Making Weight

These boxers are fighting to revive the rich legacy of underdog boxing triumphs at Santa Clara.

Making Weight
Jacob Lesny ’24 (left) and Dylan Gordon ’24 (right) are co-captains of the SCU boxing club, which has experienced a resurgence in popularity over the past year. Photos by Jim Gensheimer.

It read like a scene straight out of Mighty Ducks. Or maybe like the New York Mets winning the 1969 World Series four games to one over the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles. Or the Magnificent Seven becoming the first to win the all-around team competition for America in 1996, after Eastern European countries dominated women’s gymnastics for, well, ever.

Whatever sports allegory you go with, to hear Jacob Lesny ’24, co-captain of the SCU boxing team, tell it, their win in November 2022 over the Air Force Academy is one of the greatest underdog victories in collegiate boxing history.

“The morning of weigh-ins, Air Force shows up in matching sweat suits. They even have matching shoes. They don’t talk to anyone, not smiling… it’s like 1980s Soviet villains, they’re easy to root against” Lesny says, laughing. “They historically destroy us…but we went home smiling.”

Two out of three of the SCU boxers won their bouts against Air Force at the tournament in Reno, including Lesny and his co-captain and roommate Dylan Gordon ’24. “It felt like David beating Goliath,” Gordon says, who shares his friend’s penchant for sports storytelling. “We’re always expected to lose against these big schools with paid coaches, sponsored Nike uniforms. You get praised for bravery if you dare to go up against them. But we beat these people who were supposed to be unbeatable. There’s so much potential in our team, and we proved it.”

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When not beating the favorites, Gordon and Lesny spent the past year working tirelessly to grow the SCU boxing club. Through student activities fairs, social media marketing, and making it a point to spend one-on-one time with any first-timer who shows up to the mat, they’ve signed up about 100 people—both men and women—about half of whom makes practice regularly. While most club members use practice as a killer workout, several boxers train for competitions against clubs at other universities.

The NCAA dropped sanctioned boxing in 1960. Today, most colleges operate boxing teams as clubs participating in the National Collegiate Boxing Association, which organizes fights for student athletes. The schools that dominate are unsurprising: West Point, the United States Naval Academy, and the aforementioned Air Force Academy. Boxing is a required credit at all three. Whereas at Santa Clara, the coaches and students are all volunteers and walk-ons.

“I’m looking to create a new era of boxing at Santa Clara,” says Lesny, who grew up practicing taekwondo, jiujitsu, and muay thai. “It has a rich history here, actually.”

Indeed, there’s a long line of boxing greats that came before him, including Lesny’s coaches Pierre Moynier ’93 and Scott Nelson ’89. Nelson was undefeated during his collegiate career, twice won nationals in his weight class, and was a two-time All-American selection. He was inducted into the Santa Clara Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001.

Moynier, meanwhile, learned to box from Nelson’s father, Dave Nelson ’61, after failing to make the SCU soccer dream as he’d planned. During his junior year, Moynier was on a stellar team that took second place at the national championship at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. “For a small university to beat out West Point, Navy, and other top boxing programs around the country was and is very rare,” Moynier says.

(Other boxing Broncos include California Assemblyman Vincent Thomas ’32, Julio “The Fighting Italian” Chiaramonte ’38, football and 1940 Pacific Coast Heavyweight Boxing champ Joseph Lacey ’40, bronze winner of the 1960 boxing finals John Willett ’61, and three-time national champ Andy Bean ’92—that’s the most of any SCU boxer.)

Moynier, who’s been coaching SCU boxing for the past 18 years when he’s not working for technology start-ups or leading tech recruiting efforts, says the Class of 2024 has led the charge in growing the boxing team since returning to campus post-COVID. “We’ve had a very successful year with some of the best talent I’ve seen in one class over the past [two decades],” he says. “I didn’t expect to still be [coaching] but the bonds and friendships you make in the collegiate boxing community last a lifetime. In addition, the dedication, sacrifice, and effort from our current boxers inspires all the coaches to try our best to prepare them for success in dealing with the intensity of a boxing match.”

Jacob Lesny ’24 is triumphant in his match against Air Force Academy in Reno, Nevada, in November 2021.

And it is intense. Lesny wants to be a national champion. “All I do is train and do homework. My friends make fun of me. ‘You’re only in college once,’ they’ll say. But I was never a go-out kinda guy,” he says. “It’s not a sacrifice for me to get up early, train, go to school, train again.”

There’s this stigma among his generation, Lesny says, about trying too hard. It’s uncool to be ultra-competitive, to look like you’re exerting a lot of effort to reach your goals. “In high school I was miserably self-conscious but with boxing, you need the confidence. You’re not gonna win if you don’t believe in yourself,” he says. And, like the storied fighters who came before him, he really, really wants to win.

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