BERNARDS TWP., NJ - After tearing a knee ligament for a second time earlier this season, those around Ridge High School senior Nolan Bianchi weren't sure where he would be heading as part of the wrestling team.

Ridge wresting coach Steve Hendershot said he was amazed when he found out that Bianchi was seeking medical clearance in order to wrestle again, after tearing his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) for the second time since his sophomore year.

Wins Somerset County title

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Bianchi indeed made a comeback - not only to contribute to the team but to earn the title of Somerset County Champion at the county championships held Jan. 14 at Hillsborough High School. He also ended the regular season with a 20-1 record.

Hendershot said he came to know the tenacious Bianchi during the Ridge student's freshman year, when Bianchi first tried out for the wrestling team. “Nolan immediately made an impact on the team, and we were thrilled at the prospect of having him in our lineup for four years," Hendershot recalled.

Fighting through injuries is something Bianchi is used to doing, so achieving first place at the Somerset County wrestling tournament was well within the scope of his ability. After nine months of rehab for his first ACL injury, Bianchi suffered a soft tissue bruise, sidelining the prominent athlete for the remainder of his junior year, Nevertheless, Bianchi finished the season with a 4-1 record.

After the ACL injury cast uncertainty over his continuing wrestling participation, Bianchi was also somewhat of an underdog at the Somerset County wrestling tournament. Nevertheless, Bianchi has repeatedly been able to overcome the most difficult of circumstances and succeed. Bianchi first tore his ACL in the spring of his sophomore year playing lacrosse, following a wrestling season he had finished with a 10-10 record. 

The following year had early indications of a promising season, after Bianchi beat Bernards Mountaineers’ Liam Meckes for his first match, with a major decision, 12-2. Meckes was considered a tough match; the Bernards High wrestler finished the 2015-2016 season with a 13-4 record.

Hendershot said he realized why Bianchi was so determined to return this year. “I think he understands that time, especially our time as athletes, is fleeting." Hendershot said that because of this mentality, Bianchi values the limited time he and all athletes have.

When approaching a match, Bianchi said, “I go out there with the mindset that it can be my last.”

From Bianchi’s perspective, not only did he want to wrestle for the exhilaration, but he also felt a sense responsibility to his team. Coach Hendershot had roster of young wrestlers this season, so seeing that a veteran was needed on the lineup, Bianchi stepped up. His impact was immense as he finished the season with a 20-1 record, and helped his team advance to sectionals.

“I wanted to see if I could help my team out, I wanted to take it slowly and wrestle only at home games, but after my early success I decided to compete in the whole season,” Bianchi said. 

Bianchi’s mental toughness is only part of the equation in his success story; he was also supported with a great deal of encouragement from his family, and current and future coach.

Richard and Carol Bianchi, Nolan's parents, expressed concern and disappointment for their son, who because of the first torn ACL, missed important recruiting opportunities. When he suffered the injury a second time, the idea that Tufts University might rescind an offer to their son was a further distress. 

But the head coach at Tufts, Casey D'Annolfo, decided to stay with the young prospect throughout his injuries and was supportive of Bianchi returning to wrestling, as long as doctors cleared him. 

When Bianchi’s sustained his second injury, his parents were ready to support any decision their son would make. However, his mother said that their unrivaled support was the extent of their help. Nolan "is self-motivated and disciplined. We never had to push him in any way to succeed.”

Nolan Bianchi comes from a family of determined individuals. His father, Richard Bianchi, was captain of the Rutgers lacrosse team and Essex County wrestling champion his senior year at Columbia High School in Maplewood. He was also District Champion and regional runner up. He, too, had wrestled with torn ligaments and cartilage, with a tolerance for pain that was apparently passed on to his son. 

Richard Bianchi’s brothers who were both Naval Academy graduates were distinguished athletes as well. Kevin Bianchi was a U.S. Naval Academy wrestling captain, and Bobby Bianchi was voted the Star Ledger High School Lacrosse player of the century. 

Richard Bianchi passed along credit to the entire Ridge wrestling team after a sectionals match earlier this week. "Incredible to me that this team with one senior and one junior, the rest sophomores and freshmen did as well as they have.”

Moving ahead in the sectionals

On February 18, Bianchi is slated to wrestle at the district sectionals at 7 p.m. in Westfield.

On Monday of this week, Ridge High school faced off against Perth Amboy in North 2, Group 5, team sectionals. Bianchi won by pin in the second period against Perth Amboy’s Chris Jose, but the team lost 43-27 overall.