The UC Davis club boxing team practices in the empty Pavilion three times a week, putting in hours of hard work, sweat and training that nobody will ever see. It is these long hours of training that have turned the Aggies from a brand-new squad into a breeding ground for national-title contenders.
In their fifth year as a club, UCD still lacks the equipment and facilities of other major boxing teams, practicing in a makeshift ring. But the Aggies have a secret weapon — coach Hector Lopez, a 1981 Davis High graduate.
Lopez, 49, has been with the team since its inception, when he was asked by a student to assume coaching duties. While at DHS, Lopez played baseball and boxed out of the Washington Neighborhood Center in Sacramento. There, under the guidance of Don Conley, Lopez learned the boxing fundamentals that he now passes on to his club fighters.
At the Washington Neighborhood Center, Lopez boxed alongside former world champion Loreto Garza. The longtime mentor — who has 30 years of coaching experience in Davis and Woodland — also worked with 2004 Olympian Vicente Escobedo of Woodland.
“(Lopez) has just such a wide breadth of experience,” said UCD assistant Joel Stern, a former student of Lopez. “Whatever situation you throw at him in the ring, he always has something to do, and occasionally two or three things.”
That experience, as well as Lopez’s emphasis on fundamentals, has helped the Aggie boxers reach a high level.
“People think boxing is just a fight. It’s not. Boxing is really an art, with defense, footwork and skill,” Lopez said.
UCD captain Colin Schmitt has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of Lopez’s knowledge. Schmitt has been in Lopez’s system for years now and developed his talent to the point that he recently defeated San Jose State’s Oscar Gomez, the defending national collegiate champion. After that victory, Schmitt has become one of the favorites for the 2013 title.
While Schmitt is certainly a great boxer, he is not the Aggies’ only standout. Steven Le, a 132-pound sophomore who joined the team last year, hopes to join Schmitt at the level of national contender. Le practiced with UCD all of last season but, toward the end of the campaign, the coaches really began to see a change in him. Stern said the coaches noticed more effort and saw Le staring to think as a serious boxer.
When he returned from the offseason in better shape than ever, the coaches knew Le was set for a big year. So far in 2013, he has a 2-1 record. The team hopes to see him go deep in this weekend’s Western Regional Championship in Reno.
The Aggies are looking for more fighters to join the squad but the sport seems to have been hurt by public perception that it is too dangerous. Lopez disputed the notion that boxing is a crude and mindlessly violent activity.
“Boxing is also very technical,” Lopez said. “There is a lot of strategy involved.”
Lopez adds that fighters on the UCD team are not all coached to be of the same mold as he and his staff try to develop boxers according to their strengths. This has proved very effective so far as the Aggies have seen success from many different types of fighters.
And with Lopez leading the way, the UCD club should only get bigger and better.