Local track star shines in college
- Published: July 10, 2008
After setting two school records at Penn State during the indoor track season, winning a big 800-meter race on the famed Hayward Field track at the University of Oregon, and becoming the Big Ten 1500 meter champion, Sam Borchers has returned home to Yellow Springs to rest a bit, train with his old running buddies, and appreciate the town that he has found to be so supportive of his efforts.
Looking back over the year, the former state of Ohio Div. III high school mile and cross-country champion said he agreed that it was a successful freshman effort, despite certain disappointments and setbacks that started at the very beginning of the cross country season.
A few days after the Nike Outdoor Nationals, which he won in the fifth fastest-ever high-school-only mile, he incurred an ankle injury that had him in physical therapy at the start of the school year and unable to do any running.
“I gained 17 pounds,” Borchers said in a recent interview.
Once he was able to train again, it was catch-up for the rest of the fall season. Whenever he ran in a cross-country meet, it was as “unattached,” because he had not made the squad, and Borchers was pulled from a number of workouts because he was hurting.
“In all of high school, I can recall Vince (track coach Vince Peters) pulling me from a workout maybe only two times,” he said.
Disappointed and impatient, he kept on training until, by the start of the indoor track season, he had returned to a semblance of his former self. One of the things that carried him through was the support of his teammates and the camaraderie of the team, Borchers said.
“The reason why I chose Penn State over other schools that were recruiting me was because of the enthusiasm the team members I met had for the program and their teammates,” he said.
Borchers had never before competed in a full indoor season. The most races he had run during a winter season prior to college was just three. The smaller track, with its tighter turns, leads to strategical races with lots of jostling.
“I have a natural advantage indoors, due to my small size,” Borchers said. “I can slip through and avoid the elbows.”
In a two-week period near the start of the indoor season, he set a Penn State indoor record for 1000 meters (2:22.42) and the mile (4:01.98). He also performed well as a member of the 4 x 800 meter relay team. His efforts earned him Big Ten Track Athlete of the Week, an unusual accomplishment for a freshman. But it would be months before he would meet with that kind of success again, as he became ill, and once again was unable to train and perform as he wanted.
As the outdoor season rolled around, Borchers began to feel better. Although not fully recovered, he was part of the traveling team and participated in all the big meets. At the Pepsi Team Challenge in Oregon, he decided to run in the 800 meters just to see if he had recovered from his illness. He started out in last place and hung near the back of the pack for most of the first 400-meter lap, but in the second half of the race, he began to pick off the runners ahead of him, until he passed the leader just a few yards before the finish line to take the race. The stunned crowd of track aficionados demanded that he take a victory lap. The victory earned him his second Big Ten Track Athlete of the Week award.
Asked if he was tempted to step down from 1500 meters and make the 800 his race, ever the realist, Borchers said, “Distance runners improve in the longer distances as they get older. I’m not a fast enough 400 runner to excel at 800 meters, but I am a fast 400 runner for a miler.”
Evidence of that would come in the 1500 meters in the Big Ten Championships, when a field of excellent milers, including Ohio State’s Jeff See, played right into Borcher’s hand by taking it out slow for the first three quarters. Borchers out-sprinted the leaders in the last quarter to provide a surprise victory for his team.
“Sam Borchers started us off on the track with a sizzling last 400 to take a surprise victory and it really set the tone for the entire program to achieve today,” head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan said of the victory after the meet.
Borchers’ times during the season qualified him for the NCAA East Regional meet in both the 800 and 1500 meters. He passed up the 800 to concentrate on his specialty.
“Freshmen don’t usually double in big meets,” he said. “But I will double next year in the Big Ten Meet.
Borchers’ season ended in the regionals, when his time did not qualify him for the NCAA finals. Looking back on his first college experience, he said that being part of a team helped him get through freshman year. Maintaining a workout schedule together and having the older runners to look up to for their work ethic and guidance was invaluable, he said. He learned early on to “do what the seniors are doing.” He learned that confidence and belief in himself would carry him through the rough times, he said.
He returned to Yellow Springs last week and is glad to be home. One of the first things he did was attend the State High School Championships at Ohio State, where he reconnected with old high school teammates and competitors. This is something he hopes to do every year as it not only brings back fond memories of his successes at the meet, but also keeps him connected to the team, its coach and his former principal, John Gudgel.
“Mr. Gudgel made a difference,” Borchers said. “He was an authority figure I could trust. I could understand it if he came down on me. The troublemakers always love him the most.”
Borchers also had praise for his old coach, Vince Peters.
“Vince is incredibly connected,” he said. “All the coaches know Vince. He should be coaching at a college.”
After taking a couple weeks off, he resumed training in town on Monday. He will be running with former teammates Evan Firestone and Andy Peters and anyone else who cares to join him, and plans to post his running schedule on his Facebook page. He will return to Penn State in the middle of August.
“It’s good to come home and get your roots back,” he said. “The people I would like to thank for their support are too many to name, from the tutors to the principal who helped me in school, and the people around town. Please be sure to include that. If you weren’t writing this article, I would write a letter of thanks to the newspaper.”