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Campbell: Bonaccorsi Cements Himself As One of the Greatest Athletes in Pitt History



No. 1 Pitt redshirt senior Nino Bonaccorsi capped off an incredible career as he won the National Title at 197 pounds at the NCAA Wrestling Championships at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. on March 18.

The win gave the Panthers their first National Champion since head coach Keith Gavin did at 174 pounds in 2008. It also gave Bonaccorsi a perfect season with 21 wins and no losses, joining Gavin as one of just six Pitt wrestlers to do both.

Bonaccorsi dominated his competition throughout the entire season, with 15 of his 21 wins coming against wrestlers who made the Championships. He also only gave up two takedowns during the Championships en route to the National Title.

In those matches, Bonaccorsi looked in control and dominated most of his opponents. He combined a great ability to know when to shoot and make takedowns, while also defending opponent’s attacks and giving them few opportunities to score.

The turning point in this season that made Bonaccorsi into the undoubted No. 1 came against then ranked No. 5 Iowa State junior Yonger Bastida on Feb. 4 at Fitzgerald Field House.

Bonaccorsi fell behind 4-2 after two periods and needed to make a move to keep his perfect season alive. He then made a single-leg takedown, which he also earned back points on to take a 6-4 victory. Intermat awarded him with the No. 1 ranking after that win, which he never relinquished the rest of the way.

That single-leg takedown also aided him in the National Title match against No. 7 South Dakota State senior Tanner Sloan. After falling behind 3-0 in the second period, Bonaccorsi made the same single-leg takedown to earn his first points. He then made a takedown in the third period to win him the National Title on a 5-3 decision after riding time.

Bonaccorsi finishes his Pitt career as a five-time NCAA qualifier, three straight ACC Titles at 197 pounds and a career record of 110-25.

One thing that Bonaccorsi has done that you can’t measure is his importance on the program from when he arrived to where it is right now.

The 2017-18 season was the first for both Bonaccorsi and Gavin, after a tumultuous 2016-17 season that saw Jason Peters relieved of his duties as head coach after an incident at the Midlands Championships in December of that year.

The program has changed in that time and now, instead of embarrassing moments, the wrestlers that represent the University of Pittsburgh are achieving great feats and are back to winning National titles.

There are many great athletes that have competed for Pitt throughout its lengthy history. Track stars in Lee McRae, Trecia Kaye-Smith and Roger Kingdom come to mind. Tony Dorsett, Larry Fitzgerald and a slew of Pitt football legends also come up.

You also can’t forget the Panthers who have graced the hardwood, in Charles Smith, Shavonte Zellous, DeJuan Blair and others. With the improvements in the soccer programs and volleyball, many more athletes will make their mark at Pitt and beyond.

It’s hard to compare athletic brilliance across different sports, but what an athlete achieves outside competition can play an important role as to what is they achieve while competing.

For Bonaccorsi, he has played a large role, along with best friend and fellow wrestler Micky Phillippi plus Gavin, to turn Pitt wrestling into a great program once again. Potentially, even making it a better one than it has ever been before.

The National Title also just assured Bonaccorsi’s legacy. It will never fully define what he has achieved at Pitt and throughout his life.

Coming from a suburb south of Pittsburgh in Bethel Park, Bonaccorsi never won a state title, like so many of the great wrestlers from Pennsylvania do.

He developed his skills over the years and faced several comebacks as a Panther. He made it to the National Title match at 197 pounds in 2021 as a No. 6 seed but lost to No. 4 A.J. Ferrari of Oklahoma State. Bonaccorsi then failed to even place in 2022, losing in the Round of 12.

Bonaccorsi demonstrated that hard work, patience and determination works out in the end. He was never the most dominant wrestler, finishing with zero pins this season, but he proved himself a winner when it mattered most.

Bonaccorsi’s National Title represents so much not just for himself, but for Pitt Wrestling as well. A local wrestler, Bonaccorsi demonstrated that Western Pennsylvanian wrestlers don’t need to go all over the country to find the best program, but rather, can just stay right at their hometown school.

It also continued the narrative that not just the state of Pennsylvania, but Western Pa. (WPIAL) has some of the best wrestlers in the country and that should continue on for the foreseeable future.

Bonaccorsi represents the greatness found across history in all Pitt sports. Those that worked hard, competed to the best of their abilities and gave it everything they had along the way are always remembered fondly in the annals of history of Pitt athletics.

In the truest sense, Bonaccorsi is a Pitt Panther, and fans will not only remember him for years to come, but also hope to see his work ethic imbued into every athlete that competes for this University.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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2 months ago

Thanks for a Great article about Nino! Hard work, perseverance, achievement, integrity and a National title!! Thanks for representing PITT Nino! Job well done!!

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