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East Haven sophomore Zayuri Castaneda made history when she took first place in the 235-pound division at inaugural Girls’ Wrestling Invitational. (Photo courtesy of Zayuri Castaneda )
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Zayuri Castaneda carved out her own special place in East Haven wrestling history this winter. Zayuri, a sophomore, made a name for herself when she claimed the gold at the inaugural Girls’ Wrestling Invitational.
Zayuri is the only female on the Yellowjackets’ wrestling team and competed in several bouts throughout the regular season. At the end of the year, while the boys were wrestling at the State Open, Zayuri hit the mat to compete at the Girls’ Wrestling Invitational at Floyd Little Athletic Center on Feb. 28 and 29.
Zayuri was one of three competitors in the 235-pound weight class at the invitational. She pinned her first opponent in just 52 seconds and then defeated her second opponent via pinfall at the 5:22 mark in the round-robin tournament. By virtue of going 2-0, Zayuri finished in first place and was crowned a state champion for her division.
“It was something great. It felt awesome winning it,” Zayuri says. “Going into it, I was a bit nervous. Wrestling 235 was quite nerve-wracking, but I had my brother and my coaches to talk to me about it. They told me to have fun, and that’s what I did. I went out there, tried my best, and had fun.”
Zayuri’s brother Armando has been a pivotal influence in her wrestling career. Armando served as a senior captain for East Haven last season, which was Zayuri’s first year with the program. Zayuri says her brother motivated her to get into wrestling, and she gains confidence by knowing that he’s always in her corner.
“Just watching him grow and seeing what he went through was awesome. Getting that experience from him was quite nice,” says Zayuri. “He shows up to every practice, every meet. Him being there helps me enjoy wrestling even more.”
Zayuri was unsure if she wanted to join the wrestling team as a freshman, but Armando told her to give it a shot and see if she liked it. Zayuri started going to practices and quickly fell in love with the sport. While she was learning the art of wrestling alongside her big brother, Zayuri was also forming a new group of friends who became her family.
“The people, it’s like a big family,” Zayuri says. “We really connected with each and every person. It was a nice connection.”
Prior to the invitational, Zayuri primarily competed against boys in JV matches during the regular season. Zayuri wrestled in 25 bouts this year, winning about half of them. Seven of her victories came versus male competitors.
Head Coach Mark Tolla has seen Zayuri make a lot of progress on the mat throughout the past two years. Tolla likes that girls’ wrestling is on the rise and feels proud of Zayuri for representing the Yellowjackets well with her first-place finish at the inaugural invitational.
“I think the tournament is just going to get bigger and better,” Tolla says. “It’s going to be more organized, and I think as other girls understand that there’s an opportunity for them to compete against other females, it will grow and turn into something that at some point will rival the male tournament.”
Zayuri is certainly hoping that girls’ wrestling continues to grow. Zayuri wants other girls to experience the same enjoyment and excitement that she got from grappling at the invitational.
“It’s nice. Everybody treats you the same,” says Zayuri. “It would have been cooler if there were more girls to experience what I experienced.”
As Zayuri starts thinking about her junior season, she’s looking to improve her moves and rack up even more victories next year. Zayuri feels honored to have won a state title and is eager to see what she can achieve in the second half of her high school career.
“At first, I couldn’t believe it. It was a shocker,” Zayuri says. “As time went by, I thought, ‘Wow, I really did this.’ I worked so hard to get to where I am. I showed off what I had, and then I got the win.”
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