One by one, Evanston wrestlers  James Marshall-Davis, David Rivera-Kohr and Zach Warhus watched their teammates get eliminated at the state’s toughest Class 3A sectional tournament at Glenbard North.

That’s where the trio’s mental toughness paid big dividends.

All three earned fourth place finishes and automatically qualified for this weekend’s Illinois High School Association state individual tournament, the first time in decades that the Wildkits will be represented by that many qualifiers.

Marshall-Davis (132 pounds), Rivera-Kohr (120) and Warhus (182) will get the opportunity to compete at the University of Illinois’ Assembly Hall in Champaign starting on Thursday.

For the rest of Evanston’s 11 sectional qualifiers who fell short of advancement, the season will continue when the Kits meet No. 1 ranked Oak Park-River Forest at the Niles West Sectional dual meet tourney.

The ability to bounce back from defeats is significant for any grappler in the postseason, even a threesome like Evanston’s whose combined won-loss record entering the sectional was a sizzling 112-12. Clearly, these guys weren’t used to losing.

“We’re very happy to have 3 state qualifiers,” said Evanston coach Rudy Salinas. “Absolutely, it’s a great accomplishment for them. This is one of the toughest states in the country and we have a pretty good argument that this is the toughest sectional in the state to get through. Now, all 3 of them can say they’re in the top 20 in the state.

“There were no ‘gimme’ matches in this sectional. Once they lost to a tough kid, they needed to beat another tough kid to qualify. It was also difficult for them because we took a lot of pride in the team effort we had this year, and it’s difficult to watch your teammates go down like that. It’s a hard road not to personalize what’s happening and not let it affect you, too.”

After losing to eventual 132-pound runnerup Dylan Thurston of Wheaton North 10-1 in his first match, Marshall-Davis battled to three wins in the consolation draw over Maine East’s Kapper  Piskorz (technical fall), Michael Womaldorf of Rolling Meadows (5-3) and D.J. McDermott of St. Charlest East (6-0) to earn the right to take on Glenbard North’s Phil Partipilio in the 3rd place match.

Marshall-Davis, with the full approval of the ETHS coaching staff, decided to forfeit due to injury. The ETHS senior has been plagued by a bad leg since the Central Suburban League tournament and didn’t want to risk further injury with his first state berth already assured, and after boosting his overall season record to 37-6..

“He’s already favoring that leg and we want him to be 100 percent for the state meet,” Salinas said. “We weren’t going to risk making it worse. I thought James wrestled well, especially considering that over the past couple of weeks he really hasn’t been able to let it fly out there. He’s had to make decisions on the fly about what to do on the mat because he’s not able to do some things instinctively, like before the injury. At this point, he has to be very calculated and opportunistic out there.”

Rivera-Kohr, after losing just once during the regular season, managed to split 4 matches at the sectional tourney but still figures to be a tough “out” in Champaign after compiling a glittering 46-3 record. He’s just 3 wins shy of matching the school single season record for wins set by 2010 state champion Jeffrey Brown back in 2010, and is just one win away from matching Marx Succes’  47 victories back in 2008, second on the all-time list.

Rivera-Kohr wiped out a semifinal loss (by an 8-2 margin) to Conant’s Danny Madonia at 120 by pinning Notre Dame’s Andy Poniatowski in 2 minutes, 49 seconds in the consolation semifinals. He lost to Glenbard North’s Patrick Augustyn 7-0 in the 3rd place bout.

“David wrestled very well, and I’m pleased with his effort,” said Salinas. “But 1 mistake makes the difference in an elite match. David’s the kind of kid who’ll take that knowledge and use it to his advantage next weekend. He’s so self-motivated that all I have to do is point him in the right direction, and he’ll take things to the next level.”

Warhus continued his late-season surge by winning 2 matches at 182 pounds,  including a 5-1 conquest of Conant’s Kevin Smith that clinched a spot in Champaign. He was pinned by Glenbard North’s Colton Wegner in 2:39 in the 3rd place match and improved to 36-9 on the season.

Warhus’ other loss at the sectional came by a major decision (15-2) to the eventual champ, Joey Vogeney of Maine West, in the semifinals.

Among the other Wildkit hopefuls, only Lamont Davenport (285), Anthony Morris (220), Ben Morton (138) and Malik Pratt (145) managed victories before being eliminated.

Heavyweight Davenport pinned Elmwood Park’s Aaron Marshall in 2:34 in the opening round, then suffered back-to-back pins himself to D’Andre Johnson of Glenbard East (4:34) and Marco Ibanez of Lake Park (3:47).

Morris recovered from a 13-6 defeat to Willowbrook’s Christian Chavez with a 6-1 trimming of West Chicago’s John Garcia. The ETHS junior then bowed out when Will Leite of St. Charles East registered a fall against him in 1:10.

Morton dropped two of three matches at 138 after losing only 3 times in his first 36 matches. He pinned Glenbard North’s Anthony Maine in 2:54 in the consolation bracket, then was ousted with a 10-5 loss to Leyden’s Jeremiah Recinos in the semifinals.

Pratt had trouble manufacturing any offense in his 3 losses, scoring just 4 points in his three matches. After topping Maurice Rihani of Maine East 3-1, he was eliminated 3-0 by Griffin Rose of Conant in the consolation semis.