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Autumn tries to blossom in boxing

Autumn Princen was as quiet and unassuming as the town of Gasquet, Calif.,where she grew up.

She did what a lot of youngsters living in rural Del Norte County did­ raise sheep, pigs and rabbits. She was the Future Farmers of Americatype. She might have been better known for a 4-H project than for anythingshe did athletically.

If she wore gloves, it was to work in the garden or pick up after theanimals.

I was really shy and quiet, Princen says. I never gotin trouble in high school.

Chances are, Del Norte High graduates of 1995 would have a hard timerecognizing their classmate Autumn, who's gone through a season of change.

These days, Princen hangs out at a gym, laces up the gloves and unabashedlybloodies the face of her amateur boxing foes.

She's the nicest person, says her coach, Rick Evans. Whenevershe tells people she boxes, they give her that `What's a sweet-girl-like-you'look.

But when she gets in a ring, she's not sweet any more.

Princen started training nine months ago at Ashland's A St. Boxing Studio,working her way through fitness classes, competitive classes and then intothe ring for her first amateur bout on June 29.

In a quantum leap, the 19-year-old middleweight (165-178 pounds) hasentered the National Women's Amateur Boxing Championships in Augusta, Ga.,next Wednesday through Saturday.

Princen is one of more than 600 registered women amateur boxers in thecountry. Considering there are 12 weight classes ­ just as in men'scompetition ­ opponents aren't always easy to come by.

Princen's first bout came almost out of the blue, Evans says. One ofthe scheduled boxers canceled and the folks putting on Tillamook's Nightof Heavyweights needed a replacement to face Lora Dolling of Grand AvenueBoxing Club in southeast Portland.

Princen was ready, willing and proved more than able as she relentlesslypummeled Dolling. The referee was ready to halt the three-round bout with15 seconds to go. But despite taking two standing eight counts and hardlylanding a punch, Dolling pleaded to finish out the event.

I got some pictures of the two of them together and both of (Dolling's)eyes were black and her nose was flat and swollen, Evans said.

Princen takes it all in stride.

She's not out for blood ­ it comes with the territory. She's nottrying to prove she's tougher than razor wire.

Has she thought, What have I gotten myself into?

I haven't asked myself that yet, she says.

I didn't have any emotions (about the first match) until afterwards.It still didn't hit me for a couple of days that I actually did it.

What did strike her during the bout was the audience reaction.

When the ringside person announced what was coming up next, I heardmurmuring, she says. They weren't quite sure what to think.The first round was really quiet.

But after a couple of rounds, the audience got behind the apparent winner.

I didn't know anybody else up there except for my coach, but Icould hear them shouting for me, she says. I got a lot of peoplecoming up afterwards and telling me what a great fight it was.

Fighting was the furthest thing from Princen's mind when she moved withher mom and two younger sisters to Ashland last year.

It was her mom, who had enrolled at Southern Oregon University, who firstwas drawn to the A Street club.

Evans, who holds a bachelor's degree from Southern Oregon and a master'sdegree from Oregon State, taught fitness classes based on boxing trainingat SOU before opening up his gym last July. Most of his college studentswere women and it continued that way when he branched off on his own.

Mom got swamped by school work, Princen says. But afriend and I went to check it out and decided to take a class.

Seven of the eight members of the class were women ­ mostly in their20s ­ going through a 12-station circuit. After eight weeks in the fitnessclass, Princen decided it was time to try the competitive class.

Her friend had moved away, and Princen found herself in a class withone other woman. Princen's sparring has been limited to two other womenat the club and Evans.

She's given me a couple of bloody noses, concedes Evans.

She just keeps coming, somewhat like Joe Frazier did, but withouttaking the punishment Joe had to take to dish it out. I don't know if I'veever hurt her. She has a poker face and doesn't let you know if she's hurting.

She takes care of business. I'd like to have a lot more like herbecause she's so coachable and doesn't lose her composure.

For the first time since she took up the sport Princen will have no shortageof opponents next week. If she keeps dishing it out and maintains her composure,who knows what lies ahead?

Autumn Princen of Ashland, one of 600 registered women boxers in the United States, works out at the A Street Boxing Club. - Photo by Andy Atkinson</P