Ramin Abraham couldn’t quite pull off the high school wrestling trifecta — a Central Suburban League, regional and sectional championship all in the same season — Saturday at the Class 3A Conant Sectional tournament.
But Ramin’s ride will continue next week.
The Evanston sophomore continued to thrive in the spotlight of postseason pressure and was the only Wildkit grappler to advance to the Illinois High School Association individual state finals next weekend in Champaign. He earned a runnerup finish at 220 pounds and will take a sterling 35-3 won-loss record to Champaign.
But none of Abraham’s teammates will make the trip with him, at least not as competitors. Three ETHS wrestlers — Chris Rivera at 113 pounds, Adrian Bytyqi at 182 and Izzy Fox at 170 — all fell one win short of advancement. Only the top four finishers in each weight class advance to State.
Abraham’s stunning rise to the top of a sport he hated practicing when he first tried it as a freshman just last year continued over the weekend, when he defeated Ryan Jaffray of Leyden (10-4) and Quintin Terry of Glenbard North (6-4) before suffering a technical fall to Prospect’s unbeaten (and No. 2 ranked state-wide) Matt Wroblewski in the finals.
Wroblewski only needed a few seconds into the second period to amass the 16 points necessary to end the match early, but even that one-sided defeat couldn’t take away from Abraham’s accomplishment in only his second year on the mat.
“Yes, I was nervous in the semifinals, but I wasn’t really nervous in the finals because I wanted to wrestle him (Wroblewski) for the experience,” Abraham said. “He’s the best I’ve faced so far — I haven’t gotten tilted (taken down) like that before — but it was still a good experience for me.
“I can’t believe I’m going to State. It’s my first year on the varsity and only the second year I’ve wrestled, and going to State is so tough to do. I’m really excited. And if I could place next week, that would really be amazing!”
“What a great ride he’s on. I’m so proud of Ramin,” said ETHS head coach Rudy Salinas. “I think all of our underclassmen (Rivera was the only senior among 10 sectional qualifiers from Evanston) learned some lessons this weekend, and now they’ll be able to set some new goals for next year.”
Injuries and illness helped deny the Wildkits more potential qualifiers. 160-pound sophomore Danny White, who placed third at the Notre Dame Regional, couldn’t compete at all and had to drop out due to a neck/shoulder injury.
Fox missed most of the school week with the flu, then sprained his foot while warming up Saturday morning and wasn’t at full strength. And the unfortunate Rivera — one of the winningest wrestlers in program history and a state qualifier last season — had to wear a bulky brace on his right arm after suffering at least a partly-torn ligament in his elbow during a practice session last Wednesday.
Still trying to adjust to playing through the pain with a brace that covered almost his entire right arm, Rivera dropped a 3-2 decision to Bobby Tomabene of South Elgin on Friday and fell into the consolation bracket.
Rivera regrouped with a fall against Vince Genualdi of Notre Dame (in 1 minute, 21 seconds) and a 7-1 triumph over Honor Nguyen of Geneva, but couldn’t cope with Ben Anderson of St. Charles East in a 7-2 loss that ended his high school career.
Rivera finished his senior year with a 43-6 record and chalked up a total of 125 victories in his varsity career, fourth on the all-time ETHS list. Rivera and former teammate David Rivera-Kohr, now at the University of Illinois, are the only two individuals to accomplish back-to-back 40-win seasons wearing a Wildkit uniform.
“I think it took awhile for Chris to adjust to that brace, and that’s why he lost to that kid from South Elgin,” Salinas pointed out. “Otherwise I have no doubt that he would have qualified for State again this year. That brace played a huge psychological and physical role in the outcome. If he won his first match he might have controlled his own destiny.
“It’s tough to see any athlete with dreams and goals that Chris has to go out like that. But he’ll start a new chapter, and I think he’ll be fine.”
“It’s very hard to take,” said the somber senior. “I’ve never had an actual injury in four years of high school. I felt a little bit better today as far as the pain, but I just couldn’t get used to the brace.”
Fox’s roller-coaster ride at the end of his junior season ended with an 11-3 defeat at the hands of Maine West sophomore Jake Bellizzi. His season ended at 41-7 overall, including pins versus Jeff Dowell of Wheaton North (3:29) and Nick Skamra of Addison Trail (0:28) in the consolation draw.
But the junior standout admitted that he didn’t put his best foot forward against Bellizzi with his season on the line.
“When I wrestled him before this year, it was 0-0 and then I broke him down,” Fox said. “Today the first time he got to my legs I threw him, and that actually threw me off because I thought I could handle that. Instead he kept coming in on my legs and scoring that way.
“For whatever reason, I didn’t wrestle up to my potential — and it stinks. Midway through the season I tried to change my offense and fine-tune some things so I wouldn’t be just a pinner. I tried to wrestle smarter. I don’t understand what happened, but there are no excuses.”
At 182, Bytyqi started strong, scoring a major decision (9-1) against Leyden’s Anthony Aguilar and pinning Cody Glidewell of St. Charles East in 54 seconds to advance to the semifinals. But Prospect’s Alex Koczwara, the eventual champion, pinned him in 3:26 and Bytyqi bowed out of the tourney with a 7-1 loss to Lee Fuller of Conant.
Also representing ETHS at the sectional were junior Jack McCleish, 0-2 at 120; sophomore Dylan Kull, 2-2 at 126; sophomore Rafael Salinas, 1-2 at 138; sophomore Ulysses Alva, 0-2 at 152; and junior Van Rutter, 0-2 at 195.
“I’m already excited about next year,” summed up the Evanston coach. “The kids are already talking about next season and they’re setting new goals. Some of the other teams (in the Central Suburban League) were senior heavy this year, and if we do the right things with all of these guys coming back, we can step right up.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.