By Dave Kiefer
Stanford Sports Information
The squared circle meets center court when the Stanford wrestling team opens its season in a rare event: an outdoor dual meet, against Northwestern at Taube Family Tennis Stadium on Nov. 7, at 3 p.m.
Hoping to give the student body a show to rally behind, third-year coach Jason Borrelli came up with the idea to turn a wrestling meet into a social event.
"We were trying to do something that would be fun, creative, and exciting," Borrelli said. "I really want to get more than just wrestling fans to come – I want to get the student body."
The idea came from a college teammate, David Bolyard, now an assistant coach at Eastern Michigan. When Borrelli asked if his team would come for a dual meet, Bolyard jokingly replied, "We'll come if we wrestle outside."
The comment, even in jest, stuck with Borrelli.
Consider that the NHL stages an annual outdoor Winter Classic game, selling out Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, and Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium in the past three years. There is a precedent and a novelty about staging such an indoor event outdoors.
We should stage an outdoor wrestling match, Borrelli thought. We have the climate to do it.
Borrelli recalled hearing his father, Tom, the longtime coach at Central Michigan, talk about his own college days. When Tom wrestled at The Citadel from 1975-79, their duals against rival Virginia Military Institute were held in the outdoor courtyard of The Citadel's barracks, with students watching from railings or alongside the mat.
Borrelli wanted something similar. But where? While brainstorming with assistant athletic director Earl Koberlein, it hit him: Why not the tennis stadium? The walled surface with stadium seating on three sides would be ideal for wrestling.
Next, it would take the approval of Dick Gould, the John L. Hinds Director of Tennis. A showman in his own right, Gould had pioneered indoor tennis – filling Maples Pavilion for Stanford matches in the 1970s – and recently installed an interactive high-def video screen outside the tennis stadium for public use.
"I'm delighted we could support Jason," Gould said. "It's very exciting. I just hope the weather holds."
Ah -- the weather.
Borrelli has established several weather safeguards. First, he asked Northwestern to open its season two weeks earlier than usual to have a better chance at good weather. Next, he settled on the 3 p.m. starting time because evenings might be too cold. Finally, an indoor backup site has been established if there is rain.
At Taube, a tarp will be placed over the court, with the mat on top. Borrelli also is looking into the possibility of renting a three-foot high stage, and plans to invite the Stanford band and tree to add a little atmosphere.
As for the match itself, Northwestern comes in with one of the most decorated high school wrestlers in Bay Area history, Jason Welch. The three-time California state champion out of Walnut Creek's Las Lomas High is expected to wrestle Stanford's NCAA qualifier Lucas Espericueta at 157 pounds in what could be the main event.
Espericueta is one of five returning Stanford wrestlers to have competed in the NCAAs, tying the most Stanford has ever had coming into a season. Among the others is Nick Amuchastegui, a redshirt junior at 174 pounds, who finished fourth in the NCAA Championships at 165 last season, and won the Elite 88 Award for the highest grade-point average in the tournament.
Borrelli grew up at watching his father's Central Michigan dual meets – and then wrestled in them – as the program grew a following that would number as many as 5,000.
It's not unreasonable to believe that Stanford can build a regular following of 1,000-2,000, Borrelli said, as long as the student body gets behind the program. And the first opportunity is Nov. 7.
His father did it. Jason witnessed it first hand.
"It can be done," he said.