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Like baseball, the softball season was nearly normal in 2021 (aside from no state playoffs in N.Y.)

Athens posted a 15-6 record, shared the NTL Large School title again, and reached the District 4, Class 4A semifinals, while Tioga was 12-5, won another overall IAC Small School Championship game, and reached the Section IV, Class C semifinals.

Waverly battled to an 8-11 record against a tough scheduled, beating Owego in the regular-season finale to reach the Section IV, Class B quarterfinals.

And, the struggle continues for the Sayre program, which went just 1-16 on the season.

Athens wore the mythical Valley crown, beating Waverly and Tioga at the "Battle at the Border."

So what does the 2022 season have in store for the Valley softball foursome. I've dusted off the crystal ball for one last time this summer ... with the season will 7 1/2 months away, things are a bit murky, but:

Athens Wildcats: The Wildcats graduate three of its best hitters in Harley Sullivan, Audrey Hatch, and Mallory Mummert, but return their top three pitchers, and could get some help in the circle from incoming freshman Savannah Persun.

Athens also returns one of the best power hitters in the league in senior Caydence Macik, as well as juniors Aliyah Butler and Addy Repsher. They also return senior Macie Coyle and juniors Mackenzie Morgan and Braelyn Wood.

One of the big keys for the Wildcats will be to replace Sullivan behind the plate, but sophomore Ashyln VanFleet and Morgan has coach Mickey Farrell hoping the transition won't be painful as most people think.

Prediction: Wyalusing and Wellsboro lose a ton to graduation, but Towanda should be improved. Despite the losses to graduation, the Lady Wildcats look to be the preseason favorite to win the Large School title. ... I expect big steps forward for Butler, Repsher, and VanFleet, and if Persun can contribute from Day 1 in the circle, and / or at first base, Athens could be a very interesting team to watch in 2022. ... 2022 Record - 16-5, District 4, Class 4A semifinals.

Sayre Redskins:
The very young Lady Redskins sowed flashes of promise this season, but made too many mistakes in all facets of the game to string together any type of success.

Junior Hailey McCaig led the team in hitting, and returns, along with sophomores Maddie Smith, Olivia Corbin, Makenna Garrison, and Gabby Shaw, and freshman Meghan Flynn, who all put together solid campaigns in their first varsity seasons.

Senior Savanna Harbst, sophomore Aliyah Rawlings, and freshman Elizabeth Shaw also gained valuable experience and will return.

Softball is all about pitching and defense at its core, and the Lady Redskins have struggled in both areas in recent years. Corbin showed promise in limited action in the circle in 2021. Her progress will be a key in 2022. The Lady Redskins should be improved. ... 2022 Record - 4-16.

Tioga Lady Tigers:
The Lady Tigers lose their best pitcher and best hitter in Kindra Wessels.

Offensively, Tioga has a ton returning from a team that scored 201 runs in 17 games, led by junior Mykenzie Thetga, and seniors Austyn Vance, Alissa Hine, Abby Foley, and Gabby Foley. I expect Felicia Lantz to make an impact this season as well.

Hine pitched well in limited