KIHEI - To her coaches at Southside Boxing, Chazzette Sau is a shining star, bright with potential and full of talent.
Last June, after defeating her opponent Serina Aguilar of Texas with a minute and 15 seconds left on the clock, Sau not only took the 119-pound title at the Junior Olympic National Championships, but became the first female from Hawaii to win in the history of the event.
Today, the 16-year-old from Kihei will board a plane to head to Denver where she will try her hand in the 125-pound division, which has a larger spread of opponents, during the 2009 USA Boxing Championships, to be next week at the Denver Coliseum.
The Maui News / STARR BEGLEY photo
Chazzette Sau of Southside Boxing took home the 119-pound division title at last year’s Junior Olympic National Championships.
The Maui News / STARR BEGLEY photo
Nante Manangan wraps Chazzette Sau’s hands. Manangan is the head coach for Team Hawaii at the 2009 USA Boxing Championships next week in Denver.
Sau will be joined by 20 other Hawaii athletes, including two others-Anthony Ibanez of Wailuku Boxing and Cory Altura from Central Maui Boxing-also representing the Valley Isle.
Southside Boxing owner and boxing trainer, Nante Manangan, is head coach of Team Hawaii.
''She's a hard worker,'' Manangan said of Sau. ''She's quick and disciplined. As a person, sister's real quiet, but her hands do a lot of the talking.''
To see Sau work a bag is to witness a transformation of character.
Soft spoken and mild-mannered, Sau becomes shark-like when she puts on a pair of gloves, stalking the bag and delivering perfectly timed and lightning-fast strikes.
''I was thinking about this the other day,'' said Manangan. "Long time ago, when I first started (training boxers) somebody told me, 'One day you'll get your Sugar Ray.' I always remembered that. To me, she's got that 'Sugar Ray.' She's real quick. She's just got to believe that about herself.''
''I try to be a humble fighter and a smart fighter,'' said Sau, who will be a junior at Maui High School in the fall. ''A good fighter, know what to do in the ring and pick my punches really well.''
Sau lost her first match at the age of 9, but in the 10 fights that followed, including five state championships, she hasn't lost since.
''I think I was ten,'' said Sau. ''It was at War Memorial. I was really nervous and scared because I had never fought before. I lost, but it was good. Giving up after that was never a thought. I just liked it so much that I wanted to continue and do better.''
Fourteen years ago, Manangan opened up Southside Boxing out of his garage with just a bag, gloves and jump rope for a total cost of about $200. Today, thousands of boxers have come through the facility, and he and conditioning coach Ben Iglesis and assistant coach Oma Sau, Chazzette's father, currently train 30-plus boxers.
Though boxing's popularity has maintained itself-especially in the wake of mixed martial arts, which combines grappling with "stand-up" boxing techniques-in the islands, both Sau and Manangan agree that there is a lack of female boxers in the state, which makes finding competition difficult.
''There's not that many girls that stick with the program,'' said Manangan. ''But Chazz has got that determination to keep going and dig deep."
It's typical, according to Manangan, for Mainland opponents in the same age group to have 50 or more fights under their belts.
Sau's total of 11 fights may seem to put her at a disadvantage, but Manangan says though experience in the ring helps, working hard and being disciplined while training can make up for a lot.
''As a coach, it's my job to work with her, work with her parents, to build her dream," Manangan said. "At 16, she cannot see what we've been through as adults, the big picture. What I do is help her realize that boxing could be a big future for her.''
Next up comes the Golden Gloves competition in August, and after that, depending on how she does at Nationals, may come international competition.
''This year's a traveling year (for USA Boxing),'' said Manangan. ''Last year it was China. The winners advance and go, so we'll see where it is this year and how she does.''
One destination that could be in Sau's future is London, site of the 2012 Summer Olympics. Women's boxing is one of several sports being considered for the Games.
When asked about her future and the possibility of competing in the Olympics, Sau was hesitant to speculate.
''I'm not really looking ahead,'' she said. ''I just want to take it step by step and see how far I can go, because you never really know if you're going to want that thing you want to become, or even if you'll get there. So, I just go step by step.''
Managan's answer was more direct.
''I think she's going to be a world champion,'' he said.
* Starr Begley is at email@example.com