Evanston’s cycle of success as a team on the wrestling mat includes four straight seasons with 30 or more dual meet victories, the best stretch in school history, over the past four years.
But the Wildkits haven’t been able to match that success when it comes to postseason performance, and that’s the next step for an experienced squad that returns 9 sectional qualifiers — and one state qualifier — from last year’s 33-4 squad.
All those wins still left head coach Rudy Salinas and some of his top individuals with less satisfaction than a trip to the Illinois High School Association state finals in Champaign would have brought, and Salinas and his squad are determined to break through in a sport where it’s extremely difficult to even qualify for State.
“I don’t want to break that cycle (of wins),” said Salinas prior to Tuesday’s season-opening quad meet at ETHS against Lane Tech, Hope Academy and Ida Crown Academy. “I want to keep it going. We do pride ourselves on being a good dual meet team every year. But we’re very unsatisfied with the way the season ends. We should have more state qualifiers — and some medalists, too.
“I’d rather lose every single conference match and still win the regional tournament. That would be a phenomenal season. We did have the one state qualifier (Ramin Abraham at 220 pounds) last year, but we were in the mix for more. It really sucked that Izzy Fox didn’t make it and Chris Rivera, one of the winningest wrestlers we’ve had, was too injured to make it. It was a great year for our conference (9 Central Suburban League schools qualified individuals for State), but it could have been even better for us.”
Abraham and Fox are back for another try, at 220 and 182 pounds, respectively. Fox posted a 41-7 record despite falling short of a Champaign trip as a junior, and he’s exactly 41 wins away from the school record of 157 earned by former teammate David Rivera-Kohr, a 2016 graduate.
Abraham is coming of a sensational season as a sophomore. He captured Central Suburban League and regional championships on his way to an overall record of 35-4 despite the fact that his background was mostly as a soccer goalie before he came into the ETHS program.
He’s the only returnee who will likely remain in the same weight class for the 2017-18 campaign, according to Salinas.
“On paper, we should be a good team,” said the veteran coach. “I think 30 wins should be attainable for us again this year, although everyone will move up a weight class and we have six new guys for whom this season will be a coming out party.”
Familiar faces returning to the starting lineup include senior Jack McCleish at 120 pounds, junior Dylan Kull at 132, junior Rafael Salinas (the coach’s son) at 160, senior Adrian Bytyqi at 170, senior Van Rutter at 195, and junior Collin Olla-Chatman at heavyweight. Junior Walker Witt will challenge for a spot at 170 along with returning sectional qualifier Ulysses Alva Canchola, another junior.
Newcomers who figure to crack the starting lineup for this weekend’s dual meet tournament at Vernon Hills are freshman Jacob Vice at 113, sophomore Luke Meyer at 106, junior Antonio Yorke at 126, sophomore Anjual Joyner at 138, junior Noah Demuth at 145 and freshman Ricardo Salinas at 152.
“The new guys, including the freshmen, need to learn how to compete,” Salinas pointed out. “It just comes down to embracing the grind and learning how to compete if you want to be successful. We’re looking for athletes who can compete and motivate themselves. Champions are made when no one else is watching. You have to do things the right way.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.