March 17, 2011
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 CSNBayArea.com.