Derek Bernardino ran up quite a string of wins wrestling for Verona High School, a 30-8 record to be exact. This weekend, the Class of 2022 graduate added a significant win to his new college wrestling career, becoming the first wrestler from St. John Fisher University to place at the NCAA Mideast Regionals in almost 40 years.
The university, based in Pittsford, New York, once had one of its region’s top wrestling teams, competing in Division III from 1965 to 1983. The program lapsed until the school got a $400,000 donation from alumnus William Pellicano, the CEO of the payroll management company PrimePay, to bring wrestling back. Coach Ryne Morrison was charged with finding talent for the new team, and the New Jersey native recruited Bernardino.
“I was very impressed when I first met the coach,” says Michele Bernardino, Derek’s mom. “He wanted the kids who were determined and had drive. They keep a high team GPA, too. He has them study together.”
Bernardino has worked to meet his coach’s expectations, compiling a 15-18 record as a freshman wrestling at 133 pounds. And then it was on to Regionals. He lost in round 1, but turned on the jets in the consolation rounds. In his first match against Muhlenberg College’s Frank DiEsso, Bernardino came back from a 3-2 deficit in the final seconds with a takedown that made him the winner with a 4-3 decision. He then decisively beat his second opponent from Pennsylvania College of Technology, by 7-1. And that earned him an eighth place overall at 133.