Go inside a 77-year-old tradition, where midshipmen square off with each other. (Geoff Ziezulewicz, Ben Murray and Alan Lessig/Staff)

It’s anyone’s guess where the Navy and the world will take the midshipmen of the U.S. Naval Academy after they graduate and get underway in their careers.

But on Feb. 23, those future leaders who love boxing gathered to throw down during the Academy’s 77th annual Brigade Boxing Championships.

A crowd of fellow midshipmen, tuxedoed alum and curious onlookers gathered on the pristine Annapolis campus to watch five female bouts and nine male matchups across weight classes.

The action was fast, intense and — at times — bloody.

All incoming students are required to take boxing, but those who take a particular shine to it can opt to join the boxing club.

Winners of the night’s fights advance to regional competition, with the opportunity to compete in a national collegiate championship hanging in the balance.

Kendell Louis, a class of ’21 midshipmen with 27th Company, provided one of the most dominant performances of the night and was left streaked with his opponent’s blood after his bout in the 147-pound class.

The Miami native, who has his sights set on a career as a nuclear surface warfare officer, said that boxing teaches midshipmen lessons that extend beyond the ring.

A nuclear SWO’s job can be “completely nerve-wracking,” Louis said, and boxing teaches how to channel and deal with such stress.

Midshipman Mikayla Lint, left, strikes Darcy Stack during the 139-pound weight class bout at the United States Naval Academy's 77th Brigade Boxing Championships on Feb. 23, 2018. (Alan Lessig/Staff)
Midshipman Mikayla Lint, left, strikes Darcy Stack during the 139-pound weight class bout at the United States Naval Academy's 77th Brigade Boxing Championships on Feb. 23, 2018. (Alan Lessig/Staff)

“If anything, boxing is all about nerves,” he said. “If you can keep control of your nerves in a fight, you’ve pretty much won 75 percent of the fight right there.”

Olivia DiCarlo is a recent convert to the boxing squad, and lost out in her match in the women’s 112-pound class.

Still, the Cincinnati native said she has become hooked.

“You have to push yourself to go farther,” the class of ’21 midshipman said. “Screw whatever your body’s thinking.”

Academy boxing dates back to 1865, but took off in earnest in 1919 with the arrival of Hamilton Murrell “Spike” Webb as boxing coach.

The 30-year-old Baltimore native coached the 1920 team to an undefeated intercollegiate record.

Navy boxing has won five national titles over the years, with women first taking part in the brigade championship in 2004.

DiCarlo said this lineage was apparent to her recently, as she read a book about the Academy during the Vietnam War that involved midshipmen boxing.

“It’s such a rich tradition,” she said. “Even though I was scared today going out there, I was honored and humbled to be a part of something.”

Still, boxing at the Naval Academy involves more hours tacked on to an already rigorous academic workload.

There’s also the mental toughness involved in accepting the fact you’ll be socked in the kisser more than once.

“I usually get really motivated when I get punched in the face,” said Sophie Lekas, who bested DiCarlo in the ring. “That’s when I start charging, making them pay for what they did to me.”