Watching Ramin Abraham become just the third Evanston wrestler to earn a state medal since 1989 last winter, ETHS head coach Rudy Salinas saw a maturity he hadn’t seen before from Abraham in that final weekend in Champaign.
And Abraham came into preseason camp this year as a different guy, according to his coach, as he attempts to improve on that 5th place finish at 220 pounds.
Abraham has become a leader in the Wildkit lockerroom, quite a transformation for someone whose favorite sport has always been soccer and never wrestled prior to his freshman year of high school.
He’s coming off a 26-3 season and is on the short list now of contenders for a state championship in the 220 weight class, especially now with more postseason experience in the bank. Abraham is one of five all-conference grapplers returning for the Wildkits, who open their 2018-19 campaign at home on Tuesday with a quadrangular meet against Lane Tech, Hope Academy and Ida Crown.
After that, ETHS will attempt to defend the tourney title they won a year ago on Friday and Saturday at the Vernon Hills Invitational, a dual meet tournament.
“Ramin’s shown me a different side since practice started,” said Salinas, who has guided the program to five straight 30-win seasons, the best stretch in ETHS history. “He’s become a vocal leader for us. He’s usually the first one to blurt out an answer when I ask a question. And he’s holding the other guys accountable.
“I think he knows that he’s capable of being a state champion this year. The biggest challenge for him is now he’s walking around with a bulls-eye on him. As a state placer, he’s a marked man and everyone will give him their best shot. They’re all going to be measuring themselves by how they do against him.
“Ramin’s strength is his assertiveness and his confidence. He’s so mentally strong.”
Abraham actually missed about a month of his junior season with a broken finger before coming on strong and winning 4 of 6 matches in Champaign. He’s a two-time conference champion and will form the core of what should be another formidable lineup for ETHS along with senior Rafael Salinas (170 or 182 pounds), senior Dylan Kull (132), and sophomore Ricardo Salinas (160).
All of those grapplers earned all-conference recognition, along with Anjual Joyner, a junior who will likely back up Ricardo Salinas now that Joyner has filled out to 160 pounds after competing at 138 as a sophomore.
Kull and Rafael Salinas are currently tied on the career victories list at Evanston with 111 wins apiece — good for 7th place on a list topped by David Rivera-Kohr with 157 — but are still seeking trips to State to add to their resumes.
Salinas and his younger brother Ricardo hope to make this a special season for their father in their last year together. The siblings posted identical 41-8 won-loss records a year ago.
“I’m very blessed to have two such good, hard-working kids,” said Coach Salinas. “Even when I’m sitting in the coach’s chair, I’m watching them through Dad’s eyes. I love to watch them compete and I’m lucky to have a front row seat to watch them both.”
The rest of Evanston’s lineup for Tuesday’s debut will feature several young wrestlers from the record turnout of 120 for the program overall.
The Wildkit lineup could feature sophomore Nathan Mann at 106, junior Luke Meyer at 113, junior Jacob Vice at 120, junior Graham Umbanhowar at 126, sophomore Nathan Strauss at 138, Nico Wertheimer at 145, junior Max Morton at 152, senior Walker Witt at 182, sophomore Josh Hartwell at 195, and sophomore TyJuan Harris at 285.
Help in the middle weights could also come from senior Kameron Kull, Dylan’s twin brother, who hasn’t competed since his freshman year due to a succession of injuries but is healthy now coming off knee surgery.
“We’ve got 5 all-conference guys back and we’re looking to build around them,” Salinas said. “If we add 2 or 3 other guys to make all conference, it could be a really great year for us. We had 5 freshman starters three years ago and those guys have stayed the course and matured. This should be their year.”