Phillippi, Bonaccorsi shine at Day 1 of NCAA Wrestling Championships


Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

No. 4 redshirt freshman Micky Phillippi (pictured during a January 2019 match against Oklahoma State), 133-pounds, will advance alongside 184-pound No. 13 redshirt freshman Nino Bonaccorsi to the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championship quarterfinals.

By Trent Leonard, Sports Editor

Competing in its own backyard at Pittsburgh’s PPG Paints Arena, the Pitt wrestling team saw two of its five wrestlers — 133-pound No. 4 redshirt freshman Micky Phillippi and 184-pound No. 13 redshirt freshman Nino Bonaccorsi — advance past the first two Thursday sessions of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championship and onward to Friday’s quarterfinals.

The Panthers’ three other participants, however, were not as fortunate. No. 23 redshirt junior Kellan Stout, 197 pounds, and 157-pound No. 12 redshirt junior Taleb Rahmani each fell in the first round, while 285-pound No. 8 junior Demetrius Thomas advanced to the second session where he fell to No. 9 Central Michigan sophomore Matt Stencel.

A crowd of 17,949 flooded into PPG Paints Arena for the spectacle, but the fans took on an added meaning for Philippi, Bonaccorsi and Stout — all of whom attended local Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League high schools and made the decision to attend their hometown University.

“This is awesome. We’re in Pittsburgh, hometown crowd. I see everyone I know,” Phillippi said. “I’m just blessed, and taking advantage of this opportunity.”

Phillippi was the Panthers’ highest-seeded wrestler entering the competition and he lived up to the lofty expectations set before him, defeating No. 29 Fresno State redshirt freshman Gary Joint by a 4-2 decision in the opening noon session. Phillippi gained a 2-0 lead with a takedown in the opening period, then tacked on two more escape points in the second period while Joint countered with a takedown of his own. Holding the advantage, Phillippi played sound defense in the scoreless final period.

After the match, Phillippi expressed some regret despite the victory, noting that his performance was a little sloppier than he would have liked.

“You want to win, so however that happens, sometimes it’s not the prettiest,” he said. “I’m obviously not satisfied with that, but I’m gonna just try to move past it and get on to the next one.”

Phillippi’s next match, against No. 13 Iowa State redshirt freshman Austin Gomez in the 7 p.m. second session, wasn’t much prettier. But, as he said in his own words, all that matters is the end result — in this case, a 1-0 decision in which Phillippi scored the sole point via a second-round escape.

Again, Phillippi was self-critical, also pointing to the depth of talent at the 133-pound weight class as playing a role in the close scoring margins.

“I let him hang in there. I had two opportunities to finish a shot that I didn’t … there’s a couple things I can sharpen up on,” he said. “It’s a tough weight class … both matches I was trying to shoot, trying to score, trying to add some points to the match, but I couldn’t get to them.”

Bonaccorsi was Pitt’s surprise of the day, advancing past his seed projection by staking a second-round upset. He first took care of business in Session I, dominating No. 20 Utah Valley senior Will Sumner with an 11-4 decision that included several takedowns throughout.

That put him up against No. 4 Illinois redshirt senior Emery Parker in the Round of 16. Parker was the favorite according to seeding, but apparently Bonaccorsi didn’t get the memo. He hopped out to an early lead with a first-round takedown before getting down 6-5 heading into the third and final period. Unphased, Bonaccorsi battled back to score a few key points down the stretch, emerging victorious via a 9-7 decision.

Bonaccorsi, a tournament first-timer, also credited the home fans for creating an environment that helped fuel him to victory.

“I was telling people that I didn’t know what it was going to be like, going out there,” he said. “I’ve been in some big tournaments before, but that’s just like a different atmosphere out there, especially being in my hometown.”

Pitt’s No. 8 Thomas also turned in a surprising performance for Pitt, although his happened to fall on the negative side of the spectrum. After cruising past No. 25 Iowa State redshirt sophomore Gannon Gremmel in the opening round, Thomas met up with No. 9 Stencel in the Round of 16. He went up 7-5, but suffered several near falls in an abysmal second round, allowing Stencel to go ahead 13-7 entering the third period. Thomas had a flair for dramatic comebacks throughout the regular season, but this deficit proved too much to overcome. Stencel stalled in the last period, securing a 17-9 win over the superior-seeded Thomas.

Stout was the Panthers’ lone out on the day, losing 2-1 to No. 10 Virginia Tech redshirt senior Tom Sleigh in Session I and then again, 4-2, to No. 26 Air Force senior Anthony McLaughlin in the consolation bracket. Pitt’s No. 12 Rahmani also fell in the first round, as No. 21 Oklahoma redshirt sophomore Justin Thomas avenged his regular-season loss with a 7-1 victory. But Rahmani stayed alive with a major decision win, 12-3, in the consolation bracket over No. 28 Oregon State sophomore Hunter Willits.

Next up, Phillippi will face No. 5 Ohio State junior Luke Pletcher in the quarterfinals, set to start Friday at 11 a.m. Pletcher, a native of nearby Latrobe, is far from a first-time opponent for Phillippi — the two grew up wrestling against each other from a young age.

“We’ve wrestled, I couldn’t even tell you how many times, in high school, in junior wrestling and now in college,” Phillippi said. “Iron sharpens iron, you live five minutes down the road from one another, it worked out that way.”

Bonaccorsi, Pitt’s other remaining representative in the championship bracket, will take on No. 5 Cornell sophomore Max Dean in his quarterfinal match. He’ll once again be the underdog, but that’s a role he doesn’t seem to mind.

“It sounds cliche, but I really haven’t been looking like, if I win here I have this guy, you know,” Bonaccorsi said. “I’ve just been taking it one match at a time, the guy in front of me is my toughest opponent.”

In the do-or-die consolation brackets, Rahmani will wrestle No. 11 Ohio State redshirt junior Ke-Shawn Hayes, while Demetrius Thomas is set to face No. 26 Brown senior Ian Butterbrodt. Competition begins at 11 a.m., with the later session starting at 8 p.m.