin is, and he’s probably thinking about soccer already,” said Evanston head coach Rudy Salinas 24 hours after the junior standout’s signature moment on the Class 3A podium. “It’s very gratifying and rewarding when you think about how he never wrestled before came to high school. He knows he’s still got a lot to learn about wrestling, but the fact that he’s learning on the run and the amount of time and hard work he’s put into the sport is really admirable.
“He really did something special this weekend. A lot of wrestlers who go to State swing for the fences and go down that way, doing things they’re not used to doing. Ramin saw things through even after his losses and our coaching staff did a good job of keeping him level-headed and focused just on what he was capable of doing. He wrestled within himself.”
Abraham was one of three state qualifiers to represent the Wildkits in Champaign. Senior Van Rutter, competing at 195 pounds, mustered one win in three tries and heavyweight Kevin Washington, another senior, lost his first-round match and didn’t get another opportunity in the consolation bracket.
After suffering a second-round fall at the hands of the eventual state champion, unbeaten Matt Hennessey of Plainfield North, in the first period on Friday, Abraham bounced back to win 4 of his next 5 bouts. In the wrestleback rounds, he defeated Jim Flavin of Downers Grove North 7-4; edged Jimmie Olds of Lincoln-Way West 4-3; lost a 6-3 decision to Cadin Koeppel of Cary-Grove; and then tripped Terry with a takedown in the final 11 seconds to earn a coveted spot on the podium when the awards were handed out on Saturday night.
“I really wanted to win that last match, because I wanted to be up on the podium, not on the side where the 6th place finisher stands. If you’re not on that podium, it doesn’t really count,” said Abraham. “But in my opinion, I felt like I could have done better. I should at least have been wrestling for 3rd place. In the consolation semifinal (against Koeppel) I stopped wrestling with a couple of seconds left in the second period — I was watching the clock count down — and that’s when he took me down. That was the turning point of that match. It was all my fault.
“It’s a big accomplishment for me and I feel good about having made it to the podium. I learned last year (as a state qualifier as a sophomore) that there are a lot of tough guys down here who come at you and won’t give up. This year I tried to be one of those guys.”
Abraham’s athleticism helped him overcome his inexperience. His background was solely as a soccer player when his family fled war-torn Syria and came to Evanston, and he was recruited to the wrestling program by former girls head soccer coach Marx Succes.
Abraham caught on quickly, winning 23 of 24 matches against freshmen competition. He claimed a starting job for the varsity as a sophomore and won conference and regional titles on his way to an overall won-loss record of 36-4.
This season, Abraham had to battle through a broken finger this year that limited his actual number of matches, but repeated his Central Suburban League and regional titles. He came on strong at the finish as one of only 4 juniors in a senior-dominated weight class in Champaign.
His win over Terry in the finale was a little too close for comfort for his head coach, even with the happy ending.
“He had a mental lapse against the kid from Cary-Grove, and we all saw it,” said Salinas. “That dictated how the other guy wrestled (defensively) in the third period of that match. It was a winnable match for Ramin.
“The 5th place match was a strategic match and I think Ramin was a little more aware for that match. He had wrestled that individual at the sectional last year and he knew he could take him down. I just wish he hadn’t waited until the last 10 seconds to do it.
“After winning that match, you could see a different swagger, a different posture from Ramin, and now I think he’s capable of anything. I think this was like a rite of passage for him. He’s always had the potential to do this, and I think he went into this tournament with something to prove.”
Evanston’s wrestling program has featured multi-sport athletes since Salinas took over the program and he doesn’t mind the fact that wrestling may never truly be Abraham’s first love.
“He’s definitely going to get more attention now in wrestling — and he won’t mind it,” kidded the head coach. “I know soccer is in his heart, but for Ramin this is about the total high school experience. He cares about his relationship with his teammates in wrestling and the opportunity to be a great person and a great teammate.
“Now he can be a 3-time conference champion and a 3-time state qualifier if he puts in the work. He only whispers about that now, but he really wants to make it happen.”
Washington, who filled in admirably as a late-season addition to the starting lineup at 285 pounds, was pinned by Nick Skentzos of Lincoln-Way West in 3 minutes, 41 seconds and didn’t get another bout because Skentzos lost in the next round.
Rutter finished his senior season with a 45-11 record and vaulted into the top 10 for career victories in the program. At Champaign, he suffered a first-round, first-period pin to Montini’s Peter Christiansen, rebounded to pin Ben Stemmet of Yorkville in 2:44, and then was eliminated with a 5-4 loss to Demarco Lee of Lake Park.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.