When Evanston decided to take over the role as host for a holiday wrestling tournament involving many of the schools in the Chicago Public League, it was a case of head coach Rudy Salinas honoring his roots.

The ETHS head coach is a 1987 graduate of Lane Tech who coached there for seven years before taking over at Evanston, and he wanted to give back to those CPS wrestling programs during the holiday season.

Of course, the 10 CPS schools who participated in Tuesday’s Evanston Holiday Tournament didn’t really get any favors from the Wildkits once the competition started — more like a lump of coal in their stockings. Evanston crowned champions in eight different weight classes and captured the team title in dominating fashion for the third straight year.

The Wildkits sent 12 wrestlers to the finals and piled up 338 points to 215 for runnerup Taft in the 16-team field that also included Bowen (207.5), Comer (104), Kelly (103), Ida Crown Academy (87), North Chicago (76), Solorio (64), Uplift (52), Hubbard (48), Austin (22), Luther North (14), Kelvyn Park (9) along with Northside College Prep and Guerin Prep.

Earning titles for the hosts were Chris Rivera at 113 pounds, Dylan Kull at 120, David Rivera-Kohr at 126, Kameron Kull at 138, Izzy Fox at 160, Jaalen Banner at 182, Brandon Bias at 220 and heavyweight Lamont Davenport.

For Salinas, the holiday gathering is about much more than racking up pins and victories and a team trophy. Evanston took on the task of serving as the host school for what used to be an invite hosted by Uplift after that tourney almost died for financial reasons.

Evanston picked up the slack by deciding to abandon its usual trip to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater the last week of December and opening up its fieldhouse to the Chicago visitors (and others) back in 2013.

As the song says, there’s really no place like home for the holidays.

“For one thing, it brings me a lot of joy just to reconnect with my coaching colleagues, because some of them were coaching back when I was competing,” Salinas said. “When I was coaching at Lane I had trouble finding competition outside of the city, and now I find myself with the ability to extend that good karma and host them. I want to extend an opportunity for some kids who were just like me growing up, a chance to compete someplace during the winter break.

“We did pretty well at Whitewater but then there was a wave of years where we had a lot of kids who were away on vacation over break, and it was tough for some of our coaches to make a 3-day commitment to go there. We had trouble fielding a full team, so we started looking for something closer to home. And today was our best showing so far because our JV team (Evanston Blue, 4th with 107 points) did so well, too. We got a lot of good competition out of this tournament. We maximized the benefits and we were able to stay active over winter break.”

Banner recorded a tournament record four falls on his way to the title at 182 pounds, stopping Chumyia Powell of Austin in 5 minutes, 23 seconds in the championship bout. He actually trailed Powell 4-3 after two periods before rallying to take an 8-4 lead and finishing things off with a fall.

Rivera-Kohr shook off the competitive rust after battling weight problems that sidelined him for the past two weeks to earn the title at 126 and preserved his unbeaten record on the season with three straight decisions. He came from behind to top Bowen’s Carlton Brown, a returning state qualifier, by an 8-5 margin in the semifinals before defeating Taft’s Angelo Berardi 9-1 in the finale.

At 285, Davenport’s starting to show an edge in his approach to the sport that wasn’t obvious in previous years. After pinning both Zeshan Hussain of Solorio and Langston Mitchell of Comer to advance to the finals, he saved his best for last and pinned Uplift’s Jervonte Daniels in a quick 58 seconds to reign at heavyweight.

“I don’t like to be mean out there, but I’ve figured out that I have to be more aggressive if I want to be a state champion,” Davenport declared. “Last year I had a good year, but I wasn’t as aggressive as I should have been. I’m trying to fix that. Nice guys definitely finish last in wrestling.

“This year I’ve found more of a balance and I intend to use it to the fullest extent. I’m listening to the coaches more. I’m as strong as everyone I wrestle but the major change for me has been my focus on cardio and technique. I found out last year when I wrestled a guy who was fourth in the State that I was just as strong, but he was so much quick and had so much more endurance than I did.”

“Lamont doesn’t have a mean spirit, but he’s finding ways now to assert himself without compromising his personality,” Salinas pointed out. “He’s also cleaned up some of his hand fighting and he’s also become a lot more decisive on the mat. He’s not guessing as much and he’s taking what the other kids are giving him. He works hard and there’s nothing glamorous about him, he just gets the job done.”

In other title matches, Rivera pinned Brenden Gallo of Taft in 1:36 at 113; freshman Dylan Kull pinned Chris Romero of Hubbard in 2:30 at 120; freshman Kameron Kull pinned teammate Hugo Flores of Evanston Blue in 4:35 at 138; Izzy Fox outscored Elijah Allison of Comer 11-7 at 160; and Brandon Bias edged teammate Anthoney Morris of Evanston Blue 1-0 at 220.

Earning 2nd place finishes for the Wildkits were Rafael Salinas at 132, Danny White at 152, and Kevin Washington at 195.

Source: ETHS Sports Information

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