By Ryan Maquiñana
College boxing’s answer to March Madness concluded on Saturday afternoon, as host Air Force Academy dominated the 2012 NCBA National Championships in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Buoyed by four champions and one runner-up, the Falcons captured their 19th team title and first since 2004 by dethroning service academy rival Army. The Cadets from West Point had won it all the past four consecutive seasons but were only four weeks removed from a car accident that left eight of their fighters in the hospital for varying amounts of time.
Air Force’s Andrew Pineda (112 lbs.), Navy’s Tom Payne (119 lbs.), and Nevada’s Andrew Morales (125 lbs.) successfully defended their individual national titles, while Air Force’s Dan Starr (139 lbs.) and Army’s John Maddux (175 lbs.) avenged losses in their respective finals last year.
First-time winners were lightweight Josh Lopez of UMass (132 lbs.), San Jose State’s Oscar Gomez (147 lbs.), Nevada’s Josue Gayton (185 lbs.), the Navy duo of Noah Weintraub (156 lbs.) and Keon Briscoe (195 lbs.), and the Air Force pair of Casey Habluetzel (165 lbs.) and Olawale Lawal (195+ lbs.).
All-America honors were distributed among the top four finishers in each weight class. Air Force led the pack with 11 of them, with eight Navy fighters and six Army pugilists in close pursuit. California, East Carolina, Nevada, Penn State, VMI, and West Virginia had two All-Americans apiece.
SAN JOSE STATE’S GOMEZ GRABS WELTERWEIGHT CROWN
Oscar Gomez became San Jose State's third national champion in four years with a 3-2 decision victory over Navy's R.J. Garcia in the 147-pound final.
"He was a pitbull," Gomez said of his opponent. "I saw his last fight, and he was like me, very aggressive. I tried to match the number of punches he threw, went to the body, hit him from angles, and I turned him as much as possible. I was picking up the pace, especially in the later rounds, and the gameplan worked."
Two years ago, the senior from South San Francisco found himself in the Final Four only to settle for bronze. This time, he approached the NCBA national tournament with unfinished business on his mind.
"In the ring, I worked on turning my man, and also, I was more in shape this year," Gomez said. "I'd run about four or five miles every night, and with the high-altitude here in Colorado, it definitely helped with my stamina."
With SJSU head coach Candelario "Candy" Lopez unable to make it to Colorado due to prior commitments, Cal's Jim Riksheim and UNLV's Chris Ben-Tchavtchavadze worked the corner. Upon hearing the news of Gomez' triumph, Lopez was ecstatic.
"It elevates the program," Lopez said. "It's just great to see given the training we put these kids through. We're at a disadvantage against the service academies because our kids have to work and go to school at the same time, but as far as the results, not bad."
Although a senior, Gomez is lobbying the NCBA for the opportunity to defend his title in 2013.
"Last season, I had surgery on my elbow because I tore a ligament," Gomez said. "Hopefully they can count that as a redshirt year. If not, I still plan to continue to box amateur."
A mechanical engineering major with the ultimate goal of designing Lamborghini engines, he joins Chuck Parra (2010) and Mark Sanchez (2009) as Spartans who have made it to the top of the mountain as national champions.
"Mark and I are really good friends, and he had really high hopes for me when I started as a freshman," Gomez said. "I even told him I'd win a national title one day, and here I am."
With SJSU's boxing club membership down this season, Gomez hopes that his momentous accomplishment can serve as a catalyst to reverse the trend.
"Hopefully this will inspire more recruits to join us next year," he said. "With San Jose State being a commuter school to a lot of people, it's kind of hard to get them to stay because boxing requires a big time commitment...but if you look at the results, it's been worth it."
CAL’S RAMOS DROPS DECISION IN MIDDLEWEIGHT FINAL
The other Bay Area college fighter in the finals, 165-pounder Juan Ramos of California, lost a narrow 3-2 decision to Air Force's Casey Habluetzel.
Just two weeks ago, Ramos defeated Habluetzel in Reno for the Western regional title. However, the rematch would take place on his foe's home turf, an advantage that might have tilted perceptions in the Falcon fighter's favor.
