NEW HAVEN — A year ago, competing for the first time as a wrestler for the New Haven co-op team, it was a learning experience and a bit of a struggle for then-sophomore Jaylin Houston.
What a difference a year makes, especially with the combination of hard work and help from the coaching staff.
Houston, competing in the heavyweight division (285 pounds), entered the CIAC State Open wrestling tournament on Feb. 24 at the Floyd Little Athletic Center as the 14th seed. Houston advanced to the final, coming away with a 7-0 decision over Danbury’s Jordan Agosto to become the first State Open champion in the history of New Haven.
“I was surprised that I won the State Open as a second-year wrestler, but not surprised by my overall success for this season,” said Houston, who attends the Engineering and Science University Magnet School. “I am very happy with my record and my tournament placements throughout the season.
“Next year, my goal is to even do better.”
Houston’s success in the regular season prepared him for the postseason. He ended up with a 20-6 record.
“As a coaching staff, we saw Jaylin wrestle competitively against the top seeded wrestlers in the state during the regular season,” New Haven coach Marcello Catapano said. “When I saw Jaylin’s bracket for the state open tournament, I remember telling him that I thought he had a really good chance to be the state open champion if he stuck to the game plan.
“I couldn’t be happier to see Jaylin’s hard work pay off with such a great moment. Seeing Jaylin at the center of the mat, with his hands raised over his head as the state open champion is a moment that I will never forget. I am grateful to have been a part of Jaylin’s development as a student-athlete.”
Houston credits a combination of items for his success.
“Last year, I didn’t make it to the State Open, I didn’t even place,” Houston said. “My success is due to my coaches and all of my teammates, even the ones from last year who helped me with the foundation of all my wrestling skills.
“My success is also due to all the running and drills we did and all of that hard work I put into it. It all worked out for me.”
Houston went on to compete at the New England High School Wrestling Championships in Providence, Rhode Island on March 2. He advanced to the heavyweight quarterfinals where he was decisioned 3-0 by Grant Laws of Westwood, Massachusetts.
“Jaylin is a really bright kid and one of the most coachable student-athletes that I have ever been around,” Catapano said. “Jaylin’s ability to apply what he has learned in the practice room in his matches, coupled with his exceptional athleticism, has made me very hopeful for what he could accomplish in his high school wrestling career.
“I believe that Jaylin’s success this season is due in part to the life lessons that wrestling teaches. I don’t care how much ability you have, to be successful in wrestling, you have to be committed and willing to do the work. I hope Jaylin’s success this year will help motivate our current and future New Haven wrestlers. I hope that kids see what Jaylin has accomplished in two years and are motivated to think of what they can achieve themselves as a part of the New Haven wrestling program.”
Houston said he plans to wrestle in college but hasn’t decided what college he will attend.
“When I won at the State Open it was one of the best feelings I ever felt,” Houston said. “It’s a plus to be the first and only New Haven wrestler to win the State Open championship status. I hope from here the program increases and my win at the open will draw in new and younger wrestlers so they can be just as successful as me and my team. I am 100 percent going to wrestle in college, the only question is where.”