Anthony Sardelli’s first year as wrestling coach at Philip Simmons High School was marked by recruiting and player retention.
This winter, the season might include a Region 6-AA championship and medal performances at the State Wrestling Championships if the team fulfills its schedule and reaches the postseason. But the COVID-19 pandemic looms in a high-contact, high-risk sport.
Sardelli is in his second year as the coach of the Iron Horses. He spent most of last year walking the halls of the school recruiting students who might also want to be athletes.
“If you’re breathing, fairly athletic and not playing basketball, I’m going to recruit you,” was Sardelli’s pitch to approximately 300 of the 500 students at the school.
This year, numbers are down with 30 on the roster. But youthful talent is abundant.
The Iron Horses sent seven wrestlers to the state meet last winter, and three of those return for the 2020-21 season, which is scheduled to begin with a match against Academic Magnet on Dec. 16.
The returning veterans of state competition include A.J. McLanahan, Dawson Wells and Nate Newman. State performers Anthony Jackson and Jason Bartlett graduated, while two other state-performers are not on the roster.
Sardelli, who wrestled for Fort Dorchester in 2006 and coached at Hanahan, Cane Bay, and West Ashley, knows talent. And while the team will miss last year’s talented bunch, there are some very talented newcomers to the program.
Three freshmen who came up through the program – Markellis Asbury, Isaac Schimpf and Michael Spigando – will team up with new classmate Drew McDonald to form what is arguably the top freshmen group in the state among Class AA teams.
Sardelli said he would be shocked if at least one of the four didn’t win at least one state championship. If the season plays out, the coach predicts, perhaps, one of the Fab Four could win a state crown.
McDonald, a freshman who transferred in from wrestling-rich Pennsylvania, could be the biggest candidate to win a title in the 106-pound division.
“These freshmen are very good, and they learn very quickly,” Sardelli said. “This year, as a team, there are holes in our roster. A team title might be out of the reach, but I would be surprised if we didn’t come back with an (individual) state champion and a couple of other medals.”
The Iron Horses finished second to Timberland in Region 6-AA last winter and were scheduled to scrimmage the Wolves and Hanahan this week in preparation for the season-opener.
Sardelli praised PSHS principal Chris Buchholz and athletic director Daniel Minkins for their support of the program.
“Some schools treat wrestling as the red-haired stepchild,” Sardelli said. “Here, they are all in for their support of wrestling.”
He said wrestling is in a bind because of COVID-19, but for now, the show will go on.
“You have all these kids with dreams,” Sardelli said. “They dream of winning a state championship or winning a medal. For some kids, this is their last chance because they are seniors.”