Nino Bonaccorsi has learned from his tenure with Pitt’s wrestling team.
Now a sixth-year senior, Bonaccorsi had a resume that included two straight ACC championships in the 197-pound weight class and four consecutive NCAA championship tournament bids heading into his final collegiate campaign.
“A lot of my seasons leading up to this I had set high goals for myself,” he said. “I wanted to win everything there is, but there’s been times where that came back to haunt me. I almost cared too much about the results.”
Bonaccorsi won’t be making that mistake again.
The 2017 Bethel Park graduate is currently ranked second in the country at 197 pounds and is one of the top contenders to win the national championship in his weight class. He is 7-0 heading into Pitt’s ACC match Friday at No. 8 Virginia Tech.
“The only thing I’m focusing on is wrestling my best,” Bonaccorsi said. “It’s hard to let go of those worries and those wants. I didn’t plan on being undefeated because I just planned on wrestling my best. If I was 3-5 or something I wouldn’t care as long as I’m wrestling my best.”
That mindset is just fine by Pitt wrestling coach Keith Gavin.
“He’s been great,” Gavin said. “He’s very committed to trying to be the best at this. I always say it’s easy to say those things, and that you want to be a national champion, but Nino lives it day in and day out. Nino is great to have as an example for the rest of the team.
“He can win the national title, there’s no doubt about that,” Gavin added. “He’s already gotten second, so there’s only one more spot you can go.”
After a redshirt season in which he wrestled unattached in open tournaments, Bonaccorsi went 21-8 in 2018-19 and finished second in the ACC before going 2-2 at the national championships. He then finished 23-5 in 2019-20 and third in the ACC, and was named an NWCA All-American.
Then in 2020-21, Bonaccorsi won his first ACC title and was named an All-American after he lost a tight 4-2 bout to Oklahoma State’s AJ Ferrari in the NCAA championship. He followed that by finishing 18-5 a year ago and capturing his second straight ACC title before going 3-2 at the NCAA championships.
“In our sport it’s all about how you finish at the national tournament,” Gavin said. “The whole season is about getting ready for that and making sure these guys are battle tested and ready to go for that.
“He’s a lead-by-example guy,” Gavin added. “He’s one of those guys you can kind of just point to and say, ‘Do what he’s doing and you’ll get better.’ ”
For Bonaccorsi, developing into one of the nation’s top wrestlers in his weight class meant perfecting a somewhat unusual approach.
Gavin said Bonaccorsi is “very offensive and shoots a lot.”
“He has a real knack for getting to his opponents’ legs, especially at an upper weight class that’s a little rare,” Gavin said. “Over the years he’s kind of molded that style and perfected it. He’s pretty good at it.”
Bonaccorsi will need to be at his best if he’s looking to make it three straight ACC titles and five consecutive trips to compete for a national championship.
The country’s top-ranked wrestler at 197 pounds is Missouri sophomore Rocky Elam, with whom Bonaccorsi has plenty of history. He first knocked off Elam to win the USA Under 23 Freestyle national championship two seasons ago.
Elam avenged that loss and defeated Bonaccorsi in the round of 12 last season at the national championship match in Detroit.
“His weight class is deep,” Gavin said. “There’s a lot of kids, I’d say the top 10, all of them are good. It’s one of the better weight classes in the country this year, so yeah, you can’t really hone in on one guy.
“He’s just got to be himself and not make the moment bigger than it is and just kind of go out there and be himself,” Gavin added. “Again, one match at a time. You can’t get caught looking too far ahead, so it’s important to just stay in the moment.”
Lehigh sophomore Michael Beard, No. 3 in the nation, will challenge Bonaccorsi and Elam for a national championship, along with Penn State’s Max Dean, Iowa State’s Yonger Bastida, Cal Poly’s Bernie Truax, Iowa’s Jacob Warner, Rider’s Ethan Laird, N.C. State’s Isaac Trumble and Illinois’ Zac Braunagel.
That’s not to suggest, however, that Bonaccorsi is looking ahead to any potential matches.
“I really haven’t been looking at the rankings,” he said. “I’m thinking about my next match. We have Virginia Tech, a tough team, a tough opponent. That’s all who I’m worried about.”
Bonaccorsi’s outlook on his wrestling career begins at home. He said his brother, Nick, a three-time NCAA qualifier at Pitt, provides plenty of guidance and support.
“He helps me with the biggest pictures — why get worried for a match or why get nervous for a match?” Nino Bonaccorsi said. “Hearing that, it gives me a different light on things. It lets me see things different, so I think that’s something really big that he’s helped me with.
“Every match I have I want to be able to come off the mat and say that was all I had,” he added. “That was really my goal with all of this.”
Gavin said the support of Bonaccorsi’s parents, Mark and Melody, has been critical, too. Mark Bonaccorsi is a wrestling coach at Bethel Park.
“I think that they’re just a really tight family,” Gavin said. “They’re like a typical Italian old-school family and they’re always together. His parents are always at our matches. In our sport you go out there by yourself and it is an individual sport. It’s nice to have that.”
With his final ACC and NCAA tournaments still to come, Nino Bonaccorsi will be taking nothing for granted.
“I want to just walk off and give 100% of being a Bonaccorsi,” he said. “Whether or not that is good enough remains to be seen, but whether or not you beat me you’re getting all of me.”