Panther lair Bonaccorsi gives Pitt his first national title in 15 years

Tulsa, Okla. — A year after hitting the lowest point in his college wrestling career, Nino Bonaccorsi stood atop the podium as the 197-pound roster for the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships Saturday night.

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

Bonaccorsi’s victory capped a 21-0 season and gave Pitt its 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. “I was born in Pittsburgh. I’m 20 minutes from Pete. This is my hometown. … I’ve always dreamed of wrestling in Pete and winning a national title. And what better place to do that than in my back school? I can’t believe it.”

Bonaccorsi lost in the 2021 final, and when he failed to get on the podium last year, he hit a low point. Motivated by this score, make an effort to focus on doing well and having fun rather than worrying about wins and losses.

And this approach paid off, as profits accumulated and losses disappeared.

His new focus was to “keep grappling my way through – and it’s hard every minute no matter the score – down 8-0, up 8-0 – always trying to win the next point, and it worked.”

This mentality was important in the championship game, as Sloan scored the opener and added a second-period run to take a 3-0 lead. Bonaccorsi kept fighting, launching a one-leg attack on Sloan’s right leg and finishing quickly.

“We’re confident that if he put his hands around his leg, he’d be over by now,” said Gavin.

The takedown was especially important because Bonaccorsi rode Sloan for the rest of the period to build up over a minute of riding time. This is something he might not have been able to do in years past, and he was allowed a neutral in the third period.

“I knew he was tough at the top,” Bonaccorsi said. “While I may not be the best technical rider, I definitely try to be stingy and try to wear you down a little bit. … When I got that riding time it was basically pegged, (and) I’m going to go where I’m doing my best and I think That this is neutral. I trusted myself to accomplish this removal.”

That’s exactly what happened, as Bonaccorsi shot Sloan’s right leg again and came away with a fast, hard finish. Sloane rode for the remainder of the period, then celebrated his win.

In addition to being among 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 always talked about how we can get better every day,” Bonaccorsi said. “It’s not what I used to be. It’s about the day-to-day process of just trying to get better every day. We had a similar bond. And we just love the sport because of that aspect of your life, you get to go in and hone your craft and see visible results every single day.”

“So, we have a lot in common. While he was the last National Champion, I was his first National Champion at Pete. He was great.”

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

“It’s better,” Gavin said. “I am very happy for him.”

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