Camp – Bonaccorsi awards Pitt his first national title in 15 years
TULSA, Okla. – A year after hitting rock bottom in his college wrestling career, Nino Bonaccorsi topped the podium Saturday night as the 197-pound champ at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.
“I dreamed of this moment,” Bonaccorsi said after beating South Dakota’s Tanner Sloan 5-3. “You have no idea, every single day. And I can’t believe it. I’ve tried so hard. I have no words. I’m just so blessed and grateful. And I can’t believe I’m sitting here right now.”
Bonaccorsi’s win capped a 21-0 season and gave Pitt their first national champion since Keith Gavin – the current Panthers coach – won the 174-pound title in 2008.
“It means everything to me,” said Bonaccorsi, a Bethel Park graduate student. “I was born in Pittsburgh. I’m 20 minutes from Pitt. That is my home town. … I always dreamed of wrestling in Pitt and winning a national title. And where better to do that than at my backyard school? I can not believe it.”
Bonaccorsi lost in the 2021 final, and when he failed to make the podium last year he hit rock bottom. Motivated by this result, he struggled to focus on performing well and having fun rather than worrying about winning and losing.
This approach paid off as profits piled up and losses disappeared.
His new focus was “just keep fighting – and that’s hard every minute no matter what the score – 8-0 down, 8-0 up – I’m always trying to get that next point and it’s worked out. ”
That mentality was important in the championship fight as Sloan scored the opening takedown and added an escape in the second third to make it 3-0. Bonaccorsi kept fighting, firing a one-leg attack down Sloan’s right leg and finishing quickly.
“We’re confident that if he wraps his hands around a leg, he’ll be ready right away,” Gavin said.
The takedown was particularly important because Bonaccorsi drove Sloan the rest of the time to build up more than a minute of driving time. It was something he might not have been able to do in previous years and allowed him to stay neutral in the third period.
“I knew he was tough at the top,” said Bonaccorsi. “While I may not be the most technical rider, I certainly try to be stingy and wear you down a bit. … When I got that drive time, it was essentially a tie, (and) I’m going to take it to where I’m best, and I think that’s neutral. I trusted myself that I could pull off this takedown.”
That’s exactly what happened when Bonaccorsi fired again at Sloan’s right leg for a fast, hard finish. He rode Sloan the rest of the period and then celebrated his victory.
Bonaccorsi and Gavin are not only among the 12 Pitt wrestlers to win an NCAA title, but they also share another bond — neither of them won a state title in high school.
“We’ve always talked about how it’s about getting better every day,” Bonaccorsi said. “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 simply because of that aspect, that you can improve your craft and see visible results every day.
“So we have a lot in common. While he was the last national champion, I am his first national champion in Pitt. It was fantastic.”
Gavin was asked how to coach a national champion and win a title as a wrestler.
“It’s better,” Gavin said. “I’m just so happy for him.”