Aquinas is one of the few schools in the nation that offers a boxing program. The culmination of its season is the annual Mission Bouts, and as Andy Young shows us, for the upperclassmen, a farewell to amateur competition.
As the 81st Mission Bouts approach, last year's most talked-about match and likely this year's, features a pair of girls.
Seniors Aarika Kaester and Hanna Cullen are fifth-year fighters and have become the focal point of the Aquinas team.
"Both of them have trained together over the years and it's really fun watching them develop. They became very close friends but when they're in there, they're very competitive with each other. Last year, when they boxed in the finals, it was one of the top bouts – it was the top bout that we had,” said Dominic Arioli, boxing coach at Aquinas.
For Kaester, her boxing training led to a Division II lacrosse scholarship to Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina. The sports complement each other nicely.
“There's no other sport that could get me as much prepared for lacrosse as boxing. Boxing covers almost everything: running, conditioning, everything,” Aarika said.
Arioli preaches the sport as the betterment of the individual as a whole.
“You learn a lot of lessons about yourself, a lot of lessons in life. If you don't do your work in the gym, it's gonna follow you into the ring,” he said.
"He teaches us heart, he teaches us dedication, he teaches us life lessons that'll carry on for the rest of our lives,” said Aarika. “I'll never stop getting into the ring because it's so inspiring and I don't think I'll ever stop."
And as she prepares for her final match, Kaester moves on but never away.
“It's one of the most disappointing things I've had to do in my life to finish the program here and I've put my whole heart into it and to finally see it come to an end is very disappointing but it's a great achievement of mine,” she said. “It won't be my last though because I'll be back to help coach."
The Mission bouts take place at 7 p.m. Friday at Aquinas. Tickets can be purchased at the door.