"I'm a little disappointed. I really did think I won it," Ramos said. "The crowd was going crazy over anything he'd throw even if it didn't land. I definitely landed some bombs, especially in the third round, but that's the way it is."
Overall, Ramos felt he did enough to outpoint his foe, but such is the subjectivity of judging in the absence of a knockout. A wide discrepancy in scores apparently existed between the three officals who had it for Habluetzel and the two who had it for the senior Golden Bear pugilist.
"Jim [Riksheim] showed me the cards from the judges, and it was crazy," Ramos said. "The scorecards that had me winning had me up by seven points on average, and on those that had him up had him winning by nine points on average," Ramos said.
Interestingly enough, Ramos has seen both sides of his peace and conflict studies major as an alum of both Juvenile Hall in his high school years and the freethinking bastion of UC Berkeley.
"I was actually a student at South San Francisco High School with [San Jose State national welterweight champ] Oscar [Gomez] before I got in trouble," Ramos said. "As they say, I was hanging out with the wrong people, and I made some bad choices."
Having turned his life around following his release years ago, Ramos will collect a college diploma this spring as he pursues employment in nonprofit development projects like the World Bank.
"I think I learned a lot about myself being in Juvie," Ramos said. "I always thought I wasn't a bad person, and I love being around people. When I got out, I enrolled in community college, started hearing about other people's dreams, and it really made me think about my future and what I could do myself. Now I'm at Cal and the rest is history."
Now he can add to his résumé All-America honors, a distinction he will share with both Cal teammate Jose "Jay" Jimenez (156-pound semifinalist) and Gomez.
"I'm going to miss boxing," Ramos said. "It taught me about life, and how hard I could push myself, especially in terms of how much my heart can take me all the way. I'm going to take those lessons with me wherever I go."
COLLEGE BOXING NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RESULTS
112 LBS.: Drew Pineda (Air Force) def. Ryan Gonong (Navy);
3rd: Kyle Kiriyama (Army)
119 LBS.: Tom Payne (Navy) def. Dave Martinez (Penn State);
T3rd: Roy Taylor (Air Force), Vinh Thai (UNLV)
125 LBS.: Andrew Morales (Nevada) def. Brandon Knox (East Carolina);
T3rd: Saeed Al Zubaidi (Penn State), Stephen Bittner (Air Force)
132 LBS.: Josh Lopez (UMass) def. Ali Ali (VMI)*;
T3rd: Josue Avele (Iowa State), Andrew Munoz (Air Force)
139 LBS.: Dan Starr (Air Force) def. Dan Contreras (Maryland);
T3rd: Terrance Griffin (Shippensburg), Antonio Roa (Navy)
147 LBS.: Oscar Gomez (San Jose State) def. R.J. Garcia (Navy);
T3rd: Glenn Miltenberg (Air Force), Luis Quiles (West Virginia)
156 LBS.: Noah Weintraub (Navy) def. Josh Surgeon (Coast Guard);
T3rd: Jose Jimenez (California), Tyrus Korecki (Air Force)
165 LBS.: Casey Habluetzel (Air Force) def. Juan Ramos (California);
T3rd: Angelo Lonero (Navy), Zoar Morales (Army)
175 LBS.: John Maddux (Army) def. Mike McLain (Air Force);
T3rd: Frank Baker (East Carolina), Phillip Sheridan (West Virginia)
185 LBS.: Josue Gayton (Nevada) def. Ryan Johnson (Army);
3rd: Luke Culver (Navy)
195 LBS.: Keon Briscoe (Navy) def. Andre Shinda (Army)*;
T3rd: Logan Brandt (Air Force), Johnathan Santos (VMI)
195+ LBS.: Olawale Lawal (Air Force) def. Nick Gounaris (Lock Haven);
T3rd: Nate Jester (Navy), Eddie Ortega (Army)
Air Force (1st – 42 points), Navy (2nd – 36 points);
Others: Army (3rd), Nevada (4th), San Jose State (T5th), California (8th)
*won via medical walkover
Ryan Maquiñana writes a weekly column for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area (CSNBayArea.com). He’s also a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and Ring Magazine’s Ratings Panel. E-mail him at [email protected], check out his blog at norcalboxing.net or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.