A Season Unlike Any Other
STANFORD, Calif. – In the face of a global pandemic and sport discontinuation, the 2020-21 Stanford wrestling team found a way to persevere and remain a family. It was truly an unprecedented time for the Cardinal program.
Under the direction of 13th-year head coach Jason Borrelli, Stanford was 5-3 overall, including 4-0 in Pac-12 duals, and finished the season ranked No. 17 in the InterMat Tournament rankings.
Stanford finished third as a team at the Pac-12 Championships, held in Corvallis, Oregon. Redshirt freshman Jaden Abas won the 149-pound title, becoming the eighth freshman in school history to win a conference crown.
The Cardinal qualified seven wrestlers to the NCAA Championships in St. Louis. Joining Abas as automatic qualifiers were Jackson DiSario (125), Shane Griffith (165), Nick Stemmet (197) and Nathan Traxler (285). Redshirt senior Requir van der Merwe (157) and redshirt sophomore Real Woods (141) received at-large berths to nationals.
Competing on the biggest stage in collegiate wrestling, Griffith cemented his place in Stanford wrestling history. The No. 8 seed at 165 pounds, Griffith knocked off four top-10 seeds (No. 9, No. 1, No. 5 and No. 3) to win just the second individual NCAA title in program history. The redshirt sophomore was also named the Most Outstanding Wrestler at the NCAA Championships – the first Cardinal to receive the honor.
Griffith, who is now 40-1 in his collegiate career, was joined on the podium in St. Louis by Abas, who placed seventh at 149 pounds and became just the second freshman in program history to earn NCAA All-America honors. The Cardinal registered 35.5 team points, good for 17th overall. It was the program's seventh top-20 finish and the fourth-best mark in school history.
At the conclusion of the season, Griffith was named the Pac-12 Wrestler of the Year for the second consecutive season, while Abas was tabbed the Pac-12 Freshman/Newcomer of the Year and Borrelli was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year for the second time in his career.
The Cardinal did not wrestle at home all season due to Santa Clara County orders, which were in place at the start of the collegiate wrestling season. Due to the pandemic, the team did not return to campus to begin training until November – much later than most schools across the country. After a mandatory quarantine period and only a couple weeks indoors, the county guidelines changed and forced the Cardinal outdoors. The team was separated into six-person 'households' by weight and trained outdoors on the field hockey field and a covered area at Stanford Stadium during the winter months.
At the end of January, the Cardinal embarked on an eight-dual, 15-day road trip with stops in Bakersfield, San Luis Obispo, Little Rock, Arkansas and Corvallis, Oregon. The trip served as the entire regular season for the Cardinal.
With the state of the program still up in the air, the Cardinal said goodbye to its head coach as Borrelli was named to the same position at American University on April 13. However, good news was on the horizon and, on May 18, Stanford announced that it had reversed its July 8, 2020 decision, and wrestling and the other 10 sports slated for discontinuation would remain at the varsity level. On May 29, Rob Koll was announced as the 31st head coach in Stanford wrestling history.
In June, team awards were unveiled and it was no surprise that Griffith took home the Vern Jones Most Outstanding Wrestler award for a second straight season. The Westwood, New Jersey, native is just the sixth multiple-time All-American in program history after earning NWCA First Team All-America honors in 2020.
Traxler took home the Outstanding Scholar-Athlete award for a third straight season and was joined by Abas and Griffith, who also earned the honor. Traxler, a fifth-year senior, moved up to heavyweight in 2020-21 and finished his time on The Farm with a 78-28 career record and reached the Round of 12 at the NCAA Championships with wins over two top-15 seeds. A team captain and four-time NWCA Scholar All-American, Traxler was named the Pac-12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year in February and completed his master's in computer science in June.
Abas was also named the team's Outstanding Newcomer. The sixth Pac-12 Freshman/Newcomer of the Year in program history, the redshirt freshman dropped his opening match at the NCAA Championships before fighting back to win four straight in the consolation bracket to achieve All-America status.
Abas, Griffith and true freshman Jason Miranda took home the BAGUBA Award, given to the individual(s) who best exemplify what the coaches look for in a Stanford wrestler.
The Iron "S" award, given to the individual that displays exemplary dedication in the weight room, was presented to redshirt junior Ethan Woods. The Most Improved Award went to van der Merwe and Stemmet.
The Chris Horpel Coaches Award, given to the individual(s) that made significant contributions to the well-being of the team in terms of attitude, improvement or special leadership, was presented to redshirt sophomore Tyler Eischens, sophomore Luciano Arroyo and redshirt freshman Logan Ashton.
Eight wrestlers were recognized with the Tod Surmon Award for their outstanding performance in a dual. The winners were as follows: DiSario (CSU Bakersfield), Stemmet (California Baptist), Haydn Maley (Cal Poly), Charlie Darracott (Little Rock), van der Merwe (South Dakota State), Miranda (Oklahoma), Traxler (Oregon State) and Jared Hill (Utah Valley).
Stanford wrestlers continued to excel in the classroom this year. Eight Cardinal were named NWCA Scholar All-Americans – Abas, Elijah Cleaver, Griffith, Miranda, Stemmet, Traxler, van der Merwe and Real Woods. Stanford also led the conference with nine wrestlers earning Pac-12 Academic Honor Roll recognition – Abas, Nick Addison, Arroyo, Ashton, Griffith, Hill, Seamus O'Malley, Traxler and van der Merwe.