Bay Area college boxers begin national title chase


Bay Area college boxers begin national title chase

March 17, 2011

Ryan Maquiana

College boxings answer to March Madness features fighters from Cal, San Jose State, Santa Clara, and USF.

These often overlooked student-athletes seek their own version of One Shining Moment in the ring this spring. Their bid for greatness begins Thursday in Reno with the National Collegiate Boxing Association's Far-West Regional Tournament.

The winners will advance to the national championships an the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., April 7-9.

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Cal's Andrei Vasilj, San Jose State's Pablo Diaz, Pat Welde of Santa Clara University and USF Ramsey Ayloush represent the Bay Area contingent. Here's a sketch of each fighter:

Andrei Vasilj, light middleweight, Cal
Its been a rebuilding year for the Golden Bears, and head coach Jim Riksheim pulls no punches regarding that feeling.

With the tournament coming up, I feel like Im going into a tiger hut with a pea shooter, he said. Were all brand new, and as far as bout experience, our most veteran guy heading into this season only had three bouts under his belt.

One bright spot has been Vasilj, a 156-pound junior with a penchant for combat, having past experience in Muay Thai. For an international development studies major with designs on joining the Peace Corps after graduation, the 22-year-old junior from North Hollywood is quite the walking dichotomy when the gloves are on.

We practice twice a day, so Ive been able to learn faster than usual, Vasilj said. I love boxing because I love to be active, and it helps me get through my studies.

Hes got a unique style, said team captain Mike Hastings. He comes out hard and fast in every fight, which is surprising for being one of the new guys on the team.

Styles make fights, and such a maxim has carried Vasilj to the regionals in only his first year of competition.

Im aggressive when I need to be, Vasilj said. I have a really long jab, and I use it to set up my opponents for the left hook and straight right.

Andreis a very unusual fighter in that hell catch you off-balance with his footwork or uppercuts at unpredictable times, said Riksheim. You can never figure out what hes going to drop on you.

Nonetheless, due to his lack of experience, Vasilj acknowledges that he will be a bit of an underdog to make it to West Point.

I trust the coaches, and weve worked on a couple techniques these last few weeks, he said. Id say Im the underdog, but Ive got a lot of heart.

Pablo Diaz, welterweight, San Jose State
When he first laced up his gloves last September, Diaz never thought hed find himself competing in Reno this year. That is, until the Fremont native surprisingly outdueled teammate Oscar Gomez in a box-off to be the Spartans 147-pound entrant on Tuesday.

Oscar was a bronze medalist in last years nationals, said SJSU head coach Candy Lopez, who doubles as the lead trainer at the San Jose PAL. However, what Pablo lacks in experience, he makes up for in enthusiasm and technique.

Unbeaten in three bouts this season, the humble first-year graduate student was quick to credit his teammates for his rapid development.

Oscar and a lot of team members have showed me the ropes, Diaz said. He and I both wanted to go to regionals, so we had a box-off. It couldve gone either way.

The 26-year-old American High School has tried to liken his style to light middleweight world champ Miguel Cotto as a nod to his Puerto Rican heritage.

Im half-Mexican, too, but Ive always been a fan of Cottos, because of his poise and confidence in all situations, he said. Hes a warrior when he has to be, though.

The former green belt in Krav Maga chose to attend San Jose State not only for its masters program in counseling, but for the boxing club as well. Upon closer inspection, however, Diaz has a lot more on his plate than books and boxing.

I work at Smart & Final in the morning, then at Durham Elementary School where I tutor second graders, he said. Then I have boxing and then class from until 10 p.m.

While pugilism is undoubtedly a passion Diaz would like to continue after his time at SJSU, he hasnt lost sight of his goals outside the ring.

For the longest time, Ive wanted to participate in the Golden Gloves, he shared. Ultimately, however, I want to be a high school or college counselor. I want to help others reach college and return the favor to the community Im from.

Pat Welde, light welterweight, Santa Clara
Veteran leadership has been the mantra of this seasons Bronco squad, and head coach Pierre Moynier has enjoyed the luxury of having two senior co-captains in his roster.

Its pretty rare to have a boxer all four years in college boxing, said Moynier. To have two like Pat Welde and Luis Sierra has been great for our team.

Welde, a 139-pounder from the fighting city of Philadelphia, has boxing in his blood, even if he didnt want to admit it at first.

Growing up, I wasnt a huge boxing fan, but I started training in fifth grade with my dad, he said. He trained with Robert Hines, who was the light middleweight champion of the world back in 1989. Hes become a great mentor and I do love watching fights now.

Despite being an avid fan of former light welterweight world champ Ricky Hatton, Welde doesnt regularly employ a face-first approach.

