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THE FINAL WORD: PUTTING A BOW ON A UNIQUE 2020-21 WINTER SEASON (2021-08-08)

I can’t say it enough, kudos to the PIAA for forging ahead with postseason during the winter season, just as they did in the fall.

In New York State, it was much of the same as in the fall, NYSPHAA caved, and canceled the postseason well in advance of the normal start of the playoffs in mid-February.

The PIAA didn’t get it perfect, but I won’t quibble, considering there was a concerted effort to do the right thing for the student-athletes.

Well before the postseason, there were the regular seasons.

The NTL schedules were pushed back about two weeks, while New York’s Section IV, which canceled all fall sports, started its truncated winter sports schedule on Jan. 4. It lasted until Feb. 27.
 
As they did in the fall, the Athens teams enjoyed a great deal of success in the winter. Neither the girls or the boys basketball teams won a division title, but both were in the mix, both qualified for Districts, and both won a game before falling in the Class 4A semifinals.

The wrestling team featured a host of grapplers with winning records, led by juniors Gavin Bradley and Kaden Setzer. Bradley won a PIAA silver medal, and will likely become only the second Wildcat wrestler to win four state medals (joining Brian Courtney), while Setzer advanced to the Northeast Regionals.

The swim teams had solid seasons. They opened the season with a virtual, swimming with Towanda at the Black Knight pool, while Shamokin swam in its own pool. The season ended with a smaller field than usual at the District 4 Championships. Likewise, fewer swimmers and divers advanced to the state meet. BUT, again, the PIAA had a postseason.

For Sayre, the winter season was virtually non-existent.

The Redskins did not have the numbers to field a girls basketball team, or swim teams. On top of that, the wrestling team finished the season with just five wrestlers, thanks to injuries, academics, and athletes not coming out due to Covid concerns.

On the plus side, the Sayre boys basketball team had a tough regular season, but once again turned in a strong postseason effort, knocking off top-seeded Muncy in the District 4, Class AA playoffs, before falling in the semifinals.

Section IV chose to start late, then cram all three seasons — winter, followed by fall, then spring — into five-plus months.

The idea was for teams to play in “pods” determined by geography. Waverly and Tioga were originally slated to play basketball games and wrestling matches against other Tioga County schools — Owego, Newark Valley, and S-VE / Candor / SVEC.

However, the state eased its restrictions, and Waverly’s boys and girls teams picked up games against the likes of Horseheads, Elmira, and Corning.

The Lady Wolverines went 11-2, thanks in large part for an incredible season by senior Sidney Tomasso, against a rugged schedule — playing Owego, Newark Valley, Horseheads, and Elmira twice, and Corning once.

The Waverly boys posted an 8-4 mark, with all four of its losses coming to Class AA schools Horseheads (twice), Corning, and Elmira. Freshman Joey Tomasso delivered notice he is a player to watch the next few years.

The Waverly schedules were likely the toughest either program has played since leaving the old Sullivan Trails Conference after the 1981-82 season.

The Tioga Lady Tigers picked up a pair of games against O-M, and showed why they may have challenged for a Small School title in a normal season, posting a 4-0 record against divisional foes Candor and O-M. They went 0-6 against Waverly, Newark Valley, and Owego.

The Tioga boys played just eight games.

The highlight of the winter season in NY, was the Tioga wrestling season, despite the fact this year’s matches lacked the same type of intensity fans in the area have become accustomed to. It’s a sport of emotion, and with no postseason, the matches — most of which involved three or four teams and featured multiple matches for each wrestler — seemed flat.

Regardless, Tioga showed why it would have been a favorite to win another Section IV Duals and Section IV, Division 2 title.

At the Valley Bowling Center, the Waverly girls and Tioga boys won division titles, while Waverly sophomore Victoria Houseknecht and freshman Rachel Houseknecht finished 1-2 in the IAC in average. Rachel edged Victoria at the IAC Championships, and the 1-2 finish helped the Lady Wolverines to the team title.

On the boys side, Tioga used superior depth to win the IAC Championships team title, while Waverly sophomore Zach Vanderpool established a new IAC record series with an 834 to win individual gold.

Valley fans will certainly miss 1,000-point scorer Kayleigh Miller of Athens, as well as defensive standouts Hannah Blackman and Rachel Stephens, and 3-point shooter Megan Collins.

Waverly graduates All-Valley performer Aidan Westbrook, as well as seniors Peyton Bowen, Kobe Decker, and Ryan Lambert.

On a personal note, I'll miss Tioga's Eve Wood, Olivia Ayres, and Ari Manwaring, who I've watched grow up, alongside my daughter, into excellent athletes, and, more importantly, extraordinary young people.

There are other seniors who will be missed, but oddly enough, however, this winter only featured a handful of standout seniors as most of the teams relied heavily on under classmen, which means if things get back to normal on the Covid front, Valley sports fans could have a great deal to cheer about the next few winter sports seasons.


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