Every fall, crowds gather outside Harbin Hall for an unusual spectacle: students fighting other students. But unlike typical schoolyard showdowns, these fights are clean, clinical and hosted by Georgetown University Club Boxing.
In October, the club hosted its sixth such showcase on campus, where local fighters gathered to compete in the ring. Five months later, on March 18, the club’s season culminated in three national titles as the team returned from the United States Intercollegiate Boxing Association Championships.
Led by Head Coach John Garry, three Georgetown fighters won titles in the event, hosted by the University of Illinois from March 16 to 18. Junior Hana Burkly, senior Michael Hou and junior Aaron Vannier all won belts for the Hoyas, in the 125-pound novice, 152-pound novice and the 165-pound novice weight classes, respectively. Burkly won one fight to secure a title, while Hou and Vannier each won two.
Though the club did not claim any belts last season, senior fighter and team captain Camille Hankel had high expectations for the team going into the competition.
“In my mind, I have a high standard that we’ll walk away with belts every year,” Hankel said. “But it’s certainly nothing to be taken for granted, especially in such a subjective sport.”
For Burkly and Vannier, the victories marked the second time each has won a national title. Junior fighter and club co-president Theresa Romualdez lauded their efforts at the national championships, as well as how the fighters support each other.
“It’s been really cool to see them progress with me,” Romualdez said. “They were both there for my first fight, so the support among the junior class especially has been really great these past three years.”
Vannier serves as co-president of the club alongside Romualdez.
“Being able to work with him, both inside and outside of the gym, has been great,” Romualdez said. “Watching him in nationals, he was really fast. I always watch his fights and think that it’s at a completely different level from where I’m at. I want to be able to fight like that someday.”
For Hou, the championship fight was his last for Georgetown. This season, Hou won all three of his fights. Yet the senior’s success contrast with his experiences freshman year, when Hou fell short in the national competition.
Nevertheless, Hou felt that losing in his freshman year was essential for his further development as a fighter.
“Even though I lost, it was good for me,” Hou said. “It taught me that losing is not as bad as I was catastrophizing it to be going into the fight.”
This year’s championships proved different for Hou. Not only did the senior win in his weight class, but he felt that his performance in the final fight was his absolute best.
“I thought it was my best fight ever,” Hou said. “I’ve seen plenty of fights where club members graduate, and by no means is there last fight their best fight. I can proudly say that I ended my run on a great note.”
Other schools participating in the championships included the University of Illinois, the University of Michigan, Kansas University, the University of Florida and Florida State University. Illinois won the male team title with seven individual wins, while Michigan secured the female team title with six individual wins.
Though Georgetown came short of a team title this year, Hankel believes Georgetown could win a team victory at the national championships in the years to come.
“It’s hard for us to compete against teams that have so many boxers, but based on the fact that nearly half of our boxers win when we go, it’s still within the realm of possibility. That’s something we’re working towards,” Hankel said.
In addition to having fewer fighters than other schools, the club is also hindered by certain logistical shortcomings. For example, the team cannot regularly practice in a ring, which puts the club at a significant disadvantage against schools who do. Instead, the team practices in the Bulldog Alley dance studio, which fails to recreate the setting of an actual fight.
“Some of these other schools have their own boxing ring they can practice in, and when they have 30 girls who spar, they get a lot more variety in their competition,” Hankel said. “It’s is a luxury that we don’t have, both because the size of our team but also our resources here not being able to sustain such a big team because of the space.”
However, Hankel feels the club’s success could improve the resources allotted to it by the university.
“Hopefully, the more we sort of succeed, the more the school will respond to that,” Hankel said.
While the club’s weaknesses may be in its size and practice space, its strengths rest in a strong team community supported by a group of diverse, talented members.
“Our team is pretty unique among student activities at Georgetown,” Hankel said. “We’re probably one of the most inclusive spaces I’ve seen in that there are no tryouts. We tend to attract a very diverse group, ethnically, interest-wise and any other aspect you can think of.”
For Hankel, boxing calls for a team dynamic unlike any other.
“It’s the fact that we really push ourselves together, we punch each other, we’re in the ring together, we’re tired, we’re sweaty, we’re losing weight to make our weight together,” Hankel said. “It becomes a very natural and effective bonding and welcoming environment.”