AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. -- Flyweight Marlen Esparza, lightweight Queen Underwood and middleweight Claressa Shields advanced to the finals of the U.S. Olympic women's boxing team trials with victories in the winners' bracket Thursday night.
Underwood won the most thrilling bout of the landmark tournament's first four days, weathering hundreds of punches from 19-year-old N'yteeyah Sherman before pulling out a 25-24 victory with a strong fourth round.
Esparza, a six-time national champion, meticulously stuck to her game plan in a 13-10 win over longtime rival Christina Cruz, while the 16-year-old Shields survived a physical fight from Tika Hemingway for a 23-15 win.
The three winners must win again Saturday in the double-elimination tournament to advance to the world championships in May. If they finish in the top eight in China, they'll head to London for the first Olympic women's boxing tournament.