By L.E. Leone
IN THE GAME Gio Camacho, captain of the West Point women’s boxing team, sang the national anthem into the ring announcer’s microphone, wearing boxing gloves. Then she climbed into the ring and beat the beans out of University of Maryland’s Catherine Breslin, who looked a little bewildered.
This was the first fight on a 21-bout card the second night of the inaugural United States Intercollegiate Boxing Association tournament held at USF last weekend. Incredibly, it was the first collegiate tournament to crown women champions, as well as men.
West Point seemed especially excited about this. The academy sent twelve female boxers to San Francisco for the event (and no male ones). Eight out of nine of the women’s bouts featured at least one West Pointer. A couple were West Point vs. West Point.
West Point had coaches. West Point had uniforms. West Point had chants. West Point had Gio Camacho. After a while, it became pretty easy to root against West Point. Everyone from any other college who stepped into the ring with them seemed lonely and intimidated.
It’s reassuring, I suppose, from a national security standpoint, that our country’s future military officers fought with more discipline, confidence, and swagger than (for example) Pat Cannaday of UNC — who I fell in love with when I saw her laughing in her corner between rounds. Something her coach had said to her.
She was clearly being beaten. But didn’t seem fazed by it. At all. The ref interrupted the fight in the middle of the third because her ponytail had come undone. She had to go to her corner and have it taped.
Cannaday lost. Rachel Luba of UCLA lost. Jules Squire, a jangly and wildly strong, free-swinging slugger from UMD, lost, goddamn it. Mei-Le Keck of UCLA lost.
West Point took every weight class from 112 to 152. I started to lose interest. Then I saw three people sitting in another section of bleachers off to the side at the Koret Center gymnasium. They didn’t look “above it all” so much as, yeah, “off to the side” of it.
The woman was wearing a WVU hoody, her hands in the pockets. She wasn’t shadow boxing, chattering nervously, or eating power bars. In fact, it was hard to tell she was a boxer.
Her coach didn’t look like the other coaches, and her boyfriend didn’t look like anyone else in the place: beard, bandanna, shorts and flip-flops . . .
My people! I thought.
When I saw her legs, I knew who was going to take West Point down.
Sadly, though, Jennifer Moreale of WVU never had the chance. She fought Eileen Macias-Mendoza, USF. She fought the home team! And she won, by TKO. First round. Probably the USF boxing coach saw what I’d seen. In fact, he had the best view in the house of where Moreale’s power was coming from, and he threw in the towel. I saw this. It was literal. Towel. Over. First knockout of the night.
The second came in the other 165-pound fight, in which West Point was taken down, finally, by Elizabeth Brunton of Georgetown. Brunton, another likeable fighter, had a strong upper body and an old-fashioned brawler’s demeanor, but bird legs compared to Moreale’s.
Now, the next night, they were going to square off for the 165-pound collegiate title. That’s the heavyweights, for women. Brunton vs. Moreale. It had a ring, for me — like Ali-Frazier or Foreman Grill. I was hooked. Brunton-Moreale. The rest of that evening, and all the next day, it was the only thing I could talk about. West Virginia vs. Georgetown.
In collegiate boxing, they count the punches landed, that’s all, and — barring a knockout — it is how you win or lose. Three rounds. Two minutes apiece. It goes fast, from the outside.
“When you’re the person in the ring, you’re in it alone,” Moreale told me after. “The only voice I hear is the corner. And I feel the punches. And I feel what I am going to do next. But that’s it.”
Brunton went the distance with her, and fought well, but Moreale won. She looked like a different fighter the second night: more bob and weave. “I discovered some things that I always thought I could do,” she said. “I surprised myself, too.”
Counting her half-round TKO the night before, this was her fourth fight ever.
An Italian native, Moreale is two years into her PhD studies. Economics. But she has wanted to box since she was little, when she would practice on a stuffed duffel bag, wearing ski gloves.
“When you believe in something,” she said, two hands on her giant, gaudy, championship belt, “it’s possible.”
I said that I agreed.