Youth Championships 2022 preview: The Female Under 57kg Youth contenders
February 10, 2022 | by Matt Halfpenny
Nothing better underlines the growing depth of talent in women’s boxing than looking at the list of names participating in the Female Under 57kg division at the England Boxing National Youth Championships 2022.
The six boxers who are competing will all believe they have what it takes to go all the way at the Barnsley Metrodome this weekend (11th to 14th February), having encountered success in their blossoming amateur careers.
In the past, it’s been rare for quarter-finals to take place on the female side of the draw, with semi-finals or straight finals having frequently been the norm.
The fact that four boxers will need to compete on Friday just to secure a place in the last four is great to see and, hopefully, a sign of things to come across an increasing number of weight divisions.
The success of women’s boxing at the Olympics and in the professional ranks – together with successful outreach programmes and clubs across the country now actively promoting the sport to all-comers – continues to have a positive effect in terms of driving up both participation and standards.
This Under 57kg line-up of boxers is the fruits of those endeavours – and finding the winner from them will surely be one of the highlights of the tournament.
Staking a strong claim for overall victory will be Jayne Bardauskas, who will be looking to go one better than her performance in the 2021 edition of the Championships in November, where she lost out in the final to Priory Park’s Mia Holland.
She secured a confidence-boosting win over England international Charan Dhesi of East Hull with a stoppage in her semi-final before losing on a split with the title belt up for grabs.
Boxing at the Almond’s club in Thorne, just down the road for the venue, she will be hoping that, this time, the stars are aligned for her to triumph.
“She has only recently come to work with me and we are looking to give her a few more tools to work with because everyone knows her strength, and what she is about, and will now be expecting that big backhand,” said coach Niall Almond.
“It’s a work in progress, but hopefully she can come out and give her opponents something different to think about.
“There are some very good girls in the category, and I don’t like to make predictions, because anything can happen in boxing.
“It’s fantastic to see the strength of women’s boxing increasing all the time, and Jayne has some great people to look up to living in this area with the likes of Terri Harper and Gemma Richardson close by.
“Hopefully she can go on to bigger and better things as they have done, but for now she is focused on this and I wish all the girls who are boxing the very best of luck.”
Taking on Bardauskas in the quarter-finals will be Kayleigh Goodwin, from Hinckley-based Heart of England, who has won the majority of her 15 bouts to date.
The East Midlands boxer’s biggest issue has been finding opponents coming out of the Covid-19 Pandemic, having acquitted herself well prior to the shutdown.
Coach Nick Griffin said: “She’s not boxed competitively for two years, with her last bout being in the Golden Girls tournament in Sweden in early 2020.
“We were keen to get her a bout before she stepped back in at a nationals, which is why she didn’t enter the Youths before Christmas, but it hasn’t worked out that way.
“Even so, she is really looking forward to it and will be ready for the challenge. She is prepared to box anyone who is put in front.
“She has twice lost in a national semi-finals before, once where she was beaten and the other where we thought she had won, and she also lost in the Golden Girls to the European champion, so she has some good experience.
“Whether she wins or loses, Kayleigh will be the same – she will smile and congratulate her opponent.
“She wants to be a doctor and also dreams of boxing at the Olympics. She started out as a kickboxer but the idea of trying to get all the way to the top and that big stage appealed to her.”
Stepping up to this Open Class division of the Youths from the Development ranks is Francesca Hennessy of Kent club Sevenoaks.
But she will make that transition with confidence having been crowned national Youth Development champion at Banbury in the lead up to Christmas, beating Hodbox’s Holly Koucerek in her final.
Sister to professional boxer Michael Hennessy jnr and daughter of promoter Mick Hennessy, she is determined to carve out her own path in the sport, according to her coach, Andrew Knight.
“Fran’s confident going into this, and we’re confident in her ability too because we now just how well she can box,” he said. “No matter what she comes up against, we believe she can deal with it.
“It is a big step up from Developments to Open Class, but she has looked good in training and we think she is ready, so now it’s a case of implementing what she has done in training.
“She is a very elegant young lady out of the ring and you wouldn’t necessarily think she boxes, but once she gets in the ring she is very capable and determined.
“It’s so good to see the pedigree of the boxers coming through… I’ve studied those in her group at this Championship and there are some class performers in there.
“Fran is out to do things for herself, to make her own way in the sport despite the achievements of her family, and ultimately she wants to make herself, her club and her family proud.”
Facing Hennessy at the quarter-final stages will be North West boxer Paige Howarth, who represents Clayton, situated close to Accrington.
A successful Junior, winning the England Boxing National Junior Championships 2021 in October by defeating Tommy Coyle’s Olivia Williams, she is now looking to lay down a marker in the older age group.
Coach John Brindle is looking forward to the prospect of that and said: “She only started boxing two years ago, but has taken to it really well.
“Like anything Paige does, if she is going to do it, she wants to do it well. When England Boxing ran the running challenges during the Covid-19 lockdown, she wanted to finish top of the leaderboard.
“She’s won the Riveira Box Cup and MTK Box Cup and has got confidence from her success, which means she wanted to go straight into the Open Class, even though she could have boxed in the Cadets.
“It’s a risk, but one she is prepared to take and she will be relishing testing herself against some older girls and potentially getting three bouts in, if she could make it through to the final.
“She’s on the first year of her DiSE programme course at the Joe Gallagher Academy and that has really brought her on too.
“She’s got to spar with Natasha Jonas and she’s there four days a week as well as three days with us, so she can’t help but continue to improve.”
Also knocking on the door will be another Youth Championships 2021 winner at Under 57kg, Alex Bryant, who won the Cadet class with a win over Titleshot’s Acacia Barron that was adjudged to be the female bout of the tournament.
The Trowbridge boxer also triumphed in the England Boxing National Junior Championships 2019 when she beat Kings Heath’s Zara Aitcheson and won the NABGCs prior to the Covid-19 lockdown.
She had hoped that earlier success could lead to her being selected for England for the Junior European Championships in 2020, but was denied that possibility by the Pandemic.
It has been a big motivator for her ever since and something she hopes to put right in the future, starting with clinching another national title this weekend.
“Alex felt she would have been in a strong position to go to Georgia for the Euros (in 2020), so it was a big disappointment the way things turned out,” said dad and coach Steve Bryant.
“Now the pathway is about to get up and running, that is what she would love to win this Championships for, but she knows this weight is incredibly tough, and probably as competitive as it has been, which shows how women’s boxing is evolving.
“It’s been hard to balance the training because she is also studying for her A Levels which she hopes will enable her to go on and study Sports Science at Loughborough or Bath.
“But she has done it well and trained hard and we are confident in her believing she has the ability to beat anyone in the draw.”
Coming down a division in weight will be Belvedere’s Joan Babalola, who lost the 2021 Under 60kg final to Oldham’s Naomi Kalu.
The fact she competed so strongly at that higher weight has given coach Damola Ojo the belief she can conquer the Under 57kgs this weekend.
He said: “Joan is absolutely buzzing ahead of this tournament after doing well in the Under 60s, although she was beaten by the better opponent in the final.
“Now she has got back down to Under 57kg, we think that will really benefit her. She’d not been in the gym as much during the Covid-19 break, but she’s been back on it now and is in good shape.
“She’s knows she can compete at the higher weight level, so it is only going to help dropping down a weight. She’s also a very clever and determined boxer, which will stand her in good stead.
“The potential to box for England is a massive driver for Joan. She’s trying not to think about it too much now, but it has been a good motivator in her preparations.”