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THE FINAL WORD: PUTTING A BOW ON A FALL SEASON LIKE NO OTHER (2020-12-20)

It should come as no surprise to anyone in 2020 that we put a bow on the fall sports season just a few days after digging out from under the biggest snowfall in our region in nearly 30 years.

Let me preface my comments by saying I feel terrible for the student-athletes in Section IV, who were not allowed to participate in any sport, while the majority of New York State found ways to play.

So yes, the argument “at least the Pa. kids got to play” does hold some water, but just about everything about the fall season rang hollow.

Home-field advantage was virtually nonexistent, and while starting the season with the rivalry football games was pretty cool, the end of the season felt a little bit flat without them.

For the first time since Valley Sports Report launched in 2009, we were unable to pick “All-Valley” teams, although we hope to do so in 2021 (if Waverly and Tioga can play abbreviated fall sports seasons this spring.)

All that aside, there were some very good storylines this fall — mostly in Athens, with six of its seven teams qualifying for the District 4 postseason.

The Athens football team did a 180-degree turnaround — from 1-10 in 2019 to 5-1 in 2020 in the regular season. The loss to Danville in the District 4, Class AAA semifinals doesn’t look quite as bad either in hindsight after the Ironmen advanced to the PIAA semifinals.

Junior Shayne Reid had an outstanding season in all three phases of the game for the Wildcats, while sophomore QB Mason Lister was much-improved after a solid freshman season, and junior Karter Rude was the Northern Tier Sports Report “Newcomer of the Year.”

Seniors Ben Pernaselli, Connor Sindoni, Ian Wright and Tanner Dildine also enjoyed very good seasons on the gridiron, but the Wildcats return a plethora of talent in 2021.

Athens volleyball coach Heather Hanson has directed the Lady Wildcats a step deeper into the postseason in each of her three years, this year culminating with an appearance in the District 2-4 Sub-Regional championship match.

Kayleigh Miller, Taylor Field, Leah Liechty, and Kylie Jayne were senior stalwarts on a team that included nine seniors.

Hanson has done a phenomenal job on the bench at Athens, but with just three players with varsity experience returning, the 2021 season will be her toughest challenge to date.

The Athens boys and girls soccer teams both posted winning seasons, but saw lengthy NTL title runs come to an end.

Senior Emma Roe, who is headed to Division I Wagner in the fall, was the NTL and Northern Tier Sports Report “Player of the Year,” and classmate Hannah Blackman also put together a stellar season.

Junior Hannah Walker, sophomore Ally Thoman, and five freshmen will return in 2021 to lead a young and talented team that will look to return to the top rung in the NTL hierarchy.

Nate Quinn led an Athens boys team that went 11-3 — losing both its regular-season match-ups with NTL champion Wellsboro, as well as a 1-0 decision to Jersey Shore in the Class AAA semifinals.

The Wildcats lose all-league keeper Asher Ellis and several defenders, so there is work to be done, but their forwards and midfield will be an experienced bunch, and they will be bent of regaining the NTL crown.

The Athens boys cross country team put together a perfect season, and repeated as Large School champions. The new and smaller Covid-induced state qualifying pool cost three Wildcat runners — Connor Dahl, Kyle Anthony, and Matt Gorsline — a trip to the State meet.

Sophomore Emma Bronson won an NTL title at the Coaches Invite, and established herself as a “runner to watch” at Districts in 2021.

Success was not as bountiful a mile north as Sayre had just one team, and two individuals qualify for postseason play.

The Redskin football team struggled just to get on the field, with three of their six games canceled due to Covid-19 concerns.

Sayre never got into any type of rhythm with the pigskin, posting a 1-2 record — both losses by 3 points to Athens and Wyalusing.

Looking ahead to 2021, the Redskins return a host of athletes — led by David Northrop, Zach Garrity, Lucas Horton, Jackson Hubbard, and Brayden Horton — and a great deal of experience. If things are back to normal, expect them to make waves in the postseason.

Juniors Kannon VanDuzer and Dylan Seck both qualified for the District 4, Class AA golf championships. VanDuzer, who finished 11th as a sophomore, finished ninth this year, and Seck was 29th.

Both return in 2021, and should make a run at qualifying for the PIAA Championships.

The only Sayre team to qualify for the postseason was the boys soccer team. Coach Greg Hughey did a masterful job, guiding the Redskins to a 5-9 record after a 3-13 campaign in 2019.

Mason Hughey was named the NTL “Offensive Player of the Year,” and the Northern Tier Sports Report “Player of the Year” after collecting 29 goals on the season.

Sayre will return a great deal of experience and should be even better in 2021.

The pitch wasn’t as kind to the Lady Redskins as all-everything junior Roz Haney suffered a season-ending ACL injury in the first 30 minutes of the season. More injuries and a couple of desertions left longtime coach Tracy Mennig searching for enough bodies to field a full team.

On more than one occasion the Sayre girls played with just eight or nine players, and ended up cancelling more than one game.

If Roz Haney returns to health for her senior season, and everyone else returns in 2021, the Lady Redskins should make a return to the postseason.

A young Sayre volleyball team, under first-year coach Alia Post, failed to find the win column in 2020, but saw several under classmen gain a great deal of experience.

Neither one of the Sayre cross country teams fielded a full team, but senior Carrie Claypool was perhaps the top feel-good story of the fall. Claypool, who suffered ACL injuries prior to her sophomore and junior seasons, returned tor her final season and nearly qualified for States — finishing eighth and missing a trip to the PIAA meet by just 1 second.

After everyone lost their spring seasons in 2020, it was good to see action resume this fall — if only in Pa. I’m hoping we get back to action on both sides of the border after Jan. 4, but that may be a pipe dream at this point — only time will tell.

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