Emma Jones leans against the ropes. Braden Littlefield, foreground, adjusts his headgear after sparring with Jones. The two are heading to the Junior Olympics. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

LEWISTON — Auburn’s Emma Jones might look like a normal teenager.

But she’s not. She’s one of the hardest hitting girls on the East Coast and is the nation’s third-ranked female boxer at 132 pounds in the 15-16 age range.

Braden Littlefield, right, and Emma Jones chat with coach Glenn Cugno before practice last week. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

After winning regionals last year, the Edward Little High School student finished in third place in the 132-pound division at U.S. Junior Nationals, ranking her third in the country. This year, Jones has moved down to the 119-pound weight class to get more fights.

Jones doesn’t get nervous, she never really has. She’s fought all along the East Coast and in front of thousands at nationals last year. Jones said she will, “Get in the ring with anyone.”

That’s why she likes her chances this year.

“My goal is to win, I really want to get that,” Jones said. “I want to get number one (at nationals). I think I can because it’s a whole new weight division, smaller girls. I was fighting at 132, so now I’m fighting at 119 and they are small girls that usually walk around at that weight.

“They’re always fighting and I usually couldn’t get fights because I was fighting at a bigger weight. I’ve been working out really hard and lost (weight). Those girls don’t hit as hard as me. They’re fast and obviously still tough, but it’s different. The bigger girls hit harder and rip your head off.”

Jones started going to Cugno Boxing Gym when she was 11 years old, when it was still Gamache Boxing Club, run by Joe Gamache. Her uncle was a boxer and, as Glenn Cugno remembers it, Jones’ aunt was a big part of her introduction to the gym.

“I put a show on in Lewiston and her aunt or something was a ring card girl and she got to sit ring-side and watch the fights,” Cugno said. “She was really into it. I’ve been friends with her family forever and her mom talked to me about bringing her down and I said, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’”

Glenn Cugno monitors Braden Littlefield, left, and Emma Jones as they spar during practice in the basement level of the Armory on Tuesday night during practice. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

Jones’ parents were sort of confused when she joined the gym.

“I just stepped in and my dad and mom said, ‘You really want to get punched in the face?’” Jones said. “Not many girls do it, so I said, ‘If anyone else can do it, I can do it.’ I got hit in the face and my mom said, ‘Still want to do it?’ And I said, ‘Yeah!’”

Cugno is bringing a few boxers to Junior Olympic Regionals in June in Lake Placid, New York: Jones, 13-year-old Braden Littlefield and 11-year-old Dylan Crockett. If any of them win, they’ll be heading to Madison, Wisconsin, for Junior Olympic Nationals.

Instead of being nervous before fights, Jones said gets excited and focused on accomplishing her goals.

“It’s not really that I’m nervous, but you get pumped up and say, ‘I really need to do this, I really need to win,’” Jones said. “That kind of pumped up makes you a little nervous. Other than that, no, I’ll get in the ring with anyone.”

Jones spars with anyone and everyone at Cugno Boxing Gym. She even practices Muay Thai, but after defeating her first opponent, Jones said can’t find anyone else willing to fight her.

Emma Jones fastens on her headgear before practice last week. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

Littlefield, who is going to Lake Placid to fight in the 13-14 age group at 125 pounds, is another dominant boxer at Cugno’s gym. If it wasn’t for a friend that boxed, Littlefield might not have found the sport.

“A friend kept talking about it, he was at the gym, and I said, ‘I want to try it.’ So I went and fell in love,” Littlefield said. “It never bothered me that I got hit, I just like that I can come down here and let my anger out on something.”

Littlefield, who attends Lawrence Middle School in Fairfield, earned a bye into the regionals because there weren’t any competitors in the 125-pound weight class at the New England Junior Olympic matches in March.

Littlefield isn’t the only one at the gym who likes to get aggression out on the bags. Some boxers in the gym fight, but many just train, and Cugno often gets calls from social workers about taking in kids to give them a bit of structure and community.

“They’ll call me up and see if I’ll take them in,” Cugno said. “I’ve taken a bunch of them down here, and just the structure of the gym and what we’re about, they like to work out and spar and that stuff.

“If they’re acting up at home or not doing well in school, then I won’t let them spar. It changes their attitude. The ones that take a liking to the sport, it really changes their whole attitude. I’ve gotten calls from social workers who say, ‘Remember I called you about this one? Well I have another one. You did such a good job with the other one that I have another one.’”

Braden Littlefield reacts after his coach, Glenn Cugno shows him a photo on his phone from when Littlefield first started the boxing program. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

One fighter in the gym who is working his way up the ranks is 28-year-old Aaron Waite, who after boxing at the gym when he was a teenager, left for the Army. Now back in the United States, Waite has been training for the past year and a half and getting some fights.

Waite is one of the older boxers at Cugno Boxing Gym, but says he looks up to the younger fighters.

“Some of the kids look up to me, but I’m not any more skilled,” Waite said. “Technique-wise, they’re better than me.

“For the most part, they inspire me because they’ve been coming here for so long and are so dedicated. They’re not coming here because their parents bring them, they actually want to compete. I see them getting better and better and nationally recognized.”

Cugno has his fighters fighting almost every week and holds practices every Sunday through Thursday. The next local fight is May 25 at Longley Elementary School in Lewiston.