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March Madness Begins for Bay Area College Boxers

Bay Area Boxers at NCBA Regionals
Cal
Jewell Fix (Sr.) – Women’s Bantamweight (119 lbs.)
Jose Avila (Sr.) – Men’s Jr. Welterweight (139 lbs.)
Jose Jimenez (Jr.) – Men’s Jr. Middleweight (156 lbs.)
Juan Ramos (Sr.) – Men’s Middleweight (165 lbs.)
Mike Cordoba (Jr.) – Men’s Cruiserweight (185 lbs.)

San Jose State
Oscar Gomez (Sr.) – Men’s Welterweight (147 lbs.)
Gabriel Sanchez (Sr.) – Men’s Jr. Middleweight (156 lbs.)
Andrew Cabatic (Jr.) – Men’s Middleweight (165 lbs.)
Daulton Osuka (Sr.) – Men’s Heavyweight (195 lbs.)

Santa Clara

No Entrants

UC Davis
Colin Schmitt (Jr.) – Men’s Jr. Middleweight (156 lbs.)
Fabian Rivera (Grad.) – Men’s Middleweight (165 lbs.)

USF
Carmen Fernandez (Sr.) – Women’s Bantamweight (119 lbs.)
Jaren Hayashi (Jr.) – Men’s Bantamweight (119 lbs.)
Nargis Shaghasi (Sr.) – Women’s Jr. Welterweight (139 lbs.)
Sebastian Doerner (Jr.) – Men’s Middleweight (165 lbs.)
Carlos Green (Sr.) – Men’s Cruiserweight (195 lbs.)
Andrew Caceres (Jr.) – Men’s Super Heavyweight (195+ lbs.)

 

Basketball isn’t the only college sport caught up in the midst of March Madness.



From Thursday through Saturday, local boxers will assemble in Reno to compete in the National Collegiate Boxing Association (NCBA) Western Regionals. The two finalists in each weight class will secure berths in the National Championships, which take place April 5-7 at the Air Force Academy.



Unlike their counterparts on the hardwood, however, these young men and women’s journeys are far from glamorized, away from the television cameras and devoid of office pool bracket banter.



It’s a club sport; none of the fighters are on scholarship. A few programs are student-run, a time commitment which can become extremely demanding when taking care of everything from the equipment to the travel arrangements. College boxing is arguably an amateur sport at its purest level.



CSNBayArea.com profiles four fighters who hope to make a deep run in the tournament and leave their mark on their respective schools’ history books.



JOSE JIMENEZ, JUNIOR MIDDLEWEIGHT, CAL



Before Aaron Rodgers set the football world on fire, he was a relatively under-the-radar recruit who came to Berkeley via the junior college route.



Head coach Jim Riksheim and the boxing Bears may have found their version of lightning in a bottle in Jose “Jay” Jimenez, a junior transfer from Pierce Community College in Los Angeles.

“Jose’s an amazing athlete, and he can box and move, but man, he hits hard,” assistant coach David Keegan said, pausing before reiterating his utterance for emphasis.  “He really hits hard.”



Since joining the team, the heavy-handed Jimenez has instantly become a national title contender by going 3-0 with two stoppages, scoring wins over two perennial powerhouses in Air Force and Nevada.

“I’m more of a slugger,” Jimenez said. “I put some snap into my punches, and one of the opposing coaches once asked me if I had lead in my handwraps.  I do think I could use more work with my combinations.”



Originally from South Central Los Angeles, an adolescent Jimenez first learned the craft at some of Southern California’s most renowned clubs like the Oscar De La Hoya Youth Boxing Center in Boyle Heights and Hollywood’s Fortune Gym.



“It just seemed like a lot of fun at the time,” Jimenez said, “but then I started playing other sports and stopped boxing until I decided to give it another shot when I came to Cal.”



Given Jimenez’ instant success in the 165-pound middleweight division, the only thing seemingly capable of stopping him is the scale.  When senior teammate Juan Ramos wanted to campaign at middleweight for Regionals, Jimenez accommodated him by moving nine pounds south to junior middleweight—a laborious task much easier said than done.



“It’s been challenging mentally.  I’ve been eating nothing but salads, boiled chicken breast, tuna, fruit, and vitamins, while increasing my cardio work at the same time,” Jimenez said. “I thought I would feel weak, but I’m at 158 right now, and so far so good. We’ll see on Thursday.”



A sociology major and pre-law student, Jimenez once dabbled in joining the police academy. Now he aims to regulate the west’s best junior middleweights this weekend.

