High school wrestlers are always looking to take that next step from one season to another, whether they’re returning starters who posted successful seasons or just trying to crack the varsity lineup for the first time.

The next steps Evanston’s senior-dominated squad  are poised to take are big ones.

With almost the entire starting lineup back from a team that racked up a 31-4 dual meet record — including 6 individuals who qualified for the Illinois High School Association  sectional tournament — the Wildkits are primed for a deep postseason run under head coach Rudy Salinas.

It’s one of the most experienced squads ETHS has fielded since Salinas took over the program and the veteran coach knows what a plus it can be to  have grapplers who have been there, done that.

“This is the biggest senior group we’ve had since 2008,” Salinas pointed out prior to a season-opening triangular against Lane Tech and DePaul Academy. “What that experience means mostly is wrestling IQ. You don’t have to re-teach them certain strategies and situations because they’ve already been through them.

“We have 5 guys who were one match away from reaching the place round in the sectional. They’re hungry because they were left wanting after getting that close. Now that they’re seniors, they don’t want that to happen again. And we also have some guys who should have gone to the sectional (advancing out of the regional) and didn’t make it. Everyone has a next level they can get to.”

Co-captains James Marshall-Davis (132 pounds), David Rivera-Kohr (126), Ben Morton (138) and Malik Pratt (152) return to form the nucleus of a group with high individual and team goals already set. Between them, that quartet combined for a 135-28 won-loss record. Pratt was Evanston’s only regional tournament champ, finishing at 33-5, and  Rivera-Kohr led the squad as a sophomore with a 37-11 mark.

“Those guys are really driven and they’re my leaders,” said Salinas. “Their goal is nothing short of The Show (state finals in Champaign).” 

Other returnees who accounted for at least 30 individual victories include Austin Klopfer, who moves up from 138 to 145; Derek Hunter, who has grown from 106 to the starting role at 120; and Arrhian Monroe at 182. Monroe actually competed at 195 pounds at the sectional, even though his actual weight was closer to 178, and now he’ll be able to match up against guys his own size if he can beat out teammate Zack Warhaus, another senior, at 182.

Senior Jonathan Silencioux is challenging Rivera-Kohr at 126 after starting at 120 a year ago, and Cedric Logan provides a veteran presence at 160.

Newcomers to watch include freshman Chris Rivera at 106, junior Amitziyah Thurman at 113 and freshman Izzy Fox at 160.

Fox will be thrown into the fire at a middle weight that usually features mostly upperclass competition, but has the resume to compete right away. He won an Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation state championship as a 7th grader and was a state placer as an 8th grader.

“He’s literally jumping up two experience levels, and it’s very unusual. But Izzy is a real competitor,” the coach said.

“These are the best wrestle-offs we’ve had in practice since our 2000 team. As far as team goals, winning the conference is in our sights and we’ve got both Maine South and New Trier in the next three weeks. We haven’t won the conference since 2004 and the kids are hungry to get that. We also want to take one step up at the regional (after placing 2nd last year).”

Evanston has a chance to pile up victories Friday and Saturday when the Kits compete in the 12-team Vernon Hills Invitational tournament. The competition under a dual meet format starts both days at 8 a.m.