Evanston Township High School’s wrestling family was on the listening end of a motivational talk given by Guy Ward just before the winter break.

It’s not the first time that Ward, who finished third at 138 pounds at the Illinois High School Association state finals back in 1967, has delivered an inspirational speech to the Wildkits since head coach Rudy Salinas took over the program in 2003.

The ETHS boys wrestling team at the Rus Erb Tournament in December. Credit: ETHS

But it might have been his most effective talk to date, especially if it helps Darion Coleman finish out his senior season with a bang in the next couple of weeks.

Coleman scored Evanston’s best individual finish, a runnerup effort at 170 pounds, and led the Wildkits to a fifth place team finish at the Central Suburban League tournament held Saturday at Beardsley Gymnasium.

Despite not entering anyone in the three lowest weight classes – 106, 113 and 120 pounds – the Kits still mustered enough points to earn fifth with a total of 140. Maine South (293), Deerfield (227.5), Glenbrook South (226) and New Trier high schools (181) placed ahead of the hosts in the annual tournament that brings together the dozen conference schools.

For Evanston, Marco Terrizzi (126 pounds) and Charlie Bolich (182) recorded third place performances and Eren Atac (138), Thomas Jackson (195) and Jeremy Marshall (285) contributed fourths. Jason McDermott placed fifth at 132.

After he was pinned by Deerfield’s Aiden Cohen at the 2 minute, 44 second mark of the title bout at 170, Coleman saw his won-loss record slip slightly to 19-7 on the season. But that’s nine more victories than he had a year ago when he shared the starting job with (since graduated) Ladell Allen.

His upset win over Maine South’s Sam Bartell in the semifinals proved that Coleman is a grappler to watch when postseason play starts in a couple of weeks.

And Coleman might look back at Ward’s talk as the turning point in his mat career after being slowed by a knee injury and some academic issues in the first half of this season.

“The week Guy Ward came in to talk to us I was disappointed because I couldn’t go out and wrestle in front of him,” said the ETHS senior. “Now I’m trying to make up for that.

“One thing I think I’m doing better this year is that I have a better understanding of chain wrestling [stringing a series of moves together] so I can wrestle with the better guys.”

‘Phenomenal speaker’

Salinas said Ward has been a regular visitor to Evanston’s practices, at least before the Covid virus limited contact somewhat with the former Kit great.

“Mr. Ward has been a great supporter, who really loves our program and what we’re trying to do here,” said the Evanston coach. “He’s a phenomenal speaker and he’s really proud to be an Evanstonian. And I really appreciate the fact that he likes what we’re doing.

“Darion’s had some problems with injury and ineligibility, and he’s still learning, still trying to figure out what his style is and to figure out what he does best.

“Today he made that Maine South kid wrestle his match and that kid wasn’t taking any shots. Darion’s only got a short amount of time left, but I’m not surprised he did so well today. He’s working hard and, for him, it’s just about believing in yourself and executing.”

Coleman adopted a defensive style against Bartell after scoring a first period takedown and still led the South grappler 2-1 in the final moments of the match. Both wrestlers were locked together on their feet for most of the second and third periods, and when Bartell finally attempted a scoring shot, Coleman utilized a quarter nelson move that he just mastered this week and registered a fall with five seconds remaining in the match.

“I lost to him during the regular season and I wanted to play it safe today because of my knee,” he added. “He was aggressive, and I kept stopping his first move. I just tried to use that to my advantage.

“Last year, I dislocated my collarbone in the second match at the regional tournament. What’s my end game this year? Hopefully, I’ll be a state qualifier, and a state placer.”  

Terrizzi, now 24-6 overall, lost to Deerfield’s Jordan Rasof for the second time this season in the semifinals, this time by a 14-7 margin. Rasof went on to capture the title, while Terrizzi bounced back in the consolation bracket to claim third with victories over Matt Westerlin of Maine West (fall in 57 seconds) and Andrew Haritos of Glenbrook South (fall in 1:16).

Bolich was defeated by Chris Mauer of Deerfield via a fall in 3:04, then wrestled back with two straight pins. He didn’t have to compete in the third place match, winning by forfeit because his scheduled opponent, Quintin Newbury of Maine West, had to be removed via stretcher after he passed out during his semifinal bout. Bolich improved to 19-4 overall.

Marshall turned in an eye-catching performance at 285. The freshman standout finished with a 3-2 tournament record but scored a pair of pins in his first varsity tournament after beating out three older wrestlers in Evanston’s practice room to claim the starting spot at heavyweight.

He owns a 10-6 varsity record to date, including pins Saturday against Nicholas Bert of Niles North (31 seconds) and Michael Abiantoun of New Trier (3:50).

Marshall started at center for the sophomore football team at ETHS and Salinas couldn’t recall ever starting a first-year grappler at heavyweight on the varsity level. He competed at the lower mat levels to start his career but moved into the starting lineup at mid-season.

“We tried to groom Jeremy for this,” said Salinas, “and now it’s his spot. He may be a freshman, but the sky’s the limit for him and it will be an exciting journey over the next three years. He wants to go to The Show [state finals].

“He came to us with a real passion to wrestle [Marshall was a state finalist as an eighth grader], and his strength right now is really that he doesn’t know any better when people tell him ‘Oh, you can’t do this or that, you’re only a freshman.’ He just goes out there and competes, and he dreams big.”

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