“I’ve done really well at 165, so if I can just make weight, I’m confident I’ll give the people a good show and give them what they want to see,” he said.



‘REBUILDING MODE’ IN SANTA CLARA



The Broncos field a young team this year and will not be sending anyone to Regionals.  Still, head coach Pierre Moynier is optimistic for several reasons.



“We’re in rebuilding mode right now,” he said. “I have a couple of 147-pounders in Nick Chung and Jake Mai, and a 165-pounder in Colin Austin.  They’ll be back next year and gained valuable experience last week at Cal’s [Berkeley Invitational] when they had their first fights.”



The squad sorely missed last season’s co-captains Luis Sierra and Pat Welde, whom they both lost to graduation. Welde, a junior welterweight, was the Bay Area’s only All-American and earned CSNBayArea.com’s 2011 Collegiate Fighter of the Year.



However, the continued development of the underclassmen brings hope to the program, and there’s a good chance they will be competing in a new facility in the immediate future.



“We’re working with San Jose State to finally have a home venue. We’re planning to host a home bought at Sunnyvale Boxing Gym which is supported by Trinity Church and the Sunnyvale Police,” Moynier said. “We also look forward to bringing back the Dodge Ackerman Memorial.” 



Ackerman, who fought for Santa Clara under current San Jose State head coach Candelario “Candy” Lopez, won a national title his freshman year before cancer tragically cut his life short.



OSCAR GOMEZ, WELTERWEIGHT, SAN JOSE STATE



Lopez witnessed another unfortunate occurrence to one of his pugilists this season.  Welterweight Pablo Diaz, last season’s Regionals champion and quarterfinalist at Nationals, suffered a brain injury during sparring and will be unable to continue his promising boxing career.



As a result, the capable Oscar Gomez will be his replacement. Two years ago, the senior from South San Francisco competed at welterweight, winning a bronze medal at Nationals before selflessly descending to the 139-pound division last season to make room for Diaz.



Now playing with an extra eight pounds and one more year of experience to build his ring acumen, Gomez sees himself parlaying the excess weight into a strength advantage.

“I was having problems making 139, but I feel comfortable at 147, so I think my power will be there,” he said. “I also need to stay calm.  The calmer I am, the less I’ll be tired, and the more confident I’ll be.”



A mechanical engineering major with a dream of designing Lamborghini engines in the future, one wouldn’t initially take Gomez’ soft-spoken demeanor as indicative of his aggressive nature in the squared circle.

“Outside the ring, he’s very unassuming but once he gets in the ring, he’s all business,” Lopez said. “He loves to come forward and brawl, and sometimes I have to pull him back and tell him to box.”



Gomez heeded his corner’s instructions last week in Berkeley. In desperate need of an opponent to prepare for Regionals, he gained three pounds and willfully took on Cal’s Juan Ramos, a full-fledged middleweight. 



Despite giving up 15 pounds on the scale to his foe, Gomez stayed on the outside and relied on his reach to earn the decision triumph.

“[Ramos] was a heavy guy,” Gomez said. “I could feel his weight in the ring, and I could hear my coach yelling for me to keep turning him and outbox him, so I listened to his advice and it worked out.”



Now 8-6 overall, the team captain would like to end his Spartan career on a high note with another march to Nationals.



“The gameplan is to beat everyone in front of me but take it one round at a time, and one fight at a time,” Gomez said. “If I do that, I think I’ll be able to make it to Nationals when this weekend’s over.”



COLIN SCHMITT, JUNIOR MIDDLEWEIGHT, UC DAVIS

Budget cuts have been unkind to UC Davis Boxing. The administration granted the fledgling program enough means to pay the salaries of head coach Hector Lopez and assistant Joel Stern, along with a few gloves, mitts, and body shields—but that’s where the generosity stops.



With 60 members in the club along with a handful of actual competing team members, the Aggies share exactly one heavy bag and one speed bag between them. They have no ring; the team must travel from their usual training grounds of the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC) to the downtown Davis Athletic Club for sparring.



Such is the daily challenge for team captain Colin Schmitt, a 156-pound junior from Palo Alto who has undertaken the yeomanesque duty of building the student-run program while working a job as a barista at the Starbucks adjacent to the ARC.



“It all comes down to your dedication,” the exercise biology major said. “You can have all the equipment in the world, but if you’re not training and putting in the hours, it doesn’t matter…and the more success we have, the more money we’ll be able to put toward getting a ring or facilities.”



