Junior Matt Bonshak shows off a typical wrestling stance on Friday, Oct. 30, 2015. Bonshak went 4-5 in 2014-15, competing in Wilkes Open, Shorty Hitchcock Classic and Edinboro Open. (Erik Thomas/B&W Photo)

Matt Bonshak: Transitioning from Lehigh baseball to wrestling

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Deep in the Lehigh Valley live the Bonshaks, a family whose name comes up often in conversations about muscle, hustle and heart.

There’s Erin, ’14, Matt, ’17, and Ryan, ’18, all Lehigh student-athletes. Youngest daughter Cara is set to play field hockey at Michigan State University and an oldest son, Ryuta, plays baseball at Bloomsburg University.

The Bonshak household has a saying: “Do your best and the rest will take care of itself.”

Matt Bonshak put the motto to the test this past year when he made an unprecedented transition from Lehigh baseball player to Lehigh wrestler.

In the fall of his sophomore year, the outfielder returned to Lehigh ready to play baseball with his younger brother Ryan Bonshak, who had just begun at Lehigh as a catcher for the team.

“When I first came in I thought, ‘Oh this is the greatest thing in the world, I’m playing with my brother. It’s just like our childhood,’” Ryan Bonshak said.

But first came tryouts, a requirement for every player, every year. Nothing was a guarantee for Matt Bonshak, who had been a walk-on and saw action in only two games his freshman season. When the days of sun and sweat commenced, Matt Bonshak was not one of the 35 names listed on the roster.

The brothers, who were once co-captains in high school at Whitehall, would never play baseball together again.

For the other players that were cut, this was the end of their Lehigh Athletics career. It could have easily have been the end for Matt Bonshak as well.

But it wasn’t.

Baseball coach Sean Leary pulled him aside and said an opportunity with the wrestling program might be on the horizon for him. Two weeks later his phone rang with an offer to walk-on for the team.

This wasn’t the first time Matt Bonshak found himself on wrestling coach Pat Santoro’s radar.

Santoro had his eye on Bonshak back at Whitehall where he was an award-winning wrestler and three-sport varsity athlete.

“We watched him and knew he was a talented wrestler,” said Santoro. “But we also knew he wanted to play baseball, so we backed off.”

Standing at 5 feet 8 inches and 157 pounds, Matt Bonshak said he now realizes his body is better suited for wrestling than baseball. Santoro agreed. But he also knew that Matt Bonshak was a man worth recruiting not just for his physicality but for his character.

He belongs to the Student Athlete Council and C.O.A.C.H., a community service program. He invests himself in his civil engineering courses, his nose often buried in a book. And when his jokes elicit laughter, he shakes his head and says, “You’ve got to meet my brother. He’s the funny one.”

“Every day he walks in the room with a smile on his face and kind of lifts everyone up,” Santoro said. “He’s a pretty special kid. It’s in his fiber and his DNA.”

But Matt Bonshak wasn’t sure that he wanted to dive back into the dizzying tango of student and athlete. Wrestling had added dietary and training demands that would only increase his life’s already accelerated tempo.

He weighed the options with his family and sought counsel from friends on the baseball and wrestling team. At the end though, the advice all boiled down to the same answer.

“They said you have to do what’s going to make you happy in four years,” Matt Bonshak said.

A few days later, Santoro’s phone rang.

“Yes, I’m all in,” Matt Bonshak said from the other end.

And since then, Santoro said, he has been all in.

The coaching staff worked him into drills and practices slowly. He learned to change his eating and workout habits and built relationships with his teammates. He adjusted his lifestyle to include both his baseball past and his wrestling future, visiting the baseball diamond in the spring.

He finished with a 4-5 record after competing in Wilkes Open, Shorty Hitchcock Classic and Edinboro Open last season. Santoro expects to see solid performances from him this season now that he has a year of college wrestling under his belt.

Matt Bonshak doesn’t come in with expectations for himself though.

“As long as I’m trying to do the right things and be the best person I can be, I think the rest will take care of itself,” he said. “And that’s all that I can ask for.”

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