Tulsa, Okla. — A year after hitting the lowest mark of his college wrestling career, Nino Bonaccorsi stood on the podium as the 197-pound title list at the NCAA Division I wrestling championships on Saturday night.
“I dreamed of this moment,” Bonaccorsi said after a 5–3 victory over South Dakota State’s Tanner Sloan. “You don’t know, every single day. And I can’t believe it. I tried so hard. I have no words. I’m so blessed and grateful. And I can’t believe I’m sitting here right now. “
Bonaccorsi’s win tied the season at 21–0 and made Pitt its first national champion since current Panthers coach Keith Gavin—who 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 Pitt. That’s my hometown. … I always dreamed of wrestling at Pitt and winning a national title. And what better way to do it than at my backyard school.” What else could be the place? I can’t believe it.
Bonaccorsi missed out on the 2021 final, and hit a low when he failed to reach the podium last year. Inspired by that result, she tried to focus on doing well and having fun, rather than worrying about winning or losing.
That approach paid off, as the wins piled up and the losses disappeared.
His new focus was “just to continue to wrestle my way – and it’s tough every minute, no matter what the score is – 8-0 down, 8-0 up – I’m always trying to win the next point.” I have been, and it worked.”
This mindset was crucial in the championship bout, as Sloan scored the opening takedown and survived the second period to go up 3–0. Bonaccorsi fought back, attacking Sloane’s right leg with a single leg and finishing swiftly.
Gavin said, “We believe if he gets his hands around one leg, he’s just going to finish.”
The takedown was especially important as Bonaccorsi rode Sloan for the remainder of the period to build up over a minute’s riding time. This is something he might not have been able to do in previous years, and it allowed him to remain neutral in the third period.
“I knew he was tough at the top,” Bonaccorsi said. “While I may not be the most technically sound rider, I definitely try to be stingy and try to put a little wear on you. … When I got ride time, it was essentially tied up, (And) I’m going to take it where I do best and I think it’s neutral. I just trusted myself to get that takedown.
That’s exactly what happened, when Bonaccorsi shot at Sloane’s right leg again and came through with a swift, hard finish. He rode Sloan the rest of the period, then celebrated his victory.
In addition to being among 12 Pitt wrestlers to have won an NCAA title, Bonaccorsi and Gavin share another bond — neither won a state title in high school.
“We always talked about how it’s getting better every day,” Bonaccorsi said. “It’s not who you were. It’s about the daily process of trying to get better every day. We had a similar bond. And we love this game just because you can go in and practice your craft.” and see visible results every day.
“So, we have a lot in common. While he was the last national champion, I’m his first national champion at Pitt. Was awesome.”
Gavin was asked how coaching a national champion compared to winning a title as a wrestler.
“That’s better,” Gavin said. “I’m so happy for him.”