Boxing, by nature, is a very physical sport. Some might even call it brutal. But Baraka Bouts vice presidents Frankie Masciopinto and Lily Whitman don’t quite see it that way.
“Lily and I are both very passionate about the technique aspect of boxing, of making sure people kind of see it as like this art,” Masciopinto says. “[We] see it as something that is not just about hitting the person in front of you, but like, how can you become more efficient with your punches? How can you be more creative? How can you do these things in the best way possible rather than just like boxing as a sport?”
The two seniors share quite a bit in common. Both have athletic backgrounds and joined the club as freshmen in 2020 because it was one of the few organizations that met in person during the COVID-19 pandemic. While sparring and actual fights were off the table, they still got a feel for the special sense of community the Women’s Boxing Club has developed in its 21-year existence. It planted the seed that has sprouted in championships for each of them and turned them into leaders inside and outside of the club.
Masciopinto knew she wanted to join the club before she was even accepted. Her dad competed in Bengal Bouts, ensuring the Madison, Wisconsin native knew about the special group.
“As soon as I got into Notre Dame I was like, I have to try it,” Masciopinto said. “I think the community, the people are what made me stay for four years.”
Though she played soccer and ran cross country in high school, Masicopinto never saw herself as a star athlete. But throughout her time with the club, she has grown more confident in her abilities in and out of the ring.
“I think that’s something that people don’t realize is that the confidence thing is — oh, like, ‘I’m strong, I can do whatever,’ but it really translates outside of the club too, because you realize, ‘oh, I can do something that like most people don’t do. I can quite literally take a hit on the chin and keep moving,’” Masicopinto said.
Whitman got hooked during those early 2020 days. She thought focusing on training so much at the beginning of her boxing career helped prepare her when the tournament returned in 2021. Though the competition is understandably seen as the club’s high point, she and other boxers feel it’s important to remember the journey, not just the destination.
“It’s not all about damaging another boxer. It’s about showing what you have done showing what you’ve learned, showing what you’ve worked so hard for during our short two-month period of a season,” Whitman said. “It’s really understanding how someone can learn from the ground up and build that confidence in the ring.”
Success in the club looks different to every member. Though Baraka Bouts has about 200 members, only 56 of them are competing in this year’s bracket. And each of them has their own style, their own motivations and their own goals to consider. For Masicopinto and Whitman, reshaping the club’s training was a major priority. Defense became a bigger focus this year, building off the focus on basics that last year’s leaders preached.
Those leaders certainly helped Masciopinto and Whitman, both of whom won individual championships last year. There is far more to Baraka Bouts than just winning. Serving others. Making friends. Learning real-life lessons. Winning doesn’t hurt, though.
“My parents were there, which was really fun,” Masciopinto said. “My friends were there. It was a great time. It was definitely a crazy bout. And … most of the time, you don’t know whether you’ve won or lost until they raise your hand. So that was kind of a crazy feeling.”
Whitman, whose family and friends were also in attendance for her victory, said, “We both worked so hard last year, and it was very exhilarating.”
Both speak proudly about their triumphs in the ring, but the Baraka Bouts impact stretches far wider than Dahnke Ballroom or even the Notre Dame campus. Masciopinto and Whitman also spent time educating, raising funds and inspiring others at the club’s signature fundraising event, the Power 12 Hour, live training held in front of the bookstore.
“A lot of little kids come over, and we let them try on the gloves. And that’s always my favorite because I’m like, you know in 10 years … they could be us,” Masciopinto said.
The boxers may fight fiercely in the bouts, but the club is a zero-sum situation. Only one person can win each fight, of course. But as Whitman detailed, even seemingly small moments like her first spar can have a big impact.
“I was a little bit scared to step into the ring and finally I convinced myself that I was going to do it,” Whitman said. “I was just going to go all in and be fine. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t ever have to do the club again. Or, I could not ever step in the ring again.”
A few minutes later, quitting was off the table.
“Of course, I did like it,” she continued. “But I just remember after the first round, I was back in my corner, and I was breathing and the adrenaline was pumping, and I remember our coach coming up to me. He was basically affirming everything that I was doing. He was like, ‘This looks great. I can tell you been working really hard.’”
The club offers eight practices a week, and boxers must participate in four to be eligible for the main event. In addition to practices, Masciopinto and Whitman have plenty of administrative responsibilities to juggle, helping with training and checking in with members. The club has already raised over $54,000 in support of building new Holy Cross Schools in Uganda.
“The fundraising aspect is also something that’s huge,” Whitman said. “Knowing that we’re able to make such a difference for the two schools that we benefit in Uganda and East Africa. It’s just I wanted to have a little bit of a hand in everything and understand the club that’s made me who I am today.”
Both captains have high hopes for this year’s tournaments. There are individual ones, of course, but building confidence and creating a supportive environment to help other boxers are also goals. More so, helping people on the other side of the world is especially important as they put a bow on one of the most impactful experiences of their time at Notre Dame.
“I stepped out of my first bout feeling like I definitely want to do that again,” Whitman said. “And that’s when all the magic sort of came together. I started to love the club and decided that it was something that I was probably going to do for the rest of my Notre Dame career.”