Members of the University of San Francisco’s boxing team faced a veritable judgment day this past weekend at the school’s annual Koret Boxing Invitational as their skills, training and experience were put to the test inside the ring against some of the biggest names in West Coast collegiate boxing.
For the fighters, ‘judgement day’, Saturday, March 3rd, began around 2:00 in the afternoon, the hour stipulated for competitors to complete their official weigh-in and pre-fight health examination. And so it was around this time that I met two of the USF boxers, Trenton Stonerock and Jaren Hayashi, at the intersection of Parker and Golden Gate to accompany them to this preliminary clearance event and hopefully catch a glimpse of the competition that had heretofore been identified by name alone.
My companions are casually clad in sweatshirt, polyester basketball shorts and flip-flops, evidence of their attempt to keep their bodies as comfortable as possible before they must endure the strenuous effort of a match.
“So you take it easy yesterday?” Stonerock nervously asks Hayashi.
Hayashi smiles, “Yeah, just basically watched tv all night and ate more than I think I’ve eaten the entire semester.”
Stonerock laughs, admitting to his similar indulgence: “Me too. I’m glad I gave myself some leeway on my weight so I could eat whatever I wanted these last few days and not have to worry about it.”
“For real. I’d been thinking my weight limit was going to be 120 so I was a little anxious about what I was eating. But last week coach told me the limit for my weight class was actually 125, so I just started stuffin’ burritos in me after I heard that… You nervous?”
Stonerock pauses, opening the front door of the Koret Gym for a fellow student before he answers, “Yeah, but if I’m not at this point, there’s probably something wrong with me.”
Hayashi nods in concurrence as he walks into the gym.
Then, walking down the stairwell leading to the lower level of Koret, we ran into the head coach, Angelo Merino, who humorously inquires as to why Trenton is smiling when he ought to be exhibiting a more stern “Game Face.” Trenton got serious as we entered the boxing gym, completely empty save for the landscape of bulging black-and-red punching bags chained to the ceiling, the elevated boxing ring that dominates the space, and the other sundries of exercise equipment with which Trenton, Jaren and the rest of the team had been preparing for this day of reckoning. When the referee, medical officials and sea of other schools’ fighters pour into the tightly-packed gym, I am told that only boxers can remain in the room for the weigh-in, so I step out into the hallway with the coaches and other assistants. Here, I discover not only the age advantage of our team but also the superiority of our school’s facilities in comparison to the other schools attending the invitational.
“We’ve been a guerilla program since 1995, first practicing on basketball courts and using whatever equipment we could afford out-of-pocket, and eventually gaining an official status when the word got out that we were winning fights,” Coach Merino informs the other coaches.
“Programs are born, not made,” responds the coach from the University of Washington. “Our program’s only in its second year and UC Davis is barely into its fourth.”
I ask the UW coach how he thinks our facilities compare to his own, to which he ironically retorts, “Well, the main difference is that you guys actually have facilities and equipment. We, and a lot of other schools, have to rely on off-campus amateur boxing gyms for practice.”
After all the boxers were cleared, they disperse from the gym to get something to eat and find a comfortable location in which to ensconce themselves and mentally prepare for their fights, now only a few hours away.
The actual event began promptly at 6:00 pm inside the often-neglected Hagan basketball gym. The crowd was slim and only a few skinny arms of chairs and bleachers hugged the centralized red-white-and-blue-roped boxing ring.
The first thirteen bouts preceding the intermission were a mixed bag of success. Starting our team off on a positive note, Adrianna Boursalian adroitly attacked her opponent, Hanah Sisley of the University of Washington, in the first and second rounds, finally dominating her in the third round for the first of what would only be a total of five Dons wins.
After this, USF’s luck seemed to go downhill. Three of our competitors, Louis Amparado, Jaren Hayashi and Nora Frazier, lost their bouts by retirement, meaning they were so ostensibly out-matched that Coach Merino had no choice but to throw in the towel. In a sport like boxing, it’s best not to take the risk when your fighter seems to be aching, especially when it’s his or her body at stake.
Nonetheless, three other fighters, Trenton Stonerock, Arthur Ghaus, and Ed Fu, though ultimately being defeated, demonstrated impressive feats of perseverance as they relentlessly pursued their opponents with their heads – some of them bleeding – held high.
Then, as an intimation of the success that would come after the intermission, Sebastian Doerner battered his opponent, a well-toned, mean-faced Russian from the University of Washington named Igor Cherney whom I’d met earlier at the weigh-in, through each of the three rounds and left no room for remorse. By the end of the round, Cherney’s face was reduced to a bloody pulp and USF received a much-needed boost in morale.
After the not-so-spectacular intermission performance by local alternative-rock band Oceanroyal, our final three fighters brought USF’s own performance at this event to a crescendo. First, Carmen Fernandez effortlessly pummeled her opponent from UC Berkeley, Jewell Fix, tiring her quickly and achieving an undisputed win. Next was Carlos Green, a senior, whose adversary was a hulking member of the University of Washington’s boxing team, Shadain Akhavan. Both threw vehement punches that seemed to shake the floor of the entire gym when they were landed. But, unlike Akhavan, Green endured without wearying much at all, scoring many well-placed punches in the third round when Akhavan could only seem to defend. With Green announced as the winner, USF’s hope was peaking.
In a climactic final rumble, two tall, lean fighters, our school’s own Max “Lights-out” Haffner and UC Berkeley’s Robert Watts, went toe-to-toe in what was perhaps the most outstanding display of athleticism of the night. Both pugilists seemed utterly invulnerable to each other’s power-packed punches. The fight’s intensity was palpable when Max flipped Rob onto his back during a lock-up and Rob’s family audibly protested from their seats. Indeed, this fight was a true toss-up, which only made Max’s eventual victory all the more savory.
Thus, with the announcer advertising Coach Merino’s co-authored book, From Pancho to Pacquiao, and then introducing Oceanroyal’s post-tournament performance, to which I had no interest in listening after what they had to offer during intermission, I took my leave of the event. On my way out, I ran into Trenton Stonerock as he was leaving. Having been diagnosed with a rib contusion after his fight, he left me with perhaps the best words to conclude and summarize the events that had just transpired:
“Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. And sometimes you break your damn rib. But you always keep fighting.”