HomeSportsshelter - Bonaccorsi gives Pitt first national title in 15 years

shelter – Bonaccorsi gives Pitt first national title in 15 years

TULSA, Okla – A year after reaching the nadir of his college wrestling career, Nino Bonaccorsi took the podium as the 197-pound title contender at Saturday night’s NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.

“I dreamed of this moment,” said Bonaccorsi after his 5-3 victory over Tanner Sloan in South Dakota State. “You have no idea, every day. And I can’t believe it. I put in so much effort. I have no words. I am so blessed and grateful. And I can’t believe I’m here right now.”

Bonaccorsi’s victory capped off a 21-0 season and gave Pitt its first national champion since Keith Gavin – current Panthers coach – won the 174-pound title in 2008.

“This means everything to me,” says Bonaccorsi, a Bethel Park graduate. “I was born in Pittsburgh. I’m 20 minutes from Pitt. That’s my hometown. … I always dreamed of wrestling with Pitt and winning a national title. And what better place to do that than my backyard school? I can not believe it.”

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Bonaccorsi lost in the 2021 final, and when he failed to make the podium last year, he hit rock bottom. Motivated by that result, he tried his best to focus on performing well and having fun instead of worrying about wins and losses.

That approach paid off, as the victories piled up and the losses disappeared.

His new focus was “just keep struggling my way – and that is hard every minute no matter the score – 8-0 down, 8-0 up – I always try to win the next point, and I succeeded. ”

That mentality was important in the championship fight, as Sloan scored the opening strike and added a breakaway in the second period to go up 3-0. Bonaccorsi continued to fight, shooting a one-legged strike to Sloan’s right leg and finishing quickly.

“We’re confident that if he gets his hands on a leg, he’s going to finish it now,” said Gavin.

The takedown was especially important as Bonaccorsi rode Sloan for the rest of the period to build up more than a minute of driving time. That’s something he might not have been able to do in recent years, and it allowed him to play neutral in the third period.

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“I knew he was strong at the top,” said Bonaccorsi. “While I may not be the most technically sound rider, I certainly try to be stingy and wear you down a bit. … When I got that driving time, it was basically even, (and) I’m going to take it to where I’m best and I think that’s neutral. I trusted myself to get that removal, made it happen.

That’s exactly what happened, as Bonaccorsi shot Sloan’s right leg again and came up with a fast, hard finish. He rode Sloan for the rest of the period and then celebrated his victory.

In addition to being one of 12 Pitt wrestlers to win an NCAA title, Bonaccorsi and Gavin share another bond — neither of them won a state title in high school.

“We’ve always talked about what it’s like to get better every day,” said Bonaccorsi. ‘It’s not what you were. It’s about the daily process of just trying to get better every day. We had a similar bond. And we love this sport just because of that aspect of you, you can go into it and hone your craft and see visible results every day.

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“So we have a lot in common. While he was the last National Champion, I am his first National Champion in Pitt. It was amazing.”

Gavin was asked how coaching a national champion compares to winning a title as a wrestler.

“It’s better,” Gavin said. “I’m so happy for him.”



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