The NCAA discontinued boxing in 1960 due to waning popularity and injuries. But in 1976, collegiate boxing was revived by the National Collegiate Boxing Association (NCBA), an organization with a mission to provide a safe environment for college students to learn boxing.

Six years ago, the UW boxing club was founded, taking a new and different approach to boxing.

“We were one of the first collegiate boxing teams to train men and women together,” Alison Forsyth said. “Other colleges are looking at how our women are doing, and they’re starting to make their teams non-segregated. We’ve been kind of pioneers, at least for women, in collegiate boxing.”

While the NCBA separates boxers by gender and weight class, the boxers at the UW don’t consider themselves to be separate men and women’s teams. Fights may be one person against another, but they practice together and compete as a single team.

The boxers don’t just consider each other teammates. Captain Zasha Sepulveda emphasized that the other boxers have become her family.

“It becomes more than a friendship and more than just a sport,” Sepulveda said. “Part of it is boxing itself. Boxing is so mental.”

The mental aspects of the sport are what the team looks for in new recruits. Tryouts this year began on Oct. 10 with 120 people, and by Oct. 14 only 45 were left. Less than half of those left will make the team, partly depending on weight classes, but mostly on their mental strength.

“It’s based on who pushes themselves,” Sepulveda said. “What we emphasize is heart; how hard you’re willing to work, how far you can push yourself mentally. Mentally, you’re stronger than you are physically, so that’s what we like to see.”

Mental strength and leadership are core values of the club. Head coach Christopher Mendez describes the team as a “leadership development program.”

At the beginning of the year, practices coincide with tryouts, which means Mendez can’t make it to every practice, leaving his assistant coaches and team leaders in charge. “If you’re a team leader, if coaches aren’t here, you’re leading practices,” club president and two-time national champion Jacqueline Ines said.

Practices happen three times a week, and the team competes once or twice a month at invitationals sanctioned by the NCBA. The club does well in competition, as evidenced by the women’s three national titles and the nearly dozen boxers who placed at last year’s national tournament.

“It goes back to being mentally stronger than your opponent,” Sepulveda said. “You have to think ‘what you do can’t hurt me.’”

Competition isn’t everything, though. The most important things about the UW’s boxing club are family, leadership, and strength.

“We aren’t here to learn how to punch people in the face,” Sepulveda said. “We’re here to learn how to become stronger.”

Reach reporter Hailey Robinson at Twitter: @haileyarobin

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