Pac-12 Wrestling: Coaching Conundrum Pt. 5
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Pac-12 Wrestling: Coaching Conundrum Pt. 5

The Stanford University Cardinal

Pac-12 Wrestling: Coaching Conundrum Pt. 5

(Coach Jason Borrelli, left, watches attentively to the 2016 Pac-12 125lbs championship match alongside Associate Head Coach Jamill Kelly, right)

Head Coach Jason Borrelli has been able to check off many boxes in his eight, almost nine, years as the Head Coach of the Stanford Wrestling program. He’s led the program through its greatest stretches on both the overall and single-season levels, including the only back-to-back top-20 team finishes at the NCAA tournament in school history. Borrelli has spent the last decade building the Stanford Wrestling team brick-by-brick, reaping the rewards in the early part of the decade. He continues to put his nose to the grindstone, putting together a decorated coaching staff to compliment the talent and production that has become expected out of Stanford. With Borrelli’s passion burning bright through these years, his program has become a mainstay for wrestling on the west coast as well as an example of excellence. While Stanford hasn’t matched its peaks of the past just yet, the program continues to produce at a high standard, as mandated by the reputation of the world-renowned university in Palo Alto.

The Farm

Coach Borrelli, not to be confused with his father, Coach Tom Borrelli, who is the head coach of Central Michigan, started his time at Stanford as an assistant under Kerry McCoy, current head coach at the University of Maryland, in the 2007-2008 season. During that season, Borrelli was a part of one of the best seasons in Cardinal history. A program that had previously placed no-higher than 5th in the Pac-10/12, the 2008 Stanford Wrestling team placed a school-best 2nd at Pac-12s behind a powerhouse Boise State team. Stanford would have the last laugh, though, when it outplaced the rest of the conference with a 19th place performance at the NCAA Championships, on the back of two All-Americans (Tanner Gardner, 5th; Josh Zupancic, 6th).

At the end of summer ‘08, Borrelli was offered the head coaching position for the Cardinals. In the time since, he has worked steadily toward building the greatest team Stanford can build. While I believe the best is yet to come, Borrelli’s tenure since the 2008-2009 season has already cemented his place in the Stanford record books:

  • Three of the top-conference finishes in program history (2nd, 2014; 3rd, 2012/2015)
  • Most single-season All-Americans with 3 (2011: Nick Amuchastegui, 2nd; Ryan Mango and Zach Giesen, 6th)
  • Tied for most single-season NCAA qualifiers (5 in 2014)
  • Most single-season Pac-12 champions (4 in 2014)
  • Most individual conference champions in any given 8-year span with 14
  • Most dual-meet victories in any given 7-year span with 70 (also good for 2nd in the all-time coaching wins)
  • Most single-season dual-meet victories (17 wins in 2014)
  • Most top-20 finishes as a head coach with 3 (11th, 2011; 16th, 2012; 19th, 2016)
  • Best NCAA team finish in school history (11th, 2011)
  • Only back-to-back top-20 finishes in wrestling (2011-2012)

Borrelli has not done it alone, however. In early November of 2015, the start of the season, Borrelli was interviewed as part of USAWrestling’s Tossin’ 10 Q&A series. He thanked many notable coaches and athletes that helped him along with his success, with particular notice to long-time Stanford Assistant Ray Blake and recent-addition Jamill Kelly.

Ray Blake is in his 10th season with the Stanford Wrestling program, as he has been coaching with Borrelli since before the latter’s head coaching appointment. A 2006 graduate and NCAA qualifier, Blake was described as the “best-kept secret in coaching” by Coach Borrelli for his ability inside the wrestling room as well as inside the office.

Jamill Kelly has made an immediate impact on the California scene, his home-state, prior to the 2014-2015 season as an Associate Head Coach. As a competitor, he is best known for his silver medal performance in the 2004 Athens Games. Kelly previously held stints with Harvard, Cal-Poly, and North Carolina State before he joined the Stanford staff. Kelly since has made a name for himself as the Director of the California Regional Training Center. This year, the RTC helped Boris Novachkov become a 2016 Olympian. It’s a good start for a rather-new RTC, which looks to develop senior-level athletes for World/Olympic events. The RTC also serves collegians looking to advance themselves in the off-season in the Olympic styles. The trend amongst top-level programs has been to develop an RTC, which attracts talented wrestlers interested in the international styles to the program. An example includes Sophomore Joey McKenna, a 2014 Junior World Silver medalist in freestyle wrestling. As CARTC continues to develop, Kelly proves his expertise in development and technique, which will be necessary if Stanford intends to break into the top-10 of the D1 field.

