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Pitt’s Jake Wentzel and Nino Bonaccorsi Clinch All-American Status en route to NCAA Finals Berths

Pitt’s Jake Wentzel and Nino Bonaccorsi Clinch All-American Status en route to NCAA Finals Berths

Friday night was a truly historic night at the 2021 NCAA Championships for the University of Pittsburgh wrestling program at the Enterprise Center.

In the same city where Keith Gavin won the team’s last national title in 2008, he saw two of his athletes – Jake Wentzel at 165 pounds and Nino Bonaccorsi at 197 pounds – qualify for NCAA finals. With that, the duo also earned All-America honors for the second consecutive season.

This marks the first time since 1963 that Pitt will feature two wrestlers in the individual finals at the NCAA Championships – the pinnacle event of college wrestling schedule.

“Things have certainly gone well for us in St. Louis,” said fourth-year coach Keith Gavin. “It means a lot for Pitt to have Jake and Nino in the finals. I give them all of the credit. They both are very committed to trying to be the best. That’s a big deal. Some people say they are; but they truly are.”

Wentzel, usually known for his lockdown defense from the top position, proved that he can also find his offense and light up the scoreboard when a match calls for it. He defeated Missouri’s Keegan O’Toole in a high-scoring 9-6 contest before using a strong final frame in the semifinals to down Ohio State’s Ethan Smith by 4-2 decision.

While the 165-pound Wentzel allowed the first takedown in both matches, he proved capable  of being able to come from behind and secure a win. In doing so, the middle-weight is now Pitt’s first national finalist since 2015 when Tyler Wilps reached the final match at NCAAs.

“Words can’t even describe it,” Wentzel said. “It’s something you dream about for so long. That moment when the last whistle blows and you look up at your family… it’s unreal.”

Pitt’s Jake Wentzel after he earns a spot in the 2021 NCAA finals. Photo courtesy of Pitt Athletics.

It also didn’t hurt that Wentzel was very familiar with his Buckeye opponent, a Latrobe, Pennsylvania native, and someone Wentzel frequently trained and sparred with during his high school career.

Pitt may have went years without an All-American, but now they earned two within a matter of a single night.

At 197 pounds, Bonaccorsi also punched his ticket to the NCAA finals, becoming an All-American during the process. Like Wentzel, Bonaccorsi too had to defeat a former Pennsylvania native, and  personal friend, whom he knew well. The familiarity was something that made his big semifinal win bittersweet.

“I’m at a loss for words,” Bonaccorsi said. “Everyone works hard, but I really worked my butt off to get here. I’m glad it paid off. I’m just really happy and ready to go get this title.”

Pitt’s Nino Bonaccorsi hugs Pitt head coach Keith Gavin after Bonaccorsi earns a spot in the 2021 NCAA finals. Photo courtesy of Pitt Athletics.

Bonaccorsi’s path to the NCAA finals went through No. 4-seeded Kordell Norfleet of Arizona State in the quarters and was followed by Jake  Woodley of Oklahoma in the semi’s. In both instances, the Pitt star won by matching 4-1 decisions, neither of which were as close as the score would indicate.

Wentzel and Bonaccorsi have now etched their respective places in the Pitt wrestling record book as the 81st and 82nd All-Americans in program history.

Wentzel will meet No. 8 seed Shane Griffith of Stanford in the NCAA 165-pound final on Saturday night, while Bonaccorsi faces Oklahoma State’s electric true freshman AJ Ferrari, the No. 4 seed at 197.

Also competing for the Panthers on Friday, Micky Phillippi fell in both of his bouts to narrowily miss All-America honors at 133 pounds. Iowa’s Austin DeSanto beat him in the quarterfinals before a tough Lucas Byrd (Illinois) bested Phillippi in the extras in the Round of 12, otherwise referred to as the Blood Round.

“This is a big deal for our program,” Gavin said. “The national tournament is always the focus, but especially this year after losing last year when we thought we’d put some guys on the podium. So to come back this year and do this is big for us. It’s been too long for Pitt. We need people to realize that they can win national titles here. That’s what we’re showing.”

Saturday’s NCAA wrestling finals, featuring Wentzel and Bonaccorsi representing the Panthers, will begin at 8 p.m. and be televised on ESPN.

Complete Match Results

Micky Phillippi, No. 5 Seed, 133 Pounds, Record: 2-2

No. 5 Micky Phillippi (Pitt) maj. dec. No. 28 Ty Smith (Utah Valley), 14-3

No. 5 Micky Phillippi (Pitt) dec. No. 12 Jarrett Trombley (NC State), 6-1

No. 4 Austin DeSanto (Iowa) maj. dec. No. 5 Micky Phillippi (Pitt), 13-5

No. 7 Lucas Byrd (Illinois) dec. No. 5 Micky Phillippi (Pitt), 6-2 (TB1)

Cole Matthews, No. 16 Seed, 141 Pounds, Record: 1-2

No. 16 Cole Matthews (Pitt) maj. dec. No. 17 McKenzie Bell (Rider), 17-3

No. 1 Jaydin Eierman (Iowa) dec. No. 16 Cole Matthews (Pitt), 5-3

No. 18 Parker Filius (Purdue) dec. No. 16 Cole Matthews (Pitt), 6-3

Jake Wentzel, No. 3 Seed, 165 Pounds, Record: 4-0, Finalist

No. 3 Jake Wentzel (Pitt) dec. No. 30 Evan Barczak (Drexel), 1-0

No. 3 Jake Wentzel (Pitt) dec. No. 14 Peyton Robb (Nebraska), 8-1

No. 3 Jake Wentzel (Pitt) dec. No. 6 Keegan O’Toole (Missouri), 9-6

No. 3 Jake Wentzel (Pitt) dec. No. 7 Ethan Smith (Ohio State), 4-2

Gregg Harvey, No. 30 Seed, 184 Pounds, Record: 1-2

No. 3 Lou Deprez (Binghamton) dec. No. 30 Gregg Harvey (Pitt), 6-4

No. 30 Gregg Harvey (Pitt) maj. dec. No. 33 Joe Accousti (Sacred Heart), 8-0

No. 19 Zach Braunagel (Illinois) dec. No. 30 Gregg Harvey (Pitt), 5-2

Nino Bonaccorsi, No. 6 Seed, 197 Pounds, Record: 4-0, Finalist

No. 6 Nino Bonaccorsi (Pitt) maj. dec. No. 27 Nick Stemmet (Stanford), 15-2

No. 6 Nino Bonaccorsi (Pitt) maj. dec. No. 11 Jay Aiello (Virginia), 13-3

No. 6 Nino Bonaccorsi (Pitt) dec. No. 3 Kordell Norfleet (Arizona State), 4-1

No. 6 Nino Bonaccorsi (Pitt) dec. No. 26 Jake Woodley (Oklahoma), 4-1

Day One Recap can be found here.

Updated Brackets can be found here.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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