Aug. 13, 2007
Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, Aug. 2, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2007-08 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
IOWA CITY — Despite growing up 45 minutes from Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Jay Borschel took a long and winding route to becoming a University of Iowa wrestler. The high school All-American originally signed with Virginia Tech, then transferred to the UI when Tom Brands was hired as Hawkeyes head coach prior to the 2006-07 season.
Borschel authored one of the most sensational careers in Iowa prep wrestling history. He is one of 17 four-time state champions, winning crowns at 103, 125, 152 and 171 pounds while compiling a record of 163-1 with 95 falls. Even though he looked up to former Iowa wrestlers Mark Ironside and Joe Williams, Borschel decided to follow Brands, another Hawkeye legend, to Virginia Tech where he was head coach from 2005-06.
“The first time I met Coach Brands I could see the fire in his eyes,” Borschel said. “You could see that he was motivated and when he gives one of his talks, you’re ready to go.”
Borschel was 28-5 wrestling unattached at 174 pounds as a redshirt freshman for the Hokies in 2005-06. When he transferred to the UI, he lost a year of eligibility, but again competed unattached and was 13-3 at 174, winning the championship at the Northern Iowa Open. Borschel is understandably eager for his first trip to center mat at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“One reason you come to Iowa is to go into that arena with 14,000 fans yelling and screaming and then go out there and kick someone’s butt,” Borschel said. “I am real, real antsy. What has motivated me most is the fact that last year we didn’t have the season we wanted. We didn’t rise up to the task.”
Iowa was 14-5 a year ago, finishing third in the Big Ten and eighth at the NCAA Championships. At many schools, that would be an outstanding accomplishment. But this is the UI, with 20 NCAA championships, 215 All-Americans, 61 individual national champions and a one-time string of 25 consecutive Big Ten championships.
“Our expectation is to have 10 national champions,” Borschel said. “Those are the goals you have to have. It’s pretty simple. If you don’t think that way then you’re not on board.”
Brands is primarily responsible for getting the Hawkeye grapplers on board. He was a four-time All-American and three-time national champion at Iowa, where he compiled an overall record of 158-7-2 from 1989-92 and won an Olympic gold medal in 1996.
“You get better in the room and it has to happen on your own, independently,” Brands said. “These aren’t kids anymore. They need to go out and blaze new territory.”
“One reason you come to Iowa is to go into that arena with 14,000 fans yelling and screaming and then go out there and kick someone’s butt. I am real, real antsy. What has motivated me most is the fact that last year we didn’t have the season we wanted. We didn’t rise up to the task.”
UI wrestler Jay Borschel
Blazing new territory might seem a daunting task for a tradition-rich program like Iowa. But the Hawkeyes have not won a Big Ten championship since 2004 or an NCAA crown since 2000. That’s a long hiatus for the rabid fans in black and gold. Brands said the Hawkeyes were too inconsistent last season and hopefully the infusion of wrestlers like Borschel will help them become more consistent up and down the lineup.
“You look at Jay Borschel and you see a complete person,” Brands said. “He can wrestle in all positions and I like his commitment. He’s not content to wait. He’s a good student, he works hard in the room and I know what he’s thinking. He’s as tough as he wants to be.”
Borschel’s goals are cut and dried — he said the team expectation is a national champion at every weight class and he is penciled in as a starter at 174.
“I want to win a national title,” Borschel said. “I want to stay tough the whole season, because it can be pretty long and grueling.”
Borschel began wrestling in kindergarten and although he said he won more than he lost as a youngster, the state championships didn’t start rolling in until high school.
“I didn’t know why I liked wrestling so much as a kid,” Borschel said. “Then as I grew up I realized that this is a sport where I’m the only one who decides if I want to be a champion or not. I was always driven to be better and better because there are always people out there who could beat you.”
Borschel, a biology major, has had to wait longer than most to officially begin his collegiate career. In his mind, the first match can’t come soon enough. And, he added, if everyone Hawkeye buys into the philosophy of Brand’s program, it could lead to a celebration in St. Louis on March 22 after the 2008 national championship.
“Winning a national title is very doable,” Borschel said. “We have a lot of talent on this team.”
“Goal is a funny word,” he said. “In this sport you want to be at the top.”
At the top is a place Borschel and the UI wrestling program is accustomed to being.