Little sis Jaclyn Bouzakis is making a name for herself

Updated: November 8, 2023

Photo: In the past six months, Jaclyn Bouzakis (right) reached the 16U national finals, claimed a 17U World bronze medal and won the Super 32 Challenge. (Tony Rotundo photo)

By Mike Finn

As the youngest of three siblings in a well-known wrestling family, Jaclyn Bouzakis is neither a spoiled brat nor princess to her older brothers Nic and Vince.

Even at age 15, Jaclyn already knows that she is her own person, especially on the wrestling mat.

“Growing up, I was always referred to as Nick’s little sister or Vince’s little sister,” she said. “When I was little, that was OK because they were pretty big names and had accomplished a lot. But I want to accomplish my own goals and make a name for myself. I want to become my own person and not be referred to as someone else’s little sister. I am Jaclyn Bouzakis.”

Jaclyn is a freshman at Wyoming Seminary, which sits five miles from her home in Shavertown, Pa. She has tons of respect for Nick — also a U20 World bronze medalist and 133-pound redshirt freshman at Ohio State — and Vince, a junior at Wyoming Seminary and ranked No. 3 by WIN at 150 pounds after winning a Junior national freestyle championship this past summer in Fargo, N.D.

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On the mat, Jaclyn also has her accomplishments, including winning a U17 World bronze medal this past summer and most recently a Super 32 Challenge title at 95 pounds last month in Greensboro, N.C. She was also ranked No. 2 nationally in the USA Wrestling/Flowrestling/NHOF preseason poll.

She also understands she is different than her brothers when it comes to wrestling.

“Nick has always been like short, stocky and muscular,” she said. “Vince is the total opposite in that he’s more tactical and smoother. Growing up with them, I became a combination of both. When you see us wrestle, there are three different styles.”

She knows she has to stay grounded to find mat success.

“I try to stay humble,” she said. “I know what I may be doing is pretty great, but there are so many more things I am working towards. Each thing I win and everything I succeed in is one more step in the big picture, which is wrestling at the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. That is my biggest goal, but I can’t get there until I finish the smaller steps.”

There is certainly a lot more to this young woman than just succeeding on the mat. She shows a maturity well beyond her years.

“Growing up and watching my brothers and trying to do what they’ve done, it kind of made me snap into reality faster,” she said. “Especially when my other brother passed away from cancer on the brainstem.”

She is referring to her late brother Greco, who died in 2016 at the age of 5 from diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma; a story that has inspired many in wrestling, including Nick who continues to wear a stocking cap with the words “Team Greco” after many of his wrestling matches.

“Going through a major life crisis like losing our child has made our kids mature pretty quickly,” said Jaclyn’s father Troy. “That’s an experience we wouldn’t put on any family or parent, but that had a lot to do with expediting a lot of the maturity. How does one bounce back and use a major family crisis as an opportunity to better yourself in life? It made her mature really quickly.”

Jaclyn Bouzakis (left) won two of three matches at the 2023 UWW U17 World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, this past August to claim a bronze medal at 40 kilos in women’s freestyle. (Gary Abbott photo)

Troy said all three kids reacted differently to losing a sibling.

“She was loving and caring,” said Troy, who added that wrestling may have also helped the family deal with the tragedy. He has also served as the kids’ personal coach.

Troy, a former college wrestler at Clemson, did not want his kids to wrestle after he broke his neck in college.

“My dreams were all about wrestling,” he admitted. “I wanted to be an NCAA champion and Olympic gold medalist, but after breaking my neck and under-going surgeries, my dreams ended.

“And once you have a dream end, you ask yourself, ‘What alternatives do you have?’ I tried to push my kids away from wrestling, but it’s one of those things where if you tell them you don’t want them to do it, they will do it or if you tell them to do it, they won’t; sort of a reverse psychology.”

And out of that stubbornness came a special competitive spirit between the Bouzakis kids, who first grew up in the Miami-Dade area of Florida.

“We have a very competitive family and I try to make things uncomfortable as it relates to what they want to achieve,” he said. “My kids know they deserve nothing. They’ve been in areas of the country, like Miami-Dade, where wrestlers didn’t have a lot of money. I think every day my children have experienced success and failures. I think that is good and will make them great people.”

Troy and his wife Toni moved their family to Pennsylvania, where all three siblings have wrestled for Wyoming Seminary.

“My kids were starting to have success in wrestling,” he recalled. “No offense to Florida, which was still developing as a wrestling state at that time. 

“We would go to Pennsylvania tournaments and would get beat pretty badly. I needed to put my kids in a situation where they really had to work for success.

“It was a tough move because Florida is gorgeous, but since we lost our child there and were so connected to down there, we were trying to get away from the day-to-day memory and hearing, ‘How are you guys doing?’ People were so good but we had to step out of that box.

“We were a close family but something like that develops you even closer as a family,” he added. 

“We had three pillars: faith, family and fitness. That resonated with our family and those three pillars got us on our way. Also, wrestling was about other people and not just about us.”

Wrestling-wise, Troy knows that Jaclyn is very focused on this sport.

“The last thing I have to worry about is whether she will put in the time,” he said. “She leaves at five o’clock in the morning and we won’t see her until eight o’clock at night. She’s lifting, working out with Cross Fit people in the morning; people who are not related to the sport.

“As far as schooling, she’s at Wyoming Seminary with the rigors of a hard school. Probably around 3:30 she goes to practice and then three times a week she goes to her club practice.”

Troy admitted that the competition with her brothers continues to drive her.

“She doesn’t want her brothers to cast a shadow on her and that’s what gets her up in the morning,” he said. “With the competition we have in the house, there’s always someone in the house doing what she’s doing.”

Jaclyn also said she’s learned from coming up short in national and international events.

“I need to learn how to make sure my nerves don’t get the best of me,” she said. “Stepping out for that first match (at the 17U Worlds), I was nervous. But soon things clicked and I said, ‘Let’s wrestle.’ 

“After the Worlds, it definitely taught me so many lessons, which will help me so much more in the future.”