As he climbs up the career list for victories in Evanston’s wrestling program, Ricardo Salinas has met just about every challenge on the mat.

Now the youngest son of ETHS coach Rudy Salinas will take on new role — as a leader — after earning a trip to the Illinois High School Association state tournament as a sophomore.

Ricardo Salinas, a junior, and Max Morton, a senior, will share the role of team captain as the Wildkits look to reach the 30-victory mark in dual meets for the 7th year in a row, including last year’s 30-6 mark. Evanston opens the 2019-20 season at home Tuesday with a quadrangular against Ida Crown, Hope Academy and Lane Tech, and will participate in the Vernon Hills dual meet tournament on Friday and Saturday.

Salinas, who posted a 43-6 won-loss record last year including one win at State, currently ranks 18th on the school’s career wins list with 84 victories and, if he stays healthy, is on pace to catch older brother Rafael — a 2019 ETHS graduate — at the top of that list with 159 wins.

Coach Salinas has shaped a successful program partly by forcing his athletes to sometimes step out of their comfort zones, on and off the mat, and his decision to name Ricardo as a co-captain as an underclassmen is in line with that philosophy.

“Ricardo is quiet, so this will be a little more pressure on him to be vocal, and that will challenge his comfort zone,” Coach Salinas said. “Making it to State last year was a tremendous experience for him, and this summer he competed for the national team and was one of the top 32 freestylers in the country, so I’m really excited about this year.

“From his sophomore year to a junior body, he’s really matured a lot physically. He’s always been a good technician, with his footwork and his preparation, but now as a junior he looks more like a predator than a juvenile.  Something like that can really do a lot psychologically to an opponent.

 “Anything can happen for Ricardo this year. He’s set some high goals for himself, and an improvement from last year would be for him to get on that (awards) podium at the state finals. It’s attainable and that’s something we’re going to work on.”

Salinas was a state qualifier last year at 160 pounds. Like most of Evanston’s returning grapplers, he’ll move up at least one weight class this winter and his versatility will give Coach Salinas more options when it comes to matching up against opponents, especially in Central Suburban League South division competition where the Wildkits are the defending champs.

The junior standout could find himself penciled in at 170 pounds or possibly at 182, depending on team needs, or he could even cut enough weight to qualify at 160. That would create a domino effect at other weights while Coach Salinas determines the best combinations for another winning campaign.

 “This is a junior heavy team this year — we’ll only have 4 or 5 seniors in the lineup at any time — so there are a lot of opportunities out there for a lot of guys,” said Rudy Salinas. “We’re good, and we’re looking for the opportunity to be great as a team.

“Most of our returning starters are moving up a weight class. Our challenge at the start of the year is for them all to see just what work they have to do and where they are in the pecking order. You always have to make adjustments based on what’s in your (offensive and defensive) arsenal. Right  now I’d say our lineup is in a state of flux.”

Salinas, Morton and senior Jacob Vice are returning sectional qualifiers. Vice competed at 120 pounds last year, fashioning a solid 35-18 record, while reaching the sectional for the second year in a row and will likely move up to 126 this year. He was one of 7 Evanston grapplers selected all-conference last year.

Morton won 24 and lost 12 matches a year ago, mostly at 152, and figures to line up at 160 for his senior season. He plans to compete collegiately at New York University.

The Evanston coach thinks Morton may break through in a big way for the Kits this year.

“Max has always been phenomenal in the practice room, but in matches he’d hesistate, or over-think things,” Salinas said. “He just had to learn to slow down a little. I think he found it in the off-season. He just had to realize that a loss in November or December can easily be avenged (in the postseason), and he just has to keep looking forward to the next opponent.

“He had a good season for us last year and just fell short in the regional. I don’t think that will happen again.”

Another candidate to break through is senior Anjual Joyner, who only competed in 6 varsity matches a year ago, winning them all. He was stuck behind Salinas at 160 and couldn’t drop enough weight to find another class to compete in, but “A.J.” was the confererence runnerup as a sophomore at 138 and probably has as much potential as anyone in the ETHS practice room.

“A.J. is kind of a wild card for us, because he can go anywhere now from 160 to 182,” Coach Salinas said. “He’s certainly talented enough.”

Sophomores Evan Berger and Judah Bernstein figure to start Tuesday’s opener at 106 and 113, respectively, with veteran Nathan Mann answering the call at 120. Vice and another senior, Graham Umbahnowar, will divide the starting duties at 126 or 132.

Others to watch include junior Sebastian Pachis at 138, senior Nico Wertheimer at 152, and junior Will Goodman at 195. Junior Charlie Fox, the younger brother of former Evanston star Izzy Fox, has the unenviable task of stepping in to succeed Ramin Abraham, an undefeated state champion last year, at 220.

Still another junior, Tyjuan Harris, has the early edge over a trio of challengers to start at heavyweight.

Evanston will open its title defense in the CSL South with a rare appearance at Beardsley Gymnasium on Friday, Dec. 6th against rival New Trier at 5:30 p.m. The Wildkits have hosted IHSA regional tournaments in Beardsley, and also hosted the 2008 CSL championship meet there, but the winter schedule usually means either the boys or girls basketball teams plays at home at the same time the conference mat slate is held. That’s one reason the grapplers have found a home in Willie May Fieldhouse.

“We’re really excited about that match,” said the head coach. “I don’t know if we’ll ever get the chance to have a dual meet there again. I do know we’ll put our best foot forward trying to win the conference again this year.”

Dennis Mahoney

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

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