A Pugilist’s Portension: USF Boxer Forecasts Outcome of Upcoming Koret Invitational

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As attention fades from our school’s fizzling basketball season, many USF students will spend the coming weeks crossing off days on their calendars leading up to the nine-day-long hiatus demarcated by an exclamatory statement of this sort: “SPRING BREAK!!”. But for Trenton Stonerock and a handful of other resolute members of the University of San Francisco boxing team, a daunting hurdle remains to be overcome before the final X’s can be drawn and inhibitions fully relinquished. And it’s this obstacle, the 2012 USF Koret Boxing Invitational, which, if successfully hurdled by the pugilists, will ensure the sweetness of their breaks is complemented by a satisfying taste of victory, rather than an unsavory lick of loss.

Less than a week away, the invitational is scheduled for 5 PM Saturday, March 3, 2012 with bouts commencing around 6 o’clock. The tournament will feature a number of impressive competitors from UCLA, USC, Stanford, UC Berkeley, San Jose State University, UC Santa Clara, and University of Washington, to list a few prominent schools.

Despite this enormous sense of pressure looming over his head, Trenton Stonerock seems surprisingly unfazed. I’ve pulled Stonerock, a freshman boxer and close friend of mine whose relentless devotion originally inspired me to shed some limelight on this purely voluntary, albeit rigorously demanding club sport, away from his native environment – the isolated Koret boxing gym which he calls his “second home” – to share a few words of prophecy concerning the team’s upcoming tournament.

Instead of a padded glove, his hand clutches a non-threatening cup of french-pressed coffee. Nothing in his calm, congenial countenance suggests the more brutal side of his character that’s more attuned to pummeling man-sized punching bags. Within the scope of the following interview, I go toe-to-toe with the man behind the beast…

Q: Compared to some of the bigger names attending the invitational (i.e. UCLA, University of Washington, etc) and given that you yourself are scheduled to fight a member of the historically successful Berkeley boxing team, how do you think the USF team will fare?
A: Well, it’s not really something you can gauge according to a standard measurement. What makes a “big” team isn’t just the equipment or the number of trainers or how much money the school has set aside for the program. While these things doubtlessly help, and will probably be to some of the bigger schools’ advantages, the winning team is going to be the one that put the greatest emphasis on the individual. I mean, the one that made sure its members were fully aware of their responsibility to get better and condition themselves both in and out of the gym. And this means being able to balance school, too. So in this sense, I think we’ll be pretty solid competition.

Q: Surely, this is the case with other sports. Have you found that boxing requires something extra of the individual?
A: Without a doubt. I used to play football in high school, and the sense of responsibility is so diffused there. I could show up to a game a little out-of-shape and some other kid who bulked up a bit would cancel it out. In those sports, you’re a piece of a team. If your coach notices you’re off, he can just switch you out. But not when you ARE the team. In boxing, if the coach notices you’re off, the most he can do is pray for the best and remind you of what you are probably already aware of… or throw in the towel if you really can’t fight.

Q: How does this sense of autonomy affect your – and your teammates’ – relationships with the team’s coach, Angelo Merino?
A: Overall, it makes us closer. I mean, instead of some guy just barking orders for you to follow and expecting machine-like compliance, Coach Merino understands that it’s our choice to be there everyday. He lets you establish your goals and advises you of the best means of pursuing them. Sure, he still yells, but only when our safety is really in danger. And that’s something I think has given Coach Merino such an established reputation, his ability to produce fighters who might not be capable of Tyson-esque knock outs but who will surely hold their own. He’s made it clear that we could “lose everything” in a round (though the possibility of death is overwhelmingly slim) unless we learn to defend ourselves appropriately. Anyway, I think this intense self-preservation will prove to be a huge advantage for me and my teammates on Saturday night.

Q: With all this talk about the individual, isn’t there an incommensurable amount of pressure weighing down on you and every other boxer as this fight approaches?
A: (Stonerock chuckles). Yeah, yeah… It’s the stuff that is on the mind of every boxer from the littlest 8-year-old novice to Floyd Mayweather… The pressure starts when you realize that it’s just you and one other person in a match. The next step compounds the pressure because you understand that one of you is going to be beat (literally) so you might as well make sure that person isn’t yourself. And that’s when the anxiety starts to build. That’s when you start determining what you, as a boxer in a particular weight class, need to do to be successful, to kick the other guy’s butt. This sense of worry is only natural. Have I run enough? Have I swam enough? Am I FIT enough to fight? It all piles up to a cumbersome sense of obligation. But it’s how the particular fighter handles these worries once they’re in the ring that truly determines the winner. Because, though the responsibility might seem daunting, it’s actually quite empowering. You realize you are the best that you can possibly be at the time of the fight and HOPE – without the slightest expression of doubt – that you trained hard enough. You don’t start imitating the other guy just because he’s using some fancy technique. Ultimately, you know what you have to work with and, even if you’re out-conditioned and out-muscled by your opponent, at least you’ll be in control of yourself. And this self-control and self-knowledge is powerful, especially since you then know exactly what you need to improve.

But what my friend overlooked in factoring the innumerable variables of success is the invisible hand of a cheering crowd, subtly lifting the boxers’ morale as they battle within their physical limits. So, USF students and faculty, come out this Saturday to the USF Koret Swig Gymnasium (entrance on the corner of Turk and Stanyan streets) to give these fighting men and women the extra spirit-boost they need to transcend themselves and bring their opponents down.

There will be free parking available at USF’s Koret parking structure. Presale admission prices are: $5 for students, $10 for faculty, $20 for general admission, and $50 for ringside seats. So, to avoid the embarrassing feeling of spending $5 more than you needed at the door or for additional information on the event, visit: usfca.edu/koret.

Adding to the entertainment value of the spectacle, the invitational will feature the following student intramural bouts: Science vs. Nursing; Education vs. Arts; Business vs. Law. In addition to these less-formal fights, there will be a live music performance by the San Francisco-based alternative rock group Oceanroyal following the matches.

So come one come all, and share in the relish of local fighters, local musicians, and (hopefully) some Dons’ wins.

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