|FROM THE PRESS BOX: HISTORIC WRESTLING SEASON TOPS "SUPER 7 STORYLINES OF THE WINTER" (2018-03-22)
I’ve talked about storylines in the past and how they normally come in one of four realms: the start of a storyline, the continuation of one, the likely culmination of one, or a storyline totally out of the blue.
This year’s “Super 7 Storylines of the Winter” has those realms weaved into one another, with storylines ending, and starting within the same topic.
Without any further ado, I give you, from No. 7 to No. 1, the top storylines of the winter:
7: Athens senior Breana Gambrell wins gold in first trip to Pa. Indoor Track & Field Championships: A fixture on the basketball court for three years for the Lady Wildcats, Gambrell, who will be attending Penn State on a track scholarship in the fall, maintained her focus on track & field this winter with the newly-formed indoor track team.
Gambrell, a three-time PIAA outdoor gold medalist in the long jump, added an indoor gold in the long jump to her collection, as well as a fourth-place medal in the triple jump, and a seventh-place medal in the 60-meter dash. She now has nine state track & field medals, including four gold, and two silver.
The high school chapters of Gambrell’s story will come to an end this spring, but she will surely add to it at Penn State in coming years.
7b: Waverly sends three athletes to New York State Indoor Championships: The Wolverines snapped a couple of droughts when it sent sophomores Melina Ortiz, Isaac Chandler, and Paige Ackley to states this month.
Chandler became the first Waverly boy since 2011 to qualify. It was also the first time in five years more than one Wolverine qualified. For Ortiz, it was her third trip to the indoor meet.
With all three state qualifiers being sophomores, there are a pair of storylines here that will surely continue over the next couple years.
6. Waverly bowling teams both win division titles — again: The Lady Wolverines won their 15th consecutive Large School Division title, while the boys won their eighth in a row.
In year’s past this wouldn’t be much of a surprise, but the Waverly girls weren’t sure they would have enough girls to field a full team at one point in the offseason, but a trio of juniors decided to join the team. Despite their lack of experience, Sarah Uhl and Kari Van Allen contributed, and helped Waverly maintain its dominance.
Likewise, the boys, who suffered heavy losses to graduation, were able to ride the strong efforts of five starters to another division title.
One way or the other, another chapter will be added to this storyline next year.
5. Waverly senior Elle Nittinger caps outstanding career: Nittinger walks away from the Lady Wolverine girls basketball team as one of the best players in program history.
Nittinger scored 1,552 points in her career (second all-time in school history), including a career-high 22.1 points per game this season, which saw Waverly win its first 21 games. She also ended her career with 554 rebounds, 323 steals, 303 free throws, 181 assists, and 126 3-pointers.
During her four years on varsity, the Lady Wolverines racked up 72 wins against just 15 losses. They lost in the Section IV, Class B semifinals all four years, but three times it was to the eventual state champion (Sus. Valley in 2015 and ’18, and Seton Catholic in 2017).
Nittinger certainly wrote a unique story that won't duplicated anytime soon.
4. S-VE girls end pair of postseason droughts: Third-year S-VE girls basketball coach Abby Gentile said during the preseason she believed this would be the year the Lady Panthers would put an end to their postseason drought. She was right on the money.
The Lady Panthers never had a long winning streak, but were amazingly consistent during a 12-7 regular season.
Not only did S-VE end its postseason drought of 12 years, it won its first postseason game in 20 years, before losing to eventual Section IV champ Bainbridge-Guilford in the Class C quarterfinals.
S-VE graduates several key starters, so it will be interesting to see if Gentile can direct a sequel to this storyline next year.
3. Tioga boys make first trip to Section IV hoop finals in 30 years: When the season started, few picked Tioga to advance to the Section IV, Class C finals. One person who had an inkling it was possible was second-year Tiger coach Brian Card.
After letting a double-digit lead slip away in the fourth quarter to state-ranked Moravia on Jan. 2, Tioga found itself at 6-3. Nine consecutive wins later, including a victory over the state’s top-ranked Class D Newfield, the Tigers found themselves squaring off with Newfield again in a divisional playoff.
Tioga bounced back from its loss to Newfield in the Small School playoff with wins over Notre Dame, and top-seeded Walton in the playoffs, but could not overcome a slow start in the Class C title game in a 58-48 loss to Unadilla Valley. Not all storylines have happy endings.
Could this be one of those one-and-done storylines, or can Card craft a sequel?
2. Tioga wrestling enjoys banner season: It may not be the best season in Tioga wrestling program history, but it was pretty close.
The Tigers dropped a two-point decision to eventual state champ Mount Sinai in the semifinals of the inaugural New York State Division 2 Duals Championships, then repeated as champs at the Section IV Championships, crowing two champs, and sending six to the New York State Championships, thanks to four wild-card invitations. They finished fourth in the teams standings in Albany.
Despite two-time state place-winner John Worthing’s absence due to illness, the Tigers still had three underclass men reach the podium — Brady Worthing (second place), Austin Lamb (fifth place), and Stephen Taylor (sixth place).
Considering they have four former state place-winners returning, and four more grapplers on the verge of qualifying for States, this is a storyline that will be re-visited for the next few years.
2b. Burkhart, Bradley close brilliant careers with PIAA medals: Three-time state qualifier senior Nate Bradley reached the podium as a seventh-place finisher in his final trip to Hershey, while classmate A.J. Burkhart, who won two state medals while at Waverly, including a gold medal as a freshman, earned a fifth-place medal in his second trip to the Giant Center.
Bradley (113-42) and classmate Chris Horton (110-44), who made his first trip to Hershey, both joined the 100-win club this season, and are two of seven Wildcats to accomplish that feat in the last three seasons — joining Brian Courtney (153-6), Kaidon Winters (120-43), Gage Cannavino (118-44), Brock Horton (114-38), and Roger Horton (109-43). Burkhart, who was 186-28 in his career, went 76-15 in his two seasons at Athens.
Junior David Galasso needs 38 wins next year to add an addendum to this storyline, but it appears the next wave of Athens wrestlers could be penning a similar, but separate storyline five or six years down the line.
1. Valley wrestling fans treated to historic season: Valley schools sent 12 wrestlers (Tioga six, Athens four, S-VE two) to States this season, topping the previous high of nine, last accomplished in 2009 when Waverly (four), Athens (three), and Tioga (two) combined to hit that mark.
Five of the 11 who competed earned medals, and Tioga’s John Worthing would have surely made it 6 of 12.
Granted, it’s the first time since 2013 (Athens’ Brian Courtney in 2016 and ’17, Waverly’s A.J. Burkhart in 2015, and Waverly’s Ryan Wolcott in 2014) , the Valley has gone without a state champ, but 12 wrestlers at States is impressive.
And, I have a feeling we could see a sequel to this storyline next year, with four of the schools combining to hit or top that mark.
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