Nino Bonaccorsi and Micky Phillippi reflect on storied careers for Pitt wrestling


Image via Matt Hawley, Pitt Athletics

Pitt redshirt senior wrestler Nino Bonaccorsi at the 2021 NCAA Championships in St. Louis on the weekend of March 18, 2021.

By Brian Sherry, Assistant Sports Editor

Redshirt seniors Nino Bonaccorsi and Micky Phillippi are staples of Pitt wrestling. The pair grew up in western Pennsylvania before coming to Pitt in 2017. Throughout their long careers, the duo became synonymous with Pitt wrestling. 

But the two wrestlers’ time at Pitt is coming to a close, as both will run out of eligibility at the end of this season. 

Panther head coach Keith Gavin has never coached a team at Pitt without either wrestler. The head coach came to Pitt in 2017 — the same year as Phillippi and Bonaccorsi. Gavin accepts the duo’s departure, but will never forget the impact they’ve had on the program.

“It is what it is,” Gavin said. “It’s up to them to finish how they want to finish, but we’re here to help them. In the end, we’ll miss them. They’ve certainly been here a long time and have helped this program in a lot of ways.”

It is difficult to fully grasp how much of an impact both wrestlers have had on the program. The pair have a combined four ACC championships, eight NCAA qualifications and nearly 150 match wins for Pitt.

Both wrestlers were granted an additional year of eligibility due to the pandemic, allowing them to extend their already storied careers this season. But now Bonaccorsi and Phillippi’s time as the face of the program is coming to a close. Phillippi said finally hanging up his Pitt singlet is an emotional process.

“Not ever getting to wear that Pitt singlet again will be crazy,” Phillippi said. “But, I mean, everyone’s time comes, so we’re ready for it. But definitely, emotions will be high.”

For both wrestlers, Pitt is more than just a college, as both grew up just a few miles from the city. Bonaccorsi hails from Bethel Park, just 10 miles south of the city. The 197 lb. redshirt senior said coming to Pitt back in 2017 was an easy decision. 

“I’m a real homebody,” Bonaccorsi said. “So being able to come to Pitt when I was younger and being so close to all the matches and being able to have family and friends come to all of our home duels was big for me. So when I was deciding which college to come to, it was a pretty easy decision.” 

Phillippi’s journey to Pitt was slightly different than his teammate’s, as he began his college career at Virginia. But, like Bonaccorsi, Phillippi was drawn to Pitt because of its close proximity to his hometown of Derry, Pennsylvania. 

“[Pitt] is kinda my backyard,” Phillippi said. “I grew up about an hour away in Derry. So a similar idea to it being my backyard, but also the culture that the coaches were promoting.”

The pair’s experience growing up in western Pennsylvania ultimately translated to success on the mat, as the region is known as one of the best in the country. Phillippi dominated in his high school years, winning three state championships during his career. Bonaccorsi fared differently in high school, as he finished second in the state twice during his career. 

But Bonaccorsi grew tremendously as a wrestler once he came to Pitt. In 2021, the 197 lb. wrestler went on a tear in the NCAA tournament, making it all the way to the final. Bonaccorsi ultimately fell in the championship bout, but he said the support from the Pitt community was encouraging. 

“Got a ton of support from family and friends,” Bonaccorsi said. “I think wrestling as a whole doesn’t get the attention it should, so being able to make the finals and kinda put a little name on our sport and showcase our skill on the national level was big. So yeah, I got a lot of support from everyone, and it was really exciting.”

And the redshirt senior is a supporter of the Pitt community himself. Bonaccorsi’s pride for Pitt runs deep, as his brother, Nick, also wrestled for Pitt from 2011 to 2016. Even now, he said that he tries to attend as many Panther sporting events as possible. 

“I try to go to as much [sporting events] as I can,” Bonaccorsi said. “Obviously, during the season, it’s hard to get to as much stuff as I would like. Definitely, at the beginning of the year we [the wrestling team] like to go to football games and everything. I think mainly what a lot of us go to is the volleyball games, because we share a facility with them.”

As the season winds down, it is easy to forget that both of these notable Pitt athletes still have an opportunity to cement their legacies even further. Both wrestlers are in prime position for an impressive finish in the NCAA tournament, as Bonaccorsi is ranked No. 2 and Phillippi is ranked No. 6 in the nation, according to InterMat.

The duo can also contribute to the Panthers’ shot at a national title. Pitt is currently ranked No. 6 in the country, well within reach of an impressive tournament finish. But a national title would require elite performances from both Bonaccorsi and Phillippi. Still, Gavin believes both wrestlers can compete with anyone in the country. 

“I think both have shown they’re good enough to beat anyone in the country,” Gavin said. “But with them, you don’t want to look too far ahead. So like, today in practice you have to try to get better, same with tomorrow.”

But Bonaccorsi and Phillippi still have significant hurdles ahead before they can compete for a national title in Tulsa, Oklahoma on March 18. The Panthers have a key duel against ACC rival No. 12 NC State in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Feb. 10. Both wrestlers will also compete in the ACC championship in Raleigh on March 5.

Nonetheless, the outcome of this season does not change Bonaccorsi and Phillippi’s legacy at Pitt. From several ACC championships to NCAA tournament successes, both wrestlers have cemented themselves as legends throughout their long careers in the blue and gold.