Im a southpaw, so that brings an advantage, said the 22-year-old finance major. I can brawl if my opponent wants to brawl, but my game is more working on the outside.

Weldes boxing skills were on full display last Thanksgiving when he defeated a favored fighter from the Naval Academy at the prestigious New York Athletic Club Invitational. This weekend, he looks to make amends for dropping last years regional final.

He lost to a fighter from Cal last year in a pretty bad decision, so this is kind of like redemption for him this time around, said Moynier.

Ramsey Ayloush, middleweight, USF
As the Dons send their contingent to Reno, one of them has been steadily building a reputation for finishing his opponents.

Ramsey Ayloush is 7-0 with six technical knockouts, said USF head coach Angelo Merino. Hes knocked out fighters with three times his experience with body shots. The kid is gifted. Hes like the Energizer Bunny out there.

Ayloush, a 21-year-old senior from Fullerton, has gone from a 190-pound out-of-shape junior to a 165-pound powerhouse in his final campaign.

Ive just always had a chip on my shoulder, he said. Ive always trained super hard. My dedication has been the reason behind my record.

In fact, Ayloushs work ethic has impressed his coach more than the actual results.

Ramseys the first one in the gym waiting for me, and he wont leave until I say hes done, said Merino. Hes always asking me for more work even after my other students leave.

Such drive has fueled his march toward a degree in international business, where he plans to get into the aerospace field someday. However, those dreams can wait for now.

Something Im battling every day is if I want to take a serious shot at pro boxing or go into business, said Ayloush. But as of this moment, my main concerns are doing well at regionals and finishing school.

Freelance writer Ryan Maquiana is a regular contributor to

Curry: 'There's nothing that's going to derail' 2016-17 Warriors

Curry: 'There's nothing that's going to derail' 2016-17 Warriors

Here in the age of ubiquitous social media and rampant hyper-scrutiny, following a summer during which they tilted the balance of power in the NBA, the Warriors embark on a season in which they may be the most inspected and analyzed team in American sports history.

Their ability to handle this overload of attention will determine whether the next eight months are good, great or magical – or a colossal disappointment.

Regardless of talent level – the Warriors four All-Stars – it is incredibly difficult to consistently crush opponents while also navigating potential distractions, managing the inevitable discord and deflecting the harsh radiance of what surely will be ceaseless public glare.

“The only thing that matters is what happens in the gym every day,” coach Steve Kerr says. “And that’s our job as a coaching staff, to address dynamics as they arise, whether it’s on the floor or off. And I’m sure there are going to be lots of off-the-floor dynamics that we’ll have to get through this year.”

The sideshows are well under way. There is Kevin Durant’s much-debated decision to leave Oklahoma City and sign with the Warriors. There is the back-and-forth over how this will affect Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. There is the curiosity about Draymond Green, partly regarding his role but mostly regarding whether he can keep his white-hot emotions from overriding his considerable intellect, a subject well-chronicled as the preseason came to a close.

“You could nitpick all you want,” Curry says. “You could chime in here and there. But at the end of the day, we’re all competitive. We’re all our own person. We’re all in this thing together. It’s a ‘You take shots at Draymond, you take shots at the whole team kind’ of mentality.”

There it is, Curry indicating the Warriors are ready and willing to circle up, close ranks, link arms and spend 82 games unleashing their abundance of firepower upon the rest of the NBA.

The Warriors are a team always seeking a reason to turn up their ferocity, scanning the globe for slights and insults and anything else that will lead them to believe that you don’t believe. They will have plenty of ammunition.

They’re coming off a devastating loss in the NBA Finals, where they became the first team to take a 3-1 series lead and not finish the season with a championship. They engineered the biggest acquisition of the summer, signing megastar forward Durant. They’re reading that their incumbent Green is on a path that could destroy everything they’ve built.

And, for the heck of it, they’re being told they no longer have a rim protector.

Here’s what the Warriors hear: Their 2015 title was a fluke, they’re trying to game the system to create a super team, their good chemistry is a hoax, they’ll be giving out free tickets to easy buckets. And, more important, that some folks may be out to get them by prodding them to say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing or otherwise wreck what they believe is a championship roster supported by an enthusiastically ambitious culture that begins with CEO Joe Lacob

It was Lacob’s comment last season about the Warriors being “light years ahead” of NBA competitors that after the Finals loss became a whispered phrase of derision, a soft jab at the CEO’s propensity for glorifying his product. But that line has company. There is the Draymond Factor, the KD Decision and the fact that Andre Iguodala and Curry are in the final year of their contracts.

And there is, above all, the suspicion that the magnification of the Warriors will lead to an insane thirst for information/comment that could nudge any guileless or agenda-pushing member of the organization into deep and treacherous water.

