There’s only one kind of teen-ager who doesn’t like the smell of pizza at dinner time.

That’s a teen-ager like Rafael Salinas, who was worried about making weight for the biggest wrestling tournament of his young career.

Salinas, son of Evanston Township head coach Rudy Salinas, gave new meaning to the term “hungry” with a dominating performance in the 138-pound division of the Illinois High School Association Class 3A regional tournament hosted by Notre Dame of Niles Saturday.


Salinas joined teammates Chris Rivera (113 pounds) and Ramin Abraham (220) as first-time regional champions, part of a 10-man contingent of Wildkits who will advance to the Conant Sectional tourney.

That trio paced ETHS to a second place showing in the team standings with 187 points, behind only Notre Dame with 236 in the 9-team field. The Dons will also advance to the dual meet sectional competition later this month.

Evanston also counted runnerup efforts from Izzy Fox (170), Adrian Bytyqi (182) and Van Rutter (195), plus third place finishes by Jack McCleish (120), Dylan Kull (126), Ulysses Alva (152) and Danny White (160). The top three finishers in each class automatically advanced to the sectional level.

Salinas stopped his first two tournament foes with pins, then routed Carlo Orlandi of Notre Dame 8-1 in the title bout at 138. Then the sophomore standout, who improved to 37-5 on the season, started making plans for a Saturday night feast.

“I’m going to go out and eat a lot tonight,” Salinas declared. “I had a weak moment last night when my family ordered pizza and I had to leave the room so I couldn’t smell it. But I managed to stay strong. I don’t much like having to make weight at 138, but my Dad kept telling me to push through, that it would be OK. And then I kept thinking about how I worked so hard to get that (No. 1 seed), why quit now?

“Now I feel like all the hard work I’ve done is what led up to this (championship). Wrestling is such a great sport because it teaches you discipline and it teaches you never to give up. So I just put it all out there and tried to do the best I could today.”

Coach Salinas had to set the record straight about one thing. It was his wife who ordered the pizza and risked a charge of child abuse.

“But Rafael is over-dramatizing things. He had some salad and some honeydew (melon), and now he can have his pizza tonight,” said the elder Salinas. “He’s never had to miss a meal, he just didn’t like the selections.

“Today was a dominating showing for him, with two falls and a decision, and it’s a step in his evolution as a wrestler. He has a good motor, good fundamentals and his wrestling IQ is getting better and better. He leads the team in decisions, and also in technical falls, and that shows you that he can grind it out against the good competition — and also be good enough technically to score a lot of points. And I think the way he’s progressed without wrestling year round like most guys do (Salinas also plays football and competes in boys gymnastics at ETHS) is the biggest compliment you can give him.”

Rivera, who has climbed to 4th on the career victory list for the Wildkits, moved to 41-4 on the year and scored his first regional title with a major decision (10-2) over Vince Genualdi of Notre Dame in the finale. The only senior in Evanston’s postseason lineup, Rivera also pinned Lane Tech’s Charlie Rivera in 1 minute, 26 seconds in the semifinals.

“Chris was dominant today, just like he was at the conference meet,” said the ETHS head coach. “He was always in control in that last match and what he showed is what senior, veteran experience looks like. He’ll get more competition at the sectional.”

Like Rivera, Abraham only had to win two matches to secure his championship but had to survive some late drama in the championship matchup with Maine South’s Nikko Stamos, a grappler he beat during the regular season. Abraham fell behind 2-0 after two periods — penalized for inadvertently locking his hands while fighting off a move by Stamos — and then trailed 3-2 after the first 30-second overtime period.

He pulled off an escape for a 3-3 deadlock in the next OT period, and took down Stamos with 1 second remaining in that OT for a 5-3 triumph.

Abraham, a sophomore, has an overall won-loss record of 33-2 and has rarely trailed that late in any match.

“The average kid could have been broken mentally, but Ramin didn’t. He stayed composed,” Salinas praised. “I know he loves the close matches, but that was a little TOO close.”

“I just kept my head in the game and didn’t worry about the score,” Abraham added. “It was tougher than I expected, but everyone wants to win here.”

The Wildkits settled for runnerup finishes in three other title bouts. Maine South’s Joe Halvorsen lived up to his top seed at 170 where he whipped Fox 14-4, beating the ETHS junior for the second time this season. Notre Dame’s Nick Prozanski pinned Bytyqi right before the first period buzzer at 182, and at 195 Maine South’s Mike Milito prevented Rutter from generating much offense and triumphed 3-2.

ETHS won four of five of the third place matches involving the Kits, including a fall in 1:03 at 120 by McCleish versus Asher Hoffman of Niles North; a 12-6 decision by Dylan Kull over Steven Lee of Lane Tech at 126; a fall in 1:22 by Alva against Simeon Trendalfilov of Niles North at 152; and White’s explosive pin at the 3:29 mark at 160 against Maine South’s Matt Schneider.

“This was a good showing for us,” Salinas summed up. “We had some injuries at the conference meet (prompting sophomore Alva’s insertion at 152, replacing Walker Witt) and we only had one senior in the lineup today. I’m very proud of this showing.”

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.

Dennis Mahoney

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for Evanston Township High School.

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