Borrelli further strengthens his coaching corps with the addition of Volunteer Assistant Coach Stephen Rodrigues to the staff this season. Rodrigues earned All-American honors this year after he placed 5th for the Fighting Illini at NCAAs. The fresh Rodrigues will likely help develop middleweights for Stanford.

Cardinal Caliber

The coaching job by Borrelli and company over the good part of a decade has again garnered an impressive squad for Stanford. Beyond the school records, the Stanford Wrestling team has consistently been among the top academically, earning many Academic All-American honors from various institutions. The program has continued to build upon a very sturdy foundation, adding more in funding, support, and expectations over the years. Despite the progress, Stanford continues to look to become a top-to-bottom team. Currently, Stanford finds itself with pockets of stars and big names that define their time for the Cardinal. The benefit of these stars for the program is that they set newer, higher standards for the future.

(Nick Amuchastegui, Stanford's first 2x NCAA Finalist)

In 2004, Matt Gentry changed the program’s outlook when he became Stanford’s first NCAA Champion. Nick Amuchastegui, a 3x All-American and the first in program history to reach two NCAA finals, would highlight Borrelli’s squads of the early 2010s in the years after Tanner Gardner became the first 3x All-American in Stanford history in 2008. Amuchastegui also earned Elite 89 honors twice in his final two years of collegiate competition.

(Ryan Mango, 2x Pac-12 Champion and 2x All-American)

A weight-class that has been held down during Borrelli’s tenure is the 125lbs class. The aforementioned Gardner was a 125lber when he earned three All-American awards. Ryan Mango, who graduated in 2014, earned two All-American honors at 125lbs in 2011 and 2012 alongside Amuchastegui. Evan Silver won a 2014 Pac-12 title and qualified for three NCAAs before Connor Schram earned All-American honors at 125lbs in 2016. Schram enters this season as a Redshirt Junior, so expect him to be the man at 125lbs for the near-future.

(Connor Schram, left, 2016 Pac-12 Champion and All-American)

Redshirt Senior, Stanford’s first 3x Pac-12 Champion, and 3x Team Captain Jim Wilson returns this year looking to right his wrong, after falling in the round of 12 at the 2016 NCAAs. In 2015, Wilson placed 8th at 165lbs for his first All-American honors. Also returning for the Cardinal is 2016 All-American and Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year Joey McKenna, the first freshman in school history to All-American with a 3rd place finish at 141lbs. Wilson and McKenna are joined by Nathan Butler and Josh Marchok as team captains. Butler was a 2015 Pac-12 Heavyweight Champion as well as a 2016 Team Captain.

(Joey McKenna, 2016 Pac-12 Champion and Newcomer of the Year, All-American)

The talent is deep in the Stanford room as Borrelli and staff has continued to recruit on a high-level. Looking at the roster, it is clear that Stanford makes use of the southwestern talent in Oregon and California, as well as nationwide pipelines. California State Champs Austin Flores, Paul Fox, Zach Nevills, and Mason Pengilly join State Placers Keaton Subjeck and Jim Wilson as in-state prep products for Stanford. Along with the addition of a well-known recruit Joey McKenna, Stanford is running its engine on premium fuel.

The staff is doing all the right moves in terms of recruiting and operations, but still finds itself behind the likes of Oregon State and Arizona State come the conference championships. Despite having some of the best NCAA performance in school history, Stanford has yet to capture a Pac-12 championship in wrestling. I think with a few more good moves and some attitude (as Dan Gable would say), Stanford might be on the verge of something big. The Pac-12 title has been elusive for Coach Borrelli, but he's no stranger to setting new precedents.

Want more from the D1 landscape?

Pac-12 Wrestling: Renaissance

Pac-12 Coaching Conundrum:

Part 1: Fresno State/Part 2: Boise State/Part 3: Cal Poly, SLO/Part 4: CSU Bakersfield

D1 Update: Fresno State and Boise State

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