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New Kensington gym sends 5 young female boxers to nationals

Not a lot of gyms can say they are taking five female boxers to a national tournament, but Sanctuary Boxing Club in New Kensington accomplished that feat.

Rich Cantolina, a professional boxer and the coach of Sanctuary Boxing, sees the potential in his gym and in his boxers.

“These girls know that they’re going up against the best in the nation that have won fights and have won these national tournaments, and they’re not scared,” Cantolina said. “They believe in themselves, and they believe in their skills to go out there and win.”

Girls from New Kensington ranging in age from 9 to 13 are competing this week in the National Junior Olympics and Summer Festival in Wichita, Kan.

Cantolina, who posted a 7-0-1 professional record and also fought professionally in MMA, founded Sanctuary Boxing in October 2020.

After coaching at the Mat Factory, Cantolina was forced to leave during the pandemic and ended up opening his own gym. Cantolina bought an old church in an auction and revamped it.

“It was survival for me,” Cantolina said.

“With six kids at home, there’s no option to fail, so we had to open this place before it was even ready. We started with no drywall or paint. It was very raw. It was just the people who came here and believed in me from the beginning.”

I have faced many challenges. Cantolina said when they first started, there would be nights where there were just one or two kids in the gym.

Nonetheless, he and its members trusted in the vision, and in 2022, there is a gym filled with boxers of all ages.

Cantolina said he is grateful for all of its members and boxers and without them, there is no gym.

Cantolina’s are Wyatt boxes and trains at the gym. Cantolina’s fiancee, Cheri Croney, and Wyatt also have helped get Sanctuary Boxing on the map, and he said he is appreciative of their support.

The five girls traveling to Kansas are Parker Drum (13), Taylor Drum (11), Katie Kerecz (10), Izzy Spencer (13), and Finley Nulph (9).

Parker and Taylor Drum are sisters and have made quite the impact in a short amount of time.

They are prepared to go toe to toe with the nation’s best.

“I’m going to go in trying my hardest, and if I win, that will be great,” Parker said.

“I’m going to try my best,” Taylor said. “Hopefully I will win.”

The Drums’ work ethic impresses Cantolina, and he sees their potential.

“They work really, really hard,” Cantolina said.

“They take extra classes all the time. They are taking prep team, fight team and extra classes. They want to stay for the adult class. They are the ones who are the first ones in the gym and the last ones out.”

Kerecz said she loves boxing at Sanctuary Boxing, and she loves having Cantolina as a coach.

“It’s really good because it helps a lot,” she said.

Cantolina nicknamed Kerecz “the silent assassin” and joked she has only said 11 words since joining Sanctuary Boxing.

Nevertheless, he sees her determination and knows how gifted she is as an athlete.

“She’s just a natural athlete,” Cantolina said.

“She can pick up any sport, and she’ll be the best one on the team. Ella she skates around here, and I would say ella she has the best footwork in the gym.”

Spencer also enjoys having Cantolina as a coach and is excited for nationals.

“He’s a really good coach and only gets mad when we need it,” Spencer said.

“He’s really motivating to have, and overall he’s great.”

Spencer is a quick learner, and Cantolina considers her one of the toughest girls he’s ever coached from her age group.

“She is probably the hardest puncher, and I even work with her at times because she is a lot to handle,” Cantolina said. “Ella She is in your grill, and if you ca n’t get out of the way, you’re in big trouble.”

Nulph is the youngest of the five. She is not overcomplicating things. She just wants to give it all to her.

“I’ll work my hardest, and I’ll try my best to win,” she said.

Cantolina admires Nulph’s work ethic and said she is always doing something, whether that’s riding bikes at the YMCA at 6 am or taking a run. Cantolina is impressed with how well she knows boxing.

“She’s long, rangy and she is one the youngest girls I’ve seen who knows her range,” Cantolina said.

“She’s 9 years old, 65 pounds. She uses it well. Most people do n’t understand how to use their range from ella, how to keep people at bay with that jab, and ella she’s done that very well.

The team is excited to go to Kansas. Although five are going, there is a whole club that made this possible, and Cantolina is grateful for each of its members and their families.

Cantolina is overjoyed he and his boxers have the opportunity to compete at nationals.

“I’m grateful that they chose me, believe in me and believe in this gym,” Cantolina said. “It makes me really proud that these girls can hang with the best in this country. If I didn’t believe, I wouldn’t be taking them.”

At Sanctuary Boxing, there are requirements, Cantolina said.

Each boxer must maintain good grades, cannot bully others and are not allowed to fight outside of the gym.

Cantolina is proud of each boxer and looks forward to coaching them for years to come.

“These are good kids, and you can’t beat it,” Cantolina said.

“The manners that I see from these kids, they always say thank you and they are just great kids. The coolest thing about the gym is they always pump each other up.”

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