According to Stern, Colin is the “heart and soul of UC Davis boxing.” Lopez is in accord, marveling at his fighter’s left jab and movement as well as his maturity and leadership.



“It’s incredible to me,” Lopez said. “The work, effort, and dedication, and all the stuff that he has to tackle on a daily basis has me in awe. I don’t even know if I could do it myself.  He has so many things he’s got to do, and he’s still able to compete at a high level.”



With UC Davis enjoying the closest drive between campus and the Reno tournament location among the Northern California schools, Schmitt has an ambitious plan to balance both academics and athletics this week.

“The morning after he wins his first fight at these Regionals, he will drive two hours back to Davis to take a final exam,” Stern said. “Then he’ll drive back to Reno to fight the biggest fight of his life that night. Who the hell does that but a college boxer?”

Currently standing at 3-1, Schmitt’s handspeed and counter-punching skills have made him a threat to advance to Nationals. His lofty objectives for the program have fueled his motivation to excel in the postseason.



“My biggest goal for the club is building something that’s going to last 100 years,” he said. “We’ve never hosted a boxing competition on campus. To have 500 to 1,000 people come to the ARC would be amazing. Maybe if I win a national title by the end of my tenure, it will get people more interested in taking up boxing here.”



NARGIS SHAGHASI, JUNIOR WELTERWEIGHT, USF

Pride goes before a fall, and senior 139-pounder Nargis Shaghasi discovered that the hard way at Longshoremen’s Hall in Fisherman Wharf last December.



Alameda’s Stelacia Leggett, whom the USF standout outpointed at the Hilltop Cup just weeks before, stood across from her in the other corner. After boasting that she would stop her opponent this time around, Shaghasi was reduced to tears when a determined Leggett turned the tables and accomplished the same deed on her in only two rounds.



“It happened so fast that I just couldn’t believe it,” Shaghasi said. “As soon as I lost, I ran to the bathroom and cried, not because I lost, but the way I lost. I would have rather lost by her outboxing me than losing that way. I also cried because I felt I let my coaches down.”

“She was overconfident,” her coach Angelo Merino said.  “I guess until you face your own vomit, you will never understand the importance of humility. She did, and she’s a totally different person. She speaks softly and carries a big stick now.”

After checking her ego at the door, the resilient politics major from Alameda has put that setback behind her by stringing together a pair of wins to head into Regionals at 4-1. With the myriad of endeavors on her plate outside the gym, Shaghasi didn’t have the luxury to dwell too long on the loss anyway. 



Working two jobs on campus as well as an internship downtown at an engineering firm, Shaghasi also finds time to be the vice president of the Greek Council. Yesterday, the aspiring attorney submitted her application to the USF Public Affairs program in hopes of extending her boxing days with the Dons.

“Whenever I worry about feeling overwhelmed, I just remind myself about my passion for the things I’m doing,” said Shaghasi, a Dean’s List student who is also a double minor in criminal justice and legal studies. “If it means I can’t go partying with the girls on Friday night or miss watching the new movie with friends, so be it. I have to put 110 percent into what I do or I won’t feel like it’s worth doing.”



Shaghasi’s enthusiastic attitude toward lace up her gloves stretches past the typical thrill of victory. As a Muslim woman of Afghan descent, she is constantly challenging traditional norms each time she fights.



“I want to be that girl other girls in my situation look up to,” she said. “I often get questions from Afghan people in the community asking me why I box. Well, I have a supportive family, and there’s nothing in our culture that says I can’t do it.” 



Shaghasi pointed to the upcoming Summer Games in London as proof that the times are changing.

“

Just this year, Afghanistan has a boxing team in the Olympics,” Shaghasi said. “Barriers are being broken every day, and I guess that’s what boxing helps to represent for me.”

Reno, Nevada, will host the NCBA Western Regionals this week. Thursday’s quarterfinals take place at the University of Nevada-Reno Boxing Gym on Fourth Street, and are free to the public. Tickets for Friday’s semifinals and Saturday’s finals at the Eldorado Hotel Casino are $15 each day. They can either be purchased online at eldoradoreno.com or by calling 1-800-879-8879.

Source: Ryan Maquiñana, CSNBayArea

Ryan Maquiñana writes a weekly column for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area (CSNBayArea.com). He’s also a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and Ring Magazine’s Ratings Panel. E-mail him at rmaquinana@gmail.com, check out his blog at norcalboxing.net or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.

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