Boxing didn't come easy initially for Mike Chasco, even with a background in mixed martial arts.
It took a few years of training in the ring for the Oregon State University senior to realize that if he wanted to box, he needed to change his stance, the way he threw punches and also needed to acquire other skills.
Steady improvement over a five-year stretch since taking on the new sport has Chasco competing for a national championship.
A member of the Oregon State boxing club, Chasco is entered in this week's National Collegiate Boxing Association tournament in West Point, New York, after he was encouraged by coaches — and former college boxers — Andy Bean and Michael Wynhausen to enter the West regional for the first time this year.
Chasco, a fine arts major and painter who boxes in the 156-pound weight class, says he wasn't as focused on boxing or dedicated to the sport and club last year.
“I don’t think I mentally wanted to fight as much as I do now,” said Chasco, who grew in Los Angeles as an athlete not attracted to team sports.
He tried soccer and didn't like it. Next was tennis, in which he enjoyed the individual aspect as a singles player, with the pressure on him. Then a friend talked him into trying an MMA class, and “once I did that it just kind of took off.”
He found boxing after coming to Oregon State in 2013. His path led him to last month's regional tournament in Reno, where he finished third and received an at-large berth for the national tournament.
Wynhausen says Chasco is versatile and can assess situations and make necessary changes.
“He’s also very accepting. He implements the advice we give him. When we’re in his corner and we’re watching him fight, we can see things that maybe he doesn’t,” said Wynhausen, a prosecutor in the Linn County District Attorney's office.
"He really listens and implements. That’s part of the reason he’s really successful.”
Chasco is one of several success stories for the Oregon State club in recent years.
Salem's John Pena, now an OSU graduate, was a national runner-up at 112 pounds in 2016.
Current freshman Brandon Martin also placed third at regionals, at 139, after taking on boxing just five months. At-large berths for third-place finishers often go to upperclassmen, and Martin wasn't selected for the national tournament.
“I understand that, because I have a lot more years to go,” said Martin, a graduate of Cascade High in Turner. “Next year I’ll get there. I’m not worried about it.”
Martin's mother is a native of the Philippines. He remembers the family gathering around the television to watch matches involving Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao.
Seasonal sports kept him busy during high school, but the intrigue of boxing never went away.
Martin, Chasco and other Oregon State club team members train at the Corvallis Boxing Club, located at Life Community Church in north Corvallis.
Last fall, Martin was working out at OSU's Dixon Recreation Center when he saw someone wearing a Corvallis Boxing Club shirt. Martin asked where the club met and received a recommendation to try it.
“One night I decided to go do that and I’ve been here ever since,” he said.
Wynhausen says Martin's progress has come quickly. The two sparred in the days before the regional and despite Wynhausen's advantage in weight and experience, “he worked me over,” the coach said.
“He is really good. He’s just a natural,” Wynhausen said. “He was already in shape, generally speaking. He has just taken to it like a fish to water.”
Martin is happy with the progress he's made in such a short time. He said he's learned hard work and perseverance, life skills that will carry him forward.
The regional tournament, where he went 1-1, was a learning experience that provided motivation.
“I was that close and I just need to work on a few more things,” Martin said. “Just hone my skills and hope that next year I’ll make it. I know I will.”
Wynhausen and the Oregon State club hope the team's recent success, notably Martin's as a freshman, will help generate interest at the university. The OSU club has half a dozen athletes who compete in matches and others who only work out.
The club's name is technically the Boxing Club at Oregon State because it is not a certified club sport. Departmental support is required to reach that status and receive financial sponsorship.
It's up to students to request that support, which has yet to be received, Wynhausen said.
With Chasco graduating in June, it will be up to Martin and others to pursue that venture.
But first Chasco heads east this week to represent Oregon State and the club.
Practicing three or four times a week has him focused on improvement.
“A few obstacles … at least I’m going to nationals and I have a chance to prove that I can go over those obstacles,” Chasco said.