2017 Wrestler of the Year: Desire to beat the best powered Borst’s historic run

Sherando senior John Borst, who won his third VHSL Group 4A state title this past season, is The Northern Virginia Daily's 2017 Wrestler of the Year. Rich Cooley/Daily

STEPHENS CITY – The sport of wrestling has dominated most of John Borst’s life.

Borst, a Sherando High School senior and the son of a wrestling coach, said he first stepped onto a wrestling mat at age 3. At the time Borst’s father, also named John, was the co-head coach of the team at James Wood Middle School, he said. The younger Borst recalled having free roam of the wrestling room as a toddler. He watched, learned. The wrestling mat became his second home.

When his father moved to an assistant coach position for Millbrook High when the school opened in 2003, Borst followed, again observing and soaking everything in.

Borst’s passion for wrestling grew, primarily because his father never forced him into tournaments or practices that he wasn’t comfortable doing. His father’s message was “do what you’re having fun with,” and Borst’s love for the sport soared.

When Borst reached eighth grade he began stretching the limits of his comfort zone on the wrestling mat. Borst recently recalled he and his father seeking out wrestling tournaments all over the country for the purpose of finding the toughest competition.

“Our motto was ‘looking for losses,'” Borst said last week, “which sounds bad but when you’re that age and you just wanna learn, it’s good to get out in those different places, see different kids.

“We wrestled in so many different places. And it was good. We took those losses respectfully. We never got too upset that we lost at all. I never left the mat with a frown on my face really, and that was kind of the key. And I don’t want kids thinking now that they have to go out there and win. Go out there and take losses. It’s a part of the sport and that’s what helps you grow. No perfect man in this world is known for any specific reason because he didn’t lose. I feel like you’ve gotta take losses to develop.”

Borst doesn’t do much losing these days. Over his last three high school seasons he did so just five times. During his final high school wrestling season he went 62-1 while notching 44 pins, the best mark in the area, and won his third straight Virginia High School League Group 4A state title.

Borst, The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2017 Wrestler of the Year, will graduate as Sherando’s only multi-state champ and as the Warriors’ all-time leader in wins, pins, takedowns and team points. He will wrestle on a partial scholarship at Virginia Tech next season and is listed as the No. 4 195-pound high school wrestler in the nation by InterMat.

At the core of his success is his willingness to throw himself into the ring against the best of the best.

“We’ve had wrestlers that wrestle in offseason tournaments and everything but he sought out … the stiffest competition, the most prestigious tournaments, the tournaments that had the most high quality ranked wrestlers in,” said Pepper Martin, who has coached wrestling at Sherando since the school opened in 1993. “He’s never avoided any situation where he can wrestle against the best.”

Over the last calendar year that mentality has pushed Borst from a self-proclaimed “nobody” to the national spotlight.

Borst’s rise began with his second VHSL state title a year ago, which came at 182 pounds against T.J. Allen – who is now wrestling at Virginia Tech – in what at the time was a matchup of two of the top wrestlers in Virginia. Borst’s 12-6 win over Allen was his springboard into national prominence.

He went on to win the a National High School Coaches Association Junior Nationals title last April, verbally committed to Virginia Tech in June, placed second in the USA Wrestling Junior Men’s Freestyle Nationals in Fargo, North Dakota in July, won a national title at the Super 32 Challenge in Greensboro, North Carolina in October and signed with the Hokies in November.

From there, Borst stormed into his final high school season and claimed the 195-pound championship in the prestigious Beast of the East tournament in Delaware in December.

A month later Borst suffered his only loss of the season, a 5-3 defeat to Jake Woodley of North Allegheny (Pennsylvania) in the 195-pound final in the loaded Escape the Rock tournament in Holland, Pennsylvania. Borst said he thinks about that loss to Woodley, whom he had beaten for the Beast title and who ranks a spot ahead of Borst on InterMat, “every waking moment” but added that it was a necessary setback, much like those he suffered earlier in his wrestling career.

“I needed it,” Borst said. “It was a good tone for the rest of this season, kind of opened my eyes. So it was a good loss, I’m happy about it.”

Not even a left knee injury suffered during practice right before the start of the postseason could hold Borst back for the remainder of his senior campaign (an MRI after the season revealed a torn meniscus and a strained MCL, Borst said). He pinned his way through all nine of his matches in the Conference 21 West, Region 4A West and Group 4A tournaments. Each match ended in the first period.

His pin over King’s Fork’s Dennis Whitehead in one minute, 50 seconds in the state final in Salem made Borst the first wrestler in the Frederick County/Winchester area to win three state championships.

“I became a little bit more passive with (the injury) but the mindset was still the same,” Borst said. “You can’t always truly know you’re gonna walk in and win but I was damn sure I wasn’t gonna lose.”

Borst’s final high school victory gave him more career pins (164) than Sherando’s third-most victorious wrestler, Nick Bakos, had wins (163).

Borst’s 211 wins (against 18 losses) are 26 more than any other wrestler in Sherando history, and he has 66 more career pins than any Warrior. He also owns the school record for wins in a season (62) and holds the top three spots for most pins in a season (he had 49 as a sophomore).

“They talk about Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, Cal Ripken’s games played streak in baseball,” Martin said. “Well as far as high school wrestling, I mean at this school, some of those records I don’t think will ever be touched.”

Borst, who has expressed hope that his achievements will be the target of future Sherando wrestlers, has already pushed aside the pride he’s felt in his high school accomplishments. At Virginia Tech, he said, none of those achievements will matter.

“Once you get to college it’s a whole new world,” Borst said. “I’m now the little dog in the big arena. That’s how it is. I’m the small guy compared to everyone else. My respect has to be earned and that’s how it is. I know that.”

The recent coaching change at Virginia Tech hasn’t shaken his perception of his college future.

Borst learned 20 minutes before his state championship bout on Feb. 18 of the impending departure of former Virginia Tech head coach Kevin Dresser, who built the program into a national championship contender before returning home to coach at Iowa State last month.

Borst said the Hokies, who won the ACC tournament title last Saturday under assistant coach Tony Robie (who is serving as the team’s interim head coach), are still in good hands and credited his relationship with Robie as his reason for choosing Tech. Borst added that he hadn’t yet talked to Dresser as of last week but said he felt no hard feelings toward the head coach.

As Borst waits to begin the next chapter of his wrestling career, he might finally take some time off from hitting the nation’s most prestigious wrestling tournaments.

“Me and Robie talked and he said look man, there’s nothing else you’ve gotta prove,” Borst said. “He’s like, we already know you’re gonna be all right, you’re a fine wrestler, just make sure you’re completely healed up, so when I get to Tech I can hit the ground running and just start training immediately. That’ll be fun.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com