After racking up 34 wrestling victories as a freshman, David Rivera-Kohr took a peek at Evanston’s career wins list and did a quick calculation.
“I did the math — 4 x 34 — and I thought I think I can break the school record,” Rivera-Kohr said. “Now, I can obliterate it.”
Rivera-Kohr surpassed Shannyn Gillespie’s previous all-time total of 136 victories on Saturday at the Vernon Hills Invitational dual meet tournament, extending his unbeaten streak this season to 13 and leading the Wildkits to a surprising 2nd place finish in the team standings with a 9-1 mark in the two-day early season test.
The ETHS senior tied the mark with a second period pin against Nicco Mazzante of Woodstock North, then made the record his own by defeating Sean Cloherty of Loyola Academy 11-1. He also scored wins over Steve Balderas of Solorio Academy (first period 16-1 technical fall) and Brandon Gallo of Chicago Taft (16-4 major decision) and picked up a forfeit versus Hoffman Estates to boost his career total to 138 just one week into his senior year.
But there’s really only one short list that Rivera-Kohr wants to be a part of. He wants to join Gillespie, an icon in the program, and the 10 other ETHS grapplers who have won Illinois High School Association state championships.
“It feels great to be considered along with Shannyn and all of the others who have done so well in their careers at Evanston,” Rivera-Kohr said after surviving the tournament grind of 10 bouts in 2 days. “But I don’t think I deserve the reputation that Shannyn has yet. It is definitely a stepping stone for me, and something to add to my resume.
“Shannyn was a really great underdog story the year he won state (1989, at 119 pounds) because he didn’t even make it to State until his senior year. Given that, I guess I’m one step ahead of him because I qualified last year. But my weight class this year has some of the best wrestlers in the country. I know I can compete with them. There isn’t much that separates me from all the others when it comes to winning a state championship. I’m not nationally-ranked, but I’ve beaten some guys already who have been nationally-ranked and I’m starting to get a little more recognition now.
“It’s all about those last 4 matches of the season. I just have to peak at the right time, and I know I can compete with the best in the country.”
“I take a whole lot of pleasure and a whole lot of joy out of seeing David get the record,” said Evanston coach Rudy Salinas. “It’s really tremendous for him. It’s a great stepping stone for him, and now he can take another notch on his belt and check off another goal. That record shows his ability and talent and puts him in the conversation of how great he can be, as far as his potential is concerned.
“Now he’s the guy the younger kids all look up to. He was on the kids club team with them as an 8th grader, and now they all want to be like David.”
Rivera-Kohr has bounced between the 138-pound and 132-pound weight classes so far after competing at 120 as a junior in the state tournament series. He could settle into the 126 division eventually this winter, but there’s no question that he’s bigger and stronger than he was a year ago.
“I have a reputation for trying to beat up everyone I can. I do feel stronger this year, but I also have to learn not to just rely on my strength,” he said. “I’ve been honing in on staying in (good) position, and I’ve also been working on getting a lot of turns on the mat. I had a lot today. And getting that first period tech fall (against Solorio) was one of my goals for this tournament. I’ve never scored that many points like that before, so that was pretty cool.”
Evanston missed out by just one point — a 36-35 loss to Willowbrook on Friday — in a bid to repeat as team champion. The Wildkits only lost a total of 6 matches in 5 dual meets on Saturday, and one of those was a forfeit as they rolled over Solorio (76-3), Hoffman Estates (70-0), Woodstock North (67-3), Loyola (70-4) and Taft (64-15).
At 113 pounds, Chris Rivera kept pace with teammate Rivera-Kohr while improving his own season record to a perfect 13-0. The junior standout moved up one weight class on Saturday to help balance out the lineup and won all 5 of his matches, including 2 falls and a major decision.
“What Chris did for us was huge today,” Salinas praised. “We have 3 guys at 106 pounds and I was just more comfortable with him wrestling against bigger guys, and he comes out and goes unbeaten! Once he gets a little bit of a mean streak so he can take advantage of some more opportunities, and once he learns he can impose his will on people out there, he’ll really be something.
“I’m not going to lose any sleep over losing to Willowbrook by one point with this young team. They’re a quality team. This is a great start for us, and I couldn’t have planned it any better. We did what we could with our lineup after we had a couple of injuries yesterday (Friday), so some people wrestled up and we were still productive.
“We have four freshmen in the lineup but these guys don’t think of this as a rebuilding year. If anything, they’re thinking that we’re reloading. They’re just looking to come out and compete hard.”