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IUP boxers take fifth at national competition

by DUSTIN FILLOY on April 11, 2013 10:40 AM

With just three boxers on its roster, the IUP Boxing Club couldn’t realistically make a run at juggernauts like Army and Air Force on Saturday in the National Collegiate Boxing Association National Championships at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Conn.

But less than two months after the untimely passing of IUP assistant coach Mike Donatelli, the Crimson Hawks traveled to Connecticut with heavy hearts, and thanks to junior Liam Spellane and senior John Zemrose, returned the nation’s fifth-best college boxing team.

Spellane (185 pounds) was a silver medalist, and Zemrose (super heavyweight) took bronze, and in bittersweet fashion, the Crimson Hawks placed fifth, finishing only behind first-place Army, Air Force, the Coast Guard and Navy.

Freshman Jamal Ferguson (147) qualified but didn’t earn a medal.

“We only have three boxers, but we qualified 100 percent of our team for nationals,” Rick Fanella said. “We did pretty well in a tournament that had over 30 college teams. To even be able to compete with the academies is a testament to the dedication of the kids in our program. We took the fight to those guys. We always say to the kids, ‘We’d rather fly with the eagles than hang out with the crows.’ I truly believe with the athletes we have on this campus that we could win a national team title if we had the numbers.”

Spellane won the Midwest Regional title to garner a first-round bye in his first appearance at nationals. He then outpointed Army’s Jacob Conley in a three-round battle in the semifinals.

Spellane, however, got nipped in the championship bout by defending national champion Josue Gatan of the University of Nevada, Reno.

Fanella said the seasoned Gatan used a tricky over-hand right to keep Spellane off balance in the fight’s second and third rounds.

“It wasn’t hurting Liam. It was more of a distraction,” Fanella said. “Liam just started thinking too much. And when you start thinking too much in boxing, you get beat.”

Zemrose, also a first-time national qualifier, outshined Lock Haven brute Drew Gensimore in the quarterfinals to set up a semifinal-round match with defending national champ, Olawale Lawal, of Air Force.

Lawal, a former football player at Air Force, used his speed and agility to outpoint Zemrose and went on to win his second straight national title.

“When John punches it’s like a steel piston coming at you,” Fanella said. “But they saw John fight the night before and they came up with a game plan to stay away from him. He knew he had a speed advantage so he didn’t stand toe-to-toe. He used his quickness and agility to his advantage.”

Fanella said Donatelli’s death created an emotional whirlwind that affected each of IUP’s three boxers.

A decorated amateur boxer, Donatelli, who was just 45 when he died in a helicopter accident in Los Angeles in February, spent countless hours with each boxer and was expected to return to Indiana in March after he was done participating on a television show that was slated to air on the Discovery Channel.

“They were very close to him. I’d definitely say there was an emotional factor. They were fighting in part for him,” Fanella said. “Mike had an unusual effect on people. He was so close to those guys.”

Zemrose graces the ring again Sunday, this time for the Western Pennsylvania Golden Gloves Open-class finals at the Doubletree by Hilton in Monroeville. Spellane will compete in the Western Pennsylvania Golden Gloves Novice State Championships in May.

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