You’ll seldom catch new American University head wrestling coach Jason Borrelli using the word “team."
“We are very strategic in using the word family instead of team,” Borrelli said. “The way you do things for a family and the way you’re selfless for a family to me is sometimes different than being a part of a team. People often feel that teams are temporary. We’re trying to create a lifestyle that is part of us forever. We’re all part of a family”
During his 13 years as Stanford’s head wrestling coach, Borrelli’s belief in familial bonds anchored Stanford’s winning culture, resulting in two coach-of-the-year honors for Borrelli and 21 individual Pac-12 championships for his wrestlers.
Borrelli’s impressive track record as a recruiter speaks volumes as well. In seven of his 12 recruiting seasons, Stanford landed recruiting classes in InterMat's top 25, with six of those classes ranking in the top 15.
But with a new season comes fresh challenges. Borrelli will navigate his team through a pandemic all while filling the shoes of former head coach Teague Moore, who led the program for nine years. While it may seem daunting, Borrelli is confident that the season will happen and his wrestlers will buy into the process.
“My expectation is that our athletes will buy into a championship lifestyle,” Borrelli said. "They’ll commit to it and be willing to give regardless of anything being promised to them on the back end. You can’t only commit to something because you feel like you are going to get something in return. We can't guarantee a championship in the end but we can guarantee that if you commit to the lifestyle, you’ll be in the very best position to accomplish what you’d like to.”
As for COVID-19, Borrelli hopes his positivity will radiate through the locker room.
“I tend to stay optimistic. In our minds, we’re having a season and we’re gonna have an NCAA tournament,” Borrelli said. “There could be hiccups in the road. If we have to shut down for a week in order to have a season, that’s fine. We’ll do whatever it takes. We just can’t let it rattle us.”
Borrelli won’t be the only former Stanford Cardinal on the coaching staff once the season starts in November. Alex Tirapelle, previously an assistant coach at Stanford from 2010-2014 and 2017-2021, also recently joined the Eagles coaching staff. Tirapelle has head coaching experience as well, as he was the head coach at the University of Pennsylvania for three years, coaching 13 wrestlers to qualify for the NCAA Championships during his tenure.
“[Tirapelle] coaches for all the right reasons,” Borrelli said. “He’s the day-to-day wrestling guru who can help develop our wrestling style. With him, it’s not about the glamour of winning. It’s about being mentors to student-athletes and helping them become better people.”
Tirapelle understands consistency and reliance on one another is key to performing in such a stressful sport.
“We’re constantly reminding them that it takes a village,” Tirapelle said. “As much as you’re in control of your own fate, up to the point when the whistle blows you’ve relied on a lot of people. You always have to remind the guys that we’re in this together.”
The addition of Tirapelle and Borrelli ushers in a new era of AU wrestling. The new coach’s emphasis on family and the betterment of student-athletes on and off the mat will hopefully accomplish the broader goals they hope to achieve.
While both coaches hope to see a jump in the teams' ranking at the end of the year NCAA tournament, they're after more than that. They're driven to cultivate an attitude conducive to a selfless culture that helps wrestlers be the best version of themselves for each other. With coaches so invested in their wrestlers, there's a good reason to be excited about the future of AU wrestling.
“We’ll want a group of individuals who’ll commit to the process and be willing to give, so they can be the very best version of themselves,” Borelli said. “That’s the goal.”