MORGANTOWN -- Many consider boxing to be the ultimate sport.
It pits two individuals against one another in a contest of pure athleticism, requiring its participants to be in peak condition both physically and mentally.
Until very recently, the world of boxing has been a boys club, one populated exclusively by male coaches, male athletes, male officials and male fans.
Females who showed an interest were marginalized as novelty fighters or sexualized as ring girls.
Jennifer Moreale hopes she can change all that. The West Virginia University graduate student recently became the first female collegiate national champion in the history of the sport.
"I know my ability; I know I can fight a guy," Moreale said after a recent practice with WVU's Boxing Club.
"Girls shouldn't be underestimated. The minute you underestimate something, that's the minute you get hit."
Moreale, who fights in the 165-pound, middleweight class, won her title over the course of two bouts at the U.S. Intercollegiate Boxing Association National Championships at the University of San Francisco in April.
Although female boxing was recognized as an Olympic Sport as of the 2012 London Games, the intercollegiate association's tournament was the first that allowed collegiate female boxers to participate.
The win also is significant because Moreale is the first national boxing champion from WVU since Sam Littlepage became NCAA Boxing Champion and helped the school secure a three-way tie for the national team title in 1938.
Moreale's first bout of the championship lasted a mere 40 seconds when she beat her opponent in a technical knockout. She hadn't even broken a sweat.
The second opponent, a talented fighter from the University of Georgetown known for her long-reaching jabs, presented more of a challenge.
The pair traded blows for the duration of the match's three two-minute rounds, and Moreale was ultimately declared the winner based on the judges' scorecards.
"I was on top of the world," she said. "I set something for myself, and I achieved it. It was an enormous satisfaction."
The goal, which she set the moment she heard about the competition, came within just a year of making the decision to begin boxing competitively.
"I always had in my mind that I was training for a competition, even though I wasn't allowing myself to," she said.
Moreale, who grew up in outside Venice in northeastern Italy, became interested in boxing when she was a child. When she wasn't participating in other sports such as soccer, basketball, volleyball or tennis, she pretended to be a boxer fighting an imaginary opponent.
"When I was little, I would fill up my duffle bag and with my ski gloves, I would punch the duffle bag," she said. "I didn't do it because I was mad, out of anger; I just found it fun."
After coming to the United States for college, one of Moreale's first personal trainers suggested boxing as a conditioning tool. She began incorporating it into her regular workout routine during her junior year at Loyola University, where she studied economics.
When she enrolled in graduate school at WVU to pursue her doctorate, Moreale started training with John Mouser, who teaches a boxing class
at the university twice a week.
Mouser recognized her potential and natural aptitude for the sport and recommended she look into the university's co-ed club boxing team. Even with his encouragement, Moreale said she was hesitant.
"Everyone told me, 'Boxing is a dangerous sport and you're going to break your nose,' " she said.
After Mouser took her to one of the club's exhibition matches and she witnessed real fighters in action, Moreale said she immediately lost all reservations and made up her mind to become a serious competitor.