By Eleanor Bailey/Staff
Nino Bonaccorsi works on turning Nick Phelps before putting him on his back and recording a fall in 91 seconds. Although Bonaccorsi’s first-period pin gave Bethel Park a 27-9 lead against Peters Township, the Hawks dropped the last five bouts of the match, three by forfeit, and lost, 36-30, to the Indians in Section 2-B, AAA action.
Nino Bonaccorsi adheres to all the sports clichés. The Bethel Park wrestler takes it bout by bout. He eats rights, trains hard and gets the proper rest.
“Yea, I live a straight life. The life of an athlete,” said the 18-year-old senior. “If you are an athlete, there are certain things you should and should not be doing.”
By sticking to the do’s and don’ts, Bonaccorsi has succeeded like no other athlete his age. Already a champion at the regional level and a runner-up on the state stage, he has started the 2016-17 with 16 straight victories and three tournament titles. After winning the King of the Mountain and Gateway Invitational to start the campaign, Bonaccorsi is fresh off capturing his first Powerade championship. He garnered runner-up honors last year as a junior.
Over the holiday break, Bonaccorsi edged Cody Mulligan, 3-2, for the 182-pound title at Powerade. Bonaccorsi had also defeated the Saegertown grappler for the King of the Mountain title, 5-2.
“I really wanted to win Powerade,” Bonaccorsi said.
For a variety of reasons, Bonaccorsi wanted to win. The least, however, was the fact he had been runner-up the season prior. The primary factors pertained to his family. His father, Mark, as well as his brother, Nick, had won Powerade championships. So, Bonaccorsi wanted to join them in the winner’s circle.
“I needed to get a win for bragging rights,” said the son of Melody Bonaccorsi. “I think it’s pretty cool having a dad and two sons as champions.”
Bonaccorsi’s championship did not come easy. After winning his first two bouts by falls and a quarterfinal match by decision, 5-1, he outlasted George Walton, edging the Bound Brook, N.J. senior, 9-7. In the semifinal match, Bonaccorsi fell behind, 7-3, before waging a comeback.
“One of my strengths is getting takedowns but here I got taken down,” said a shocked Bonaccorsi. “Wow, I thought, I’m in a match. He was long and fast but I kept my head, kept my cool and wrestled to the whistle. It was a wake-up call for sure when he scored on me and I needed to make up points. It was not a good feeling I’ll tell you that but I finally got it together.”
Bonaccorsi applied the same focus in his final match. After a scoreless first period, each wrestler scored an escape in the third period, forcing overtime. In the first extra frame, each grappler again gained an escape but during the ultimate tiebreaker session, Bonaccorsi prevailed. He escaped for the winning point and narrow victory.
“It was a very close match,” Bonaccorsi conceded. “That kid was very defensive and strong. I didn’t get too many shots on him but I kept calm and didn’t lose my head. I felt I always could get out but 30 seconds goes fast.”
Bonaccorsi doesn’t mind close matches. In fact, he prefers them.
“You learn a lot in close matches,” he said. “You don’t learn much when you are beating on everybody. You don’t know what to improve upon.”
Although he has been wrestling for 15 years, Bonaccorsi said he has plenty to learn. He needs to improve upon keeping a good stance and getting more shots, creating shots, as well as get better on top.
Bonaccorsi certainly puts the time into improving his craft. After school, he practices and lifts, then he works out again at one of the two wrestling clubs to which he belongs at North Allegheny and the University of Pittsburgh. Often, his brother, Nick, comes to practices and the pair trains together.
“I like to think so,” Bonaccorsi said when asked if practice makes perfect. “The more I work on things the better I will do.”
First and foremost, Bonaccorsi tries to keep good position then he works on new moves. “Or whatever needs to be worked on at the time,” he added.
During the season, he trains between four and five hours a day. In the summer, he works out every day. “It evens out,” he said because during the season, he has matches and on those nights, he doesn’t get to practice much.
All that practice has paid off in the way of 126 career wins. He would need 32 more victories to top the school record of 158 held by his brother, Nick, who excelled at Pitt and is now enrolled in the Pittsburgh Police Academy.
“I’d like to have the record,” Bonaccorsi said, “but it will be tough because Nick wrestled on a championship team and got a lot of extra matches because his team went farther.”
Bonaccorsi though can achieve bragging rights in the household should he capture a state title in March. His brother placed as high as third in the state during his career. “That would be cool,” Bonaccorsi said of his defined goal for a PIAA title.
“Obviously the objective is to improve upon last year. I’m not really thinking about (states) right now. Just keeping it one match at a time and living in the moment,” he said.
“Every one out there is solid. Our district is one of the toughest and Pennsylvania is one of the toughest states for wrestling in the country so anybody would love to leave their mark.”
After Bonaccorsi leaves his mark at Bethel Park, he intends to make an impression at Pitt. Committed to wrestle for the Panthers, he will also explore studies in business, nursing and engineering.
“I’m definitely getting excited to take that next step and see how well I can do at another level, but it will be starting all over again,” he said. “I’ll be a baby freshman.”
When Bonaccorsi was a high school freshman, he indeed was a babe. He wrestled at 132. “Each year I’ve grown a lot and wow, put on 50 pounds,” said the 6-foot, 1-inch grappler in amazement. “I felt good at this weight (182) when I started the season but I do have to watch what I eat. I can’t have too much of my grandma’s hot sausage. Weight control is a job but it’s good to do. It’s good to eat healthy.”
A healthy diet of good competition has also helped Bonaccorsi keep pace with his plans to become a state champion. In addition to Mulligan and the other Powerade wrestlers, Bonaccorsi has competed against and has beaten Jacob Oliver from Huntingdon. He was the 2016 PIAA AA champion at 170.
“There are a lot of tough AA wrestlers this year. Each year it is different but I’d like to think AAA has the edge over AA because there is more depth, more people to wrestle,” Bonaccorsi said. “But it doesn’t matter who you wrestle, you give it 100 percent. Win or lose, I always have the mind set that if you go out and do your best, then you will have no regrets after a match. You focus on what you can do and what you need to improve and not worry too much about what others are doing. You worry about what you can control.
“I think that’s the big difference between this year and last year. I know what I need to do. I have a better understanding of what needs to be done. My experience will help but it’s all about working hard every day.”