It took longer than you might think it would for Collin Olla-Chatman to get in shape for wrestling following the football season, especially since the Evanston senior has played both sports for all four years in high school.
But the ETHS heavyweight made it worth the wait Thursday night at Willie May Fieldhouse.
Olla-Chatman’s season debut capped a string of three straight late Wildkit pins that rallied the Wildkits to a 37-30 triumph over Maine South and pushed Evanston into the driver’s seat in the Central Suburban League South division race.
The Wildkits trailed the defending champion Hawks for almost the entire dual meet before Walker Witt at 195 pounds, Ramin Abraham at 220 and Olla-Chatman at 285 clinched the come-from-behind victory via falls.
Olla-Chatman nailed South’s Teddy Hickey with 52 seconds left in the first period to seal the win, even though the hosts dropped the last match of the night at 106. Evanston improved to 18-3 overall on the season and is in prime position to win the division crown with only Niles North (January 4th) and nemesis New Trier (January 11th) left on the conference schedule.
“I just had to put the football season behind me,” said Olla-Chatman, who started at nose tackle for a Wildkit team that posted the best regular-season won-loss record in school history since 1998 before losing to Edwardsville in the state playoff opener. “I had to get more motivated and get back on the mat, but first I had to get back in wrestling shape.
“I was kinda nervous tonight, because it had been awhile (since he competed) but I was ready, too. I just used a leg trip to put me in the right position to pin him, and I did it.”
“I knew that a lot of the football players had a process they had to go through (in between seasons),” said ETHS head coach Rudy Salinas, whose sons Rafael and Ricardo play both sports and who also contributed wins via decisions Thursday night. “They had a tough loss after such a magical season.
“Collin was in football shape, but he had to get back into wrestling shape. He let me know he was going to need some time to get his bearings (in between seasons). I think he got inspired when he saw that he was ranked (honorable mention from the website Illinoismatmen.com) even though he hadn’t wrestled a single match yet.
“This win should put us in control of the conference now. This is a great moment, but we still have some unfinished business with New Trier. I know they’ll bring their best for that last dual meet, and so will we.”
Salinas applied some coaching strategy to help put the Wildkits over the top against the Hawks. He waited until he was certain that South star Jon Halvorsen was the grappler of record at 182 pounds, then forfeited that weight and moved the listed starter — Witt — up to 195 pounds.
Witt responded with a fall against Pat Hamilton in 3 minutes, 49 seconds at 195, and Abraham, ranked No. 1 in the state in his weight class, maintained his unbeaten season record by pinning Sean Kelly in a physical matchup with 44 seconds remaining in the bout.
Evanston’s other winners included Rafael Salinas, 3-1 over Clay Cichowski at 170; Ricardo Salinas, 15-7 over Ryan Pena at 160; Dylan Kull, 3-2 over Josh Bess at 132; Graham Umbahowar, 3-1 over Aidan Hansen at 126; and Jacob Vice with a second period fall against Jensen Genyk.
“Walker was ready for the challenge of facing Halvorsen, in fact, he embraced it,” said the Evanston coach. “But he also trusted me and I liked the other matchup for him (at 195) better. I thought he could get a pin for us there and he’ll probably get another chance to wrestle Halvorsen at the conference tournament.
“Maine South had 3 falls early against us and they didn’t give us any bonus points, so we knew we needed to come up big at the end.”