By Vincent Powell
It was a Cinderella story. After a 3-round bout, Steven Ware, a member of the West Virginia University Boxing Team, won the highest collegiate boxing title in the country.
To understand his success, it helps to know where the fighter’s journey began. After graduating high school, Ware had worked at a sawmill to support his mother. Four years later, when the mill closed, Ware decided to pursue boxing in Morgantown.
“After a while, I was teaching the kid’s boxing class and found a passion for the physical education program,” said Ware, “That’s how I got into WVU and started boxing for the WVU team.”
Steven Ware takes a break from training.
Ware had been training all season for the National Collegiate Boxing Association’s Collegiate Boxing Championship. This year, Ware’s second appearance in the tournament, he trained with a sour taste his mouth. After being defeated in the first round last year by a contender from the Coast Guard Academy, Ware was motivated to prove himself in the 2017 matchup.
“I felt like I was controlling the pace in that fight, but it ended up going to him,” Ware explained, “I pretty much set up my workouts based upon this year’s nationals.”
This year, the tournament took place from April 6-8 in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. In his first fight of the tournament, he would face the same opponent that had beat him a year ago.
“I knew that I was coming into a tough fight,” admitted Ware, “but I at least wanted to make sure he knew where I was from and who I was. I am from West Virginia, we come to fight and do our best wherever we are.”
Savannah Madonna training for her NCBA appearance last month.
In the first round, Ware achieved his redemption, beating the opponent who had motivated him to return to the competition.
“That’s what got the ball rolling for me and the momentum going,” said Ware.
Ware had to win three fights to arrive at the title match. He had already beaten a boxer from the Naval Academy in the preliminary round, where he then went on to beat contenders from the Coast Guard Academy and the University of Washington to compete in his final matchup against a fighter from the United States Military Academy.
Going into the last day of fighting, Ware had struggled with a respiratory infection. Having dealt with hardship before, Ware remembered sitting down with his coaches before the final fight and mustering the motivation to win the last match. The positive words of encouragement he received propelled him into the ring.
“When I first came out and the first bell rang, he was quick and hit hard. He was a tough fighter,” Ware stated.
However, by the end of the first round, Ware had found a chink in his opponent’s armor and stuck to it. The pair traded heavy punches for the first two rounds, making for a very close fight.
“We were going back and forth in the first two rounds,” Ware expressed, “I came back to the corner in the third and took a deep breath. . . it really came down to who wanted it more.”
Ware’s coach, Brandon Lial, told him to fight normally in the third round until the last minute, where he would push harder than he had the entire fight. After dodging punches and landing multiple series of jabs and combination blows, the fight was finished. Ware was named the fight’s victor shortly after.
“At that point I felt the relief of the pressure you put on yourself as an an athlete to accomplish the highest goal you can accomplish.” Ware said.
The victory didn’t go without the acknowledgment of his teammates, coaching staff and his opponent, even though the team has turned out five national title-holders in the last five years. With that kind of history, Ware recognized all the support he received along the way.
“Both my coaches — Brandon Lial and Patrick McLaughlin — both of these guys put in so much work into the WVU program, and I couldn’t thank them enough for all the work they’ve put into me as a human being and as an athlete,” Ware remarked. “They put a lot of time and energy into every one of their athletes and they do a very good job at making us feel like a family. . . just to be able to give them something small like this, a national title, means the world to me.”
The WVU program has been historically successful. At the NCBA tournament, the team boasted success. Eric Tooms was the runner-up in the 139-pound division while Savannah Madonna made it to the semi-final round in the women’s bracket. Additionally, Sean Thrasher made it to the quarter-final round of the tournament in his division.
Both Tooms and Madonna were named All-American collegiate boxers in the contest. Earlier this semester, both Ware and Thrasher earned respective titles at the Hometown Heroes National Tournament in Charleston, W.Va.
Sean Thrasher with his Hometown Heroes title belt.
As for the WVU junior, Ware hopes to be back in the ring next year. After graduation, he intends to become a physical education teacher. While his time might be ticking, the final bell hasn’t rung for him yet. He still has a few more punches left, and many fights to go.
Campus Recreation Staff Writer