Two Illinois students bring boxing back to Illinois

By Edwin Hsieh, Contributing writer

Three years ago, Konstantinos Koiliaris and Mike McDonough founded the University of Illinois’ first ever boxing club.MGRB It didn’t have a lot of people — seven people to be exact.

They knew running the team wasn’t going to be easy. However, their love for boxing kept them going, no matter how many hardships came their way.

This weekend, the Illini will be traveling to Northridge, Calif., to compete in the United States Intercollegiate Boxing Association National Championship on April 7-9, proving that the time invested was well worth it. 

For Koiliaris, a Ph.D. candidate in computer scienceMG,RB boxing is more than a sport.

“It’s the ultimate physical and mental challenge,” Koiliaris said. “It’s confronting your fears, controlling your anger, imposing your will on another. It’s hard, it’s rough and, yes, it can get ugly. But at the end of the day, I salute everyone that gets into that ring and is willing to face all of that.”

McDonough, a senior in accounting, said that there are currently 110 members in the club, making it the biggest club sport on campus – a sharp change from its seven original members.

“Back then, we had to practice in the combat room whenever it was available,” Koiliaris said. “And even then, (we had to) share it with other ARC members.”

The combat room cost is close to $750 for a semester, and the two founders had a hard time funding the club. The University does not provide much, if any, financial assistance to club sports on campus.

For instance, the upcoming national boxing tournament would cost more than $700 per person.RB While the tournament doesn’t limit how many boxers can compete, that expense alone limits the number of boxers the club could bring to the tournament.

The team will send 14 athletes to compete in the tournament, with 11 male boxers and three female boxers.

The expectations are high for Illinois. The team has prepared all year for this tournament, and McDonough and Koiliaris are looking forward to how their team performs.

Aside from being spectators, the two will both be competing in the tournament as well. When they are not competing, they will be coaching other boxers from the sidelines.

“Out of the 14 people, I would say five belts (will win),” Koiliaris said with a grin. “At least five belts.”

While lack of funding has made the process difficult for Koiliaris and McDonough, and there have been times they would question if it was all worth it, the pair has kept going.

“I don’t think any of us believed back then we would be flying out 14 student-athletes across the country to compete for a national collegiate title,” Koiliaris said.

Koiliaris has at least three more years at Illinois, and McDonough, who just got accepted to a master’s program, has at least one more year. “Our dream would be, before we leave, to have a professional coach here full-time either by financial help by the University or whoever we can really get,” McDonough said.

Looking back, Koiliaris and McDonough are extremely proud of what the club has accomplished, as well as the effort and time their members have invested in the club.

Many student-athletes came to the club without any prior boxing experience.

They learned everything they know about boxing from Koiliaris and McDonough, and many of them will be competing in this year’s tournament. That is why this year’s tournament means so much to Koiliaris and McDonough.

“In some sense, they are our pneumatic children, and it will definitely be an emotional moment seeing one of those boxers win a fight, let alone a belt,” Koiliaris said.

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@edwinhsieh