Enthusiasm cannot be taught. Matt Salerno has been enthusiastic about swimming ever since he first got in his neighborhood pool at age five.
The Metea Valley junior still swims in that same pool, only now he is one of the biggest and fastest fish in the world of high school swimming.
Salerno was one of the best sophomores in the state last season when he became the first double state medalist in school history, finishing sixth in both the 200-yard individual medley and 100 breaststroke. His versatility and attitude impress his coaches.
“He’s certainly the most versatile swimmer we’ve ever had in our program,” Metea Valley coach Mark Jager said. “Guys like him don’t come around very often.”
As rare as Salerno’s talent could be, his zest for the sport is even more unusual.
“He’s got pure talent, but he works his tail off in the pool,” Jager said. “He always wants more, he wants to be challenged, he enjoys what he does, he loves his sport. For a swimmer that can daily grind can be hard, but Matt really enjoys what he does and I think a lot of our guys do, which is a big help.”
“I’m obsessed with it,” Salerno said. “My parents decided to throw me into club swimming at Naperville Mavericks and 12 years later I’m still doing it. I still love it. It’s just my passion.”
Salerno even enjoys the in-season training that other swimmers merely tolerate.
“I love that it’s a sport where — most people would hate this — the fact that you train for 3-4 months and you only swim fast that one meet,” Salerno said. “For most people, that would drive them crazy, but it just makes you zone in on your goals so much.”
Salerno’s goals — and that of his team — are high. Just four years after the school opened, the Mustangs are poised for a breakthrough season with Salerno, seniors Trevor Sandberg and Alex Walter, junior Jordan O’Brien and sophomore Alex Dillmann all returning with state meet experience. All have already lowered their times from last year’s finals.
“Obviously, that’s the most fun part; the team,” Salerno said. “A top 10 finish is definitely in our sights and maybe even a top 5 or a top 3, so I think everyone is going to step it up.”
Jager expects Salerno to return to the championship heats in both of his events and that would seem to be the floor, not the ceiling, for Salerno.
“It was just awesome to be top 6 in both my events as a sophomore last year,” Salerno said. “That was so exciting, but I think definitely this year I want to be in the top 3, maybe even go for the win in the breaststroke or race [for] it for the IM.
“You just never know at that meet because it’s such a tossup for who’s going to swim well. I’m putting in the training now so by the end of the year I’m there.”
Salerno is so versatile that he could contend for a medal in any event. His secret is simple.
“I just think I have a lot of endurance,” Salerno said. “On my club team, there were never excuses. You swim everything whether you want to or not.
‘‘’You don’t want to swim long distance? I don’t care, you’re swimming it anyway,’ my coach would always say. I think that’s huge, the mindset of whatever you’re put into, you just go as hard as you can.”