‘Squirrelly’ Burrell wrestler Salerno reaps benefits of joining Bucs

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019 | 9:08 PM


Nick Salerno earned his nickname in his earliest days as a wrestler, when he drove a hard bargain with his mother before going to a camp.

“I wouldn’t go until I got a milkshake,” Salerno said.

So it was that Salerno walked into a full camp — late — holding a large Oreo milkshake his mother bought him and was dubbed “Milkshake.”

“Everybody there started calling me ‘Milkshake,’ and for seven years it got all around, everywhere I used to wrestle,” he said. “When I got to places, everybody was like, ‘Milkshake!’ ”

It became a nickname that Salerno couldn’t, for lack of a better word, shake, although over the years the Burrell freshman got used to it. And he still loves his milkshakes, especially the Oreo ones from Sheetz.

Salerno and fellow freshman Shawn Szymanski live in Plum but attend Burrell — both families pay tuition to Burrell — and the 113-pounder made a smooth transition to the Bucs in his first varsity season. Salerno helped the team win its record 13th consecutive WPIAL Class AA team championship and last weekend finished as the runner-up at 113 pounds in the Section 3-AA and WPIAL Class AA individual tournaments.

”He’s a tough wrestler,” Burrell coach Josh Shields said. “It’s funny: I didn’t know him at all until this year, but the first time I saw him wrestle, I was like, ‘Man, this kid wrestles like a Burrell wrestler already.’ He wasn’t even in our room (until this year). He fits in great on the team, with the kids, his style. He’s just a tough kid.”

Salerno came to wrestling in third grade when he got a flyer during school, and after some rough early moments — “My first year, I was getting my butt kicked,” he said — he started improving.

Although Salerno said he started learning improved techniques during junior high, the move to Burrell, which was approved by the WPIAL, gave him a major lift. Far from being shaken up by the move, Salerno has a 28-8 record with five pins, including falls in eight seconds and 15 seconds in last weekend’s individual tournaments.

“My grades are going way up, my wrestling has gotten way better,” Salerno said. “I feel it was a better move for me to move. It helped me because I wasn’t getting anywhere in Plum. I wasn’t doing too good in school or anything, but when I moved to Burrell, everything just got good.”

Salerno has multiple consistent practice partners in Szymanski, Aaron Edwards and Ian Oswalt at Burrell, which he lacked at Plum.

“It felt like a family, people who are good at the sport,” he said. “I have good practice partners, good people to look up to.”

Training with multiple wrestlers allows Salerno to familiarize himself with different styles of combat, something he said helped him throughout the season.

His own personal style is intense, aggressive. Coaches call him “squirrelly,” seemingly as a compliment.

“Have you ever tried to put a squirrel in a bag?” Shields asked. “It’s a challenge. You never know what that thing’s going to do to you. It’s athletic, it’s quick, it moves left, it moves right and it might even bite you. That’s a good way to describe Nick.”

Salerno said he learned a lot in his first experience of the individual wrestling postseason. He lost 7-1 to Elizabeth Forward’s Ryan Michaels in the Section 3-AA final Friday and then suffered a pin against Michaels in the WPIAL championship bout the next night.

Still, Salerno was the only wrestler out of 28 in the WPIAL title matches who won three bouts to get there. The other 27 received first-round byes.

Beginning Friday, Salerno will try to get at least a top-five finish at the PIAA Class AA Southwest Regional at IUP, which would qualify him for something even sweeter than an Oreo milkshake: a trip to Hershey for the state wrestling championships next month.

That goal matches his mentality on the mat.

“I like to just clear my mind and just go after it,” he said. “Go after my goal, go after everything.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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