David Rivera-Kohr and Izzy Fox both achieved milestones Saturday for Evanston’s wrestling team.
Rivera-Kohr became the first ETHS grappler to win multiple conference championships and Fox, a sophomore, emerged as the youngest wrestler in school history to win a title for the Wildkits at the Central Suburban League tournament held at Deerfield.
Rivera-Kohr, a senior, moved up from the 120-pound weight class he won a year ago to dominate the 126 bracket, including an 11-1 thumping of New Trier’s Jack Tangen in the title bout. He extended his record to a perfect 35-0 on the season.
Fox won a pair of falls and then topped another New Trier challenger, Williams Kupets, by an 8-3 margin in the championship matchup at 160 pounds.
The pair powered Evanston to an overall third place finish in the team standings with 187 points. Deerfield won the team title for the fourth year in a row, amassing 255 points to 214.5 for runnerup New Trier.
Saturday’s showing marked only the second time the Wildkits have scored a top three finish in the team standings since the league started keeping track of team point totals. The Kits also counted runnerup individual finishes from Chris Rivera (103), Jaalen Banner (182), Brandon Bias (220) and Lamont Davenport (285) along with a third place effort from sophomore Kevin Washington at 195.
For Rivera-Kohr, the only disappointment came when the defending champ at 126, Nick Kupets of Deerfield, decided to move up to 132. The ETHS senior was seeking a bigger challenge to help him tune up for Illinois High School Association regional tournament competition that will be held in two weeks.
“It wasn’t until the night before the tournament that I learned he was at 132, and I expected him to be there at 126,” Rivera-Kohr said. “I wanted a matchup with him. But I’d told the coaches I’d go at 126 and I had to live up to that commitment. I went in Saturday expecting to run the table because I’d already beaten them all before. But I feel good about winning another championship. I didn’t know no one else (from ETHS) had done it before.
“A win is a win in my book, and I try to wrestle every match like it’s the state championship match. In the finals I just worked on my moves because to these guys (opponents), they all know who I am and in their book it’s a win just not getting pinned or teched (loss by technical fall). That New Trier kid wasn’t trying to score on me, but I still dominated the match.”
Rivera-Kohr, who is the all-time leader in wins in school history, pinned Neal Desai of Niles North in 1 minute, 7 seconds and then outscored Dylan Weiskirch of Waukegan 12-0 in the semifinals.
He said he hasn’t felt the pressure of maintaining an unbeaten season record and credited daily workouts with assistant coach Tony Martinez for helping him take the steps necessary to become a threat to earn a state medal in his final high school season.
“As a team we don’t always face the best competition in the country or in the state,” Rivera-Kohr admitted. “But I know I’m prepared for any situation I face in a match. I’m very self-critical and I’m very confident in my preparation. Coach Martinez was an Olympic qualifier for Puerto Rico and a junior college All-American, and he’s a very smart wrestler.
“Coach Martinez and (head coach Rudy) Salinas are always preaching to me to take what the other guy will give you in a match. I’m just trying to wrestle smarter this year. This is my senior year and, at this point, I think I’ve learned all the lessons I can. Now it’s time to dish out those lessons to others, because this is my time.”
“Both David and Izzy were in complete control throughout the tournament, and they were very good,” Salinas praised. “I’m very happy that David performed as well as he did. People better watch out for him from now on.”
For Fox, the victory over Kupets wasn’t just a chance for the sophomore to mount the top of the awards stand. It gave him a sense of payback for the dual meet matchup against the Trevian grappler, who won via injury forfeit when Fox was ruled out of the action with a leg cramp. Evanston couldn’t make up the six points in what turned out to be a 1-point defeat.
“I kinda knew that the bracket would turn out that way and that I’d see him in the finals,” Fox said. “I knew I’d have a chance to redeem myself. I can’t get that one back, but it feels good to get this win.
“I hit him with a counter pretty good in the first period and bloodied him up a little. He used up about four minutes of blood time. I was up 5-2 in the third period, and after he needed more blood time, he tried to throw me and instead I threw him.
“I wrestled technically sound and it was really satisfying. I really needed that win. I came into this week really motivated and I pushed hard in practice. It’s a gratifying experience to be the youngest guy to win a conference title, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s just another notch on my belt. And it also means now I’ve got a good seed for the regional.”
At 106, the toughest class in the tournament, Rivera tripped Deerfield’s Dylan Utterback 7-3 in one of the best performances of the season for the ETHS junior. Utterback has been ranked as high as No. 5 in that weight class.
Rivera then lost a major decision (10-0) to unbeaten Waukegan sophomore Moises Rivera in the finals. The Waukegan standout was later named the winner of the Elias George Outstanding Wrestler award for the CSL South division.
“That was a great match for Chris, and he really brought his offense in that semifinal,” said Salinas. “But that Waukegan kid was a little too tough in the finals.”
Two other Wildkits, Banner and Davenport, suffered close losses in their respective finales. Banner improved to 35-6 with a 6-2 semifinal trimming of Eddie Castellanos of Highland Park, only to drop a 3-1 overtime heartbreaker to Jake Lowell of New Trier at 182.
And in the heavyweight division, Davenport lost a 3-2 ultimate tiebreaker to Dylan Ramirez of Niles North, who scored an escape in the fourth overtime “sudden victory” period.
“Those were two tough losses,” Salinas pointed out. “They could have both been champions with one more move, so maybe that will drive them over the next two weeks. They certainly deserved to win. Jaalen was the go-getter in that match and one error cost him. There were some no calls (by the officials) in there, too.
“There were a lot of no calls in Lamont’s match and one of the referees told me later that he started getting his offense going too late. He had one takedown taken away because the ref said it was out of bounds, or he would have won it.”
Evanston’s other finalist, Bias, was blanked by Maine South’s Ibrahim Nasir 5-0 at 220. Nasir won the league tourney title last year at 285.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.