David Rivera-Kohr’s all-out offensive style on the wrestling mat finally caught up with him at the Illinois High School Association state finals Thursday and Friday in Champaign.
But even two losses in his last three matches couldn’t diminish the outstanding season — and career — that the Wildkit senior 126-pounder put together.
Competing in one of the state’s toughest weight classes — in one of the top states for high school wrestling in the entire country — Rivera-Kohr scored a 3-1 overtime victory over Ben Emery of Providence before bowing to Jacob Silzer of St. Rita (fall in 5:30) and Nick Kupets of Deerfield (6-4) to finish 41-3 in his final season for the Wildkits.
For his career, Rivera-Kohr amassed 166 victories as Evanston’s all-time leader, 30 more than the previous leader, former state champion Shannyn Gillespie. A four-time all Central Suburban League South division selection, and a two-time state qualifier, Rivera-Kohr only lost 27 times in four years.
He was the only ETHS qualifier to earn a win at the finals this year, as junior Chris Rivera went 0-2 at 106 pounds and senior Jaalen Banner dropped his only bout at 182.
Rivera-Kohr will graduate without a state medal to his name, however, and that wasn’t the ending that ETHS head coach Rudy Salinas envisioned for the senior who, the coach admitted “is like a son to me.
“That was not the ending that we wanted,” Salinas said. “But that should not take away from David’s accomplishments here and from what he’s meant to this program. He’s a special young man who inspired his teammates every day, and we were lucky to be able to go on this journey with him.
“I always preach about greatness to our kids and he embraced that philosophy. We set goals to drive us and to keep inspired, and when we reach those goals, then we set new ones. David’s someone who’s not gonna stop and that’s what makes him great.”
Rivera-Kohr’s growth on and off the mat will serve as a template for younger grapplers in the program, who benefited from his leadership on a daily basis.
He bounced back from his first loss of the season at the sectional tournament to defeat a returning state qualifier for third place. But he couldn’t get untracked on offense in Thursday’s state opener until he scored an overtime takedown against Emery with 4 seconds remaining for the 3-1 triumph.
As it turned out that was the last win of his high school career.
“That was a very strategic match against a very well-rounded wrestler,” Salinas pointed out. “And it took him awhile to get that takedown.
“Against Silzer, he was down 3-0 in the third period and went to the neutral position because we wanted him to get a big move. But he was not able to get it and Silzer was able to get an opportunistic fall. That doesn’t dictate how close the match really was.”
Rivera-Kohr dropped into the consolation bracket and was matched up against CSL rival Kupets, who had dropped down from 132 pounds following the conference tournament. And Rivera-Kohr went down with all of his offensive guns blazing, even though he notched just 4 points in the season-ending loss.
“David is hard-wired to be offensive and go after it all the time,” Salinas said. “He just made one mistake with time expiring at the end of the match, and it cost him. That’s the pressure that comes with being at the Big Show (IHSA finals). He’s not a conservative or defensive wrestler. He was right in there and fought for it, and he gave it his best shot. I know he’ll grow from this experience.
“David was always truly focused on being great and he was thinking state finals all along. He wrestled a great match except for one error. It was the hardest thing for me to see him lose, but I am so proud to have been able to coach him.”
The veteran coach figures the experience of his first trip to State will also benefit Rivera, a junior, next year. Rivera finished 46-7 following losses to Dylan Burnoski of Bolingbrook (fall in 4:16) and Alex Mitchell of Libertyville (11-2 major decision).
Banner only wrestled one match and didn’t get a wrestleback opportunity because the grappler he lost to, Brian Burns of Lincoln-Way East, lost in the next round. Burns topped Banner in 1:50 for a fall that ended his season at 43-8.
“I think Chris will learn from this experience, that he has to adjust his style and his approach a little bit,” the coach said. “He made a tremendous breakthrough at the sectional just to qualify this year. He just needs a little more consistent and a little more confident in his skill set, so he can impose his will a little more.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.