Izzy Fox has been out of his appropriate weight class for all of the high school wrestling season so far. But the Evanston junior definitely hasn’t been out-classed.
Fox improved to 22-2 on the season and captured the championship of the 182-pound division Saturday at the Rus Erb Invitational tournament hosted by Glenbrook South High School, racking up four straight first-period pins in a dominant performance.
Surprisingly, Fox wasn’t voted the Outstanding Wrestler award at the tourney by the participating coaches — that honor went to Wheeling’s Manny Ramirez, the 113-pound champ — after earning Evanston’s only crown and leading the Wildkits to sixth place in the team standings in the 19-team field with 97 points.
The Kits, who finished 9th last year at the tourney, moved up behind champion Fox plus the medal-winning performances of Rafael Salinas, 2nd at 138; Chris Rivera, 3rd at 113; Danny White, 4th at 160; and Ramin Abraham, 6th at 220.
Fox pinned Sycamore’s Matthew Hunter in 1 minute, 30 seconds in the title bout, and none of his tournament foes managed to survive the first period. He stuck Glenbrook North’s Cam Casey in 50 seconds to open his bid on Friday, then nailed Zac Finn of Wauconda in 1:59 and Ryan Alsip of Grant in 1:20.
The competition melted away in front of Fox much like the weight he’s managed to shed since the start of the season. All of his matches to date have been at 182 or 195 pounds, and that’s a stretch for someone who won an Illinois High School Association regional championship last year at 160.
Both Fox and ETHS head coach Rudy Salinas believe they’re on the same page, and that means the junior standout — who has climbed to 7th on the all-time school list for wins in a career — will likely drop down to 170 for postseason qualifying.
“I think it bothered him quite a bit to come into the season as heavy as he was, because it’s the heaviest he’s ever been,” Salinas said without citing a specific number for Fox’s weight. “But the weight’s been melting off him and he’s been doing it the right way (no crash diets). Now he’s in a situation where he has some options about which weight to compete at, and we’ll sit down and take a look at what’s best for him as an individual for the state tournament.
“Wrestling is a team sport, but I’d like to get an individual state champ here. We’ll see if Izzy’s a different wrestler at 170 pounds, maybe a little bit quicker. He’s had some matches this year where he’s been giving up 15 or 20 pounds (to the opposition) because he’s been unselfish as far as whatever the team needs. He’s been a big role player for us.
“I think his vision is better this year, he’s more in control when he’s on top, and he has improved in the neutral position, too. He continues to evolve and to excel. He was outstanding today, and you can’t ask for more than four pins in the first period.”
Fox weighed in Saturday at 172.8 pounds and is primed for a big second half of the season.
“I was really heavy and it was a combination of being irresponsible and not check my weight for long periods of time in the fall, and the fact that I like to eat,” the junior acknowledged. “I took more time focusing on judo this fall and my weight just got away from me.
“The weight is coming off now, and now that I’m this low I’m thinking why not 170, although 182 is still an option. But at 182 you come up against a lot of guys who are pretty big and I haven’t wrestled a single guy I was stronger than this year. I beat them with finesse and with my technique. It’s a lot harder to break out of tieups at 182 and 195, and it just felt different. My style doesn’t really work as well at the upper weights.”
Fox’s size isn’t the only thing that’s different for the rangy junior this season. Thanks to a stint competing for Team Illinois at the Greco-Roman Nationals this past summer, he’s learned to rely less on his judo-influenced style, one that’s unorthodox enough to puzzle even the most experienced foe.
“The coaches for Team Illinois really taught me so much about using my lower body,” he pointed out. “This year I have an offense that also has a lower body attack. I feel like I’m a lot more well-rounded wrestler than last year. Now it’s not just a hope anymore — I EXPECT to qualify for State.”
If settling for a runnerup finish at the Rus Erb invite last year wasn’t enough motivation, Fox had even more to get his juices flowing after losing in a dual match against Maine South last week.
“I took that loss hard, and I made sure I worked really hard in the (practice) room this week,” Fox said. “I didn’t even look at the (tournament) bracket before we got here, and my teammates all call me Google because I’m usually always looking at matchups and rankings. Coach Salinas is always preaching about just beating the guy who’s in front of you and not worrying about anything else. That’s what I did this weekend.”
Evanston finished the two-day test with 97 points and trailed only Wheeling (222.5), Oswego (198), Libertyville (188.5), Batavia (141) and Lincoln-Way Central (130) in the final standings.
Sophomore Rafael Salinas, the coach’s son, reached the finals at 138 but lost via technical fall (16-1) to Oswego’s Gannon Hughes. Salinas improved to 22-3 on the season after finishing 6th at the same tournament a year ago.
At 113, Rivera bounced back from a first round 4-1 loss to Brandon Murphy of Libertyville with a fall and four straight decisions, including a 3-2 trimming of Murphy in a rematch for 3rd place. Rivera, now 22-5, is tied with Angel Sierra with 104 career victories, fifth on the ETHS list.
White’s perfect season came to a halt at 160 when he was whipped 10-2 in the semifinals by eventual champion Jaylen Shaw of Wheeling, and in the third place match he was caught and pinned by Dan Majewski of Oswego after building an early 5-1 advantage.
Abraham, a sophomore, scored two falls in the back draw but couldn’t continue due to a neck injury and had to forfeit his last two matches.
“There were a lot of positives for us to take away from this tournament, especially considering that we only brought 10 guys,” pointed out the ETHS coach. “I thought this was a good showing at a good tournament.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.