Kerr has on multiple occasions referred to preponderance of attention devoted to the team, adding that the players “have their guards up” when dealing with media. Whether players dilute their comments will depend on that player. All are on alert.

“But at the end of the day, it’s just enjoying yourself and just trying to enjoy the game of basketball, because it can be fun," Kerr said.

If these Warriors have fun while being unified and productive, they can indeed be magical, capable of exceeding 70 wins. They can top 60 even while surviving a few bumps. They can probably win 50 even while slowly unraveling.

There was, after all, only one basketball issue during the preseason that give reason for pause. New starting center Zaza Pachulia is going to have difficult handling big men highly skilled in scoring, such as Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins. That, however, is a small problem given the paucity of such centers in today’s NBA.

Other than that, these Warriors are built to punish defenses, assaulting teams with a barrage of 3-point shots. As long as they can keep their minds on the principles of basketball, as designed by Kerr and his staff, they’ll be playing deep into June.

“We just keep moving forward,” Curry says. “There’s nothing that’s going to derail us. That’s basically the gist of it. So our goal is to not let anything come into that locker room that’s not from us, and we do a pretty good job of that.”

That has been the recent history of this group. But history has never put an NBA team through what the Warriors are about to face.

Raiders snap count: Riley over James; Murray a feature back

Raiders snap count: Riley over James; Murray a feature back

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Malcolm Smith was fully recovered from a quadriceps strain, ready to assume his typically extensive workload at weakside linebacker.

That allowed the Raiders to make a personnel change in the middle. They started relative newcomer Perry Riley at middle linebacker over rookie sixth-round pick Cory James, a young player forced into action due to Ben Heeney’s ineffectiveness and health.

Riley has six seasons and 72 starts to his name, given the Raiders experience at a position expected to make reads and checks and communicate information to teammates before the snap.

Riley fared well in that spot in Sunday’s 33-16 victory over Jacksonville, with a pair of tackles in 100 percent of the defensive snaps. He was Pro Football Focus’ highest-rated Raiders defensive player, with positive marks against the run and pass.

It was uncertain how much Latavius Murray would play in his return from turf toe, but the Raiders did not attach a short leash. Murray played 42 snaps and had 20 touches in this game.

He was the feature back in this one, a new approach after the Raiders used a near-even split with DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard. That wasn’t the case this time. Washington got the start but played just 13 snaps and six touches. Richard only had two touches in limited action.

Murray sparked the Raiders run game, with 18 carries for 59 yards and two touchdowns. The work left him no worse for the wear, a positive sign for a team that needs Murray running strong.

Let’s take a look at the entire Raiders snap count:

72 – OL Donald Penn, OL Gabe Jackson, OL Austin Howard, OL Rodney Hudson, QB Derek Carr
71 – OL Kelechi Osemele
68 – WR Amari Cooper
50 – WR Michael Crabtree
49 – TE Clive Walford
47 – WR Seth Roberts
42 – RB Latavius Murray
25 – FB Jamize Olawale
17 – WR Andre Holmes, Mychal Rivera
13 – RB DeAndre Washington
12 – OL Matt McCants
11 – OL Denver Kirkland
5 – WR Johnny Holton
4 – RB Jalen Richard
1 – OL Jon Feliciano

67 – CB Sean Smith, S Reggie Nelson, CB David Amerson, LB Perry Riley
66 – S Karl Joseph
63 – LB Malcolm Smith
60 – DE Khalil Mack
57 – LB Bruce Irvin
52 – CB DJ Hayden
42 – DL Denico Autry
34 – DL Jihad Ward
21 – LB Shilique Calhoun, DL Justin Ellis
20 – DL DL Darius Latham, DL Dan WIlliams
7 -- DL Stacy McGee
4 – S Keith McGill
2 – CB TJ Carrie

29 – Darren Bates, Nate Allen
25 – Andre Holmes, Jamize Olawale
24 – Shilique Calhoun
23 – Johnny Holton, Mychal Rivera
16 – Cory James, Sebastian Janikowski
14 – Antonio Hamilton
13 – Jon Condo, Marquette King
12 – Clive Walford
11 – Jon Feliciano
10 – Jalen Richard
9 – DJ Hayden, Karl Joseph
7 – Matt McCants, Denver Krikland, Gabe Jackson, Kelechi Osemele
6 – RB DeAndre Washington, Donald Penn
4 – TJ Carrie, Dan Williams, Darius Latham, Denico Autry, Bruce Irvin, Khalil Mack
3 – Justin Ellis
1 – Jihad Ward, Amari Cooper, Austin Howard
NOTE: Snap counts taken from official NFL game book