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FROM THE PRESS BOX: A GLIMPSE INTO THE CRYSTAL BALL AT THE 2021-22 GIRLS HOOP SEASON (2021-08-04)

The 2020-21 girls basketball season was an odd one, there’s no doubt.

Athens enjoyed another strong season and a return to the District 4 playoffs.

There were no playoffs in New York, but Waverly posted an impressive 11-2 record against the likes of Elmira, Horseheads, Corning, and IAC powerhouse Newark Valley. Tioga finished its season 4-6, with its losses coming to Waverly, Newark Valley, and Owego.

The lack of a postseason isn’t the worst thing that can happen, however. Due to a lack of numbers, the Sayre Lady Redskins did not have a varsity team.

So, what lies in store in 2021-22? With the start of the season still nearly four months away, the crystal ball is a bit murky, but here is what I see:

Athens Lady Wildcats:
Coming off a 17-7 season and a trip to the District 4, Class 4A semifinals, Athens will be looking to replace 1,000-point scorer Kayleigh Miller, a pair of defensive stalwarts in Hannah Blackman and Rachel Stevens, and a solid 3-point shooter in Megan Collins.

The cupboard is not bare, however, as veteran coach Brian Miller has a key building block returning in senior Caydence Macik, who will again be one of the best players in the NTL.

After Macik, the Lady Wildcats will be young with juniors Karlee Bartlow and Emma Bronson, and sophomore Mya Thompson the only girls returning with real varsity experience. Natalie Watson saw some time and should also help in the low post.

Miller will have a pair of freshmen — Addison Wheeler and Sara Bronson — up from the junior high team that should contribute immediate.

Prediction: Macik will be a double-double machine for the Lady Wildcats, but someone will have to pick up the slack for Miller. Karlee Bartlow has shown the ability to score, but it could be a pair of youngsters — Thompson and Wheeler — that make things happen. … One thing is for sure, Brian Miller will get the most out of his squad. … 2021-22 record: 16-7.

Sayre Redskins: If the offseason is any indication, Sayre should have the numbers to get back on the court this season.

The crystal ball doesn’t give us much, but one thing is for sure — the Lady Redskins will be young and inexperienced, but at least they will be on the court, and that’s a good thing.

Tioga Lady Tigers: In a normal year, Tioga may have posted a better than .500 record, but the Covid season saw the Lady Tigers get two games each against Newark Valley, Owego, and Waverly. They lost all six, but were able to sweep seasons series against Candor, and O-M for a 4-6 overall record.

The bad news is the Lady Tigers lose the majority of their scoring with the graduation of Olivia Ayres and point guard Eve Wood, as well as one of their best rebounders in Ari Manwaring.

Tioga will also be looking to replace longtime head coach Joe Robinson.

The good news is, whoever is coaching will have a bevy of athletes to work with, led by senior Julia Bellis, who is a beast on the boards and the defensive end of the floor.

Also returning are sophomore Madison Howey, and seniors Mariah Nichols, Austyn Vance, Abby Foley, and Gabby Foley.

The JV team was young, and struggled in 2021. I’m note sure what kind of help the new coach can expect from that avenue.

Prediction: Tioga loses a lot of scoring production from the Ayres-Wood combo, and I don’t see who is going to replace it. I think Howey could develop into a big-time scorer for the Lady Tigers, and Bellis and Vance have the potential to score in double-figures as well. … This group is athletic, and the new coach could look to pick up the pace on the defensive end to help alleviate scoring woes, but he / she will need to cultivate some depth in order to achieve that goal. … Prediction: 7-11.

Waverly Lady Wolverines: The Lady Wolverines lose a ton of scoring from Sidney Tomasso and Gabby Picco, but junior Kennedy Westbrook leads a young group of experienced returners for longtime coach Bob Kelly.

Freshman Addison Westbrook, and sophomores Paige Robinson, and Peyton Shaw, along with senior Lourden Benjamin will likely see the majority of minutes alongside Kennedy Westbrook.

Junior Alyvia Daddona and sophomore Ashlen Croft didn’t see a lot of time this season, but will be relied upon in 2021-22 to provide quality minutes off the bench.

One wildcard for the Lady Wolverines is senior Olivia Nittinger, who missed all of this season after foot surgery. If she is healthy and on the the floor, she will add a proven scorer from the perimeter.

Waverly did not have a JV team this season, and that is a detriment in terms of developing depth in the program.

Prediction: Kennedy Westbrook will be one of the best players in the IAC, there’s no doubt about it. … If Addison Westbrook, Shaw and Robinson take the next step in their maturation as varsity players, and Nittinger returns to health, the Lady Wolverines will be a formidable team. … One thing is for sure, Kelly has a bunch of athletes at his disposal, so the Lady Wolverines will play their brand of in-your-face defense again next season. … Prediction: 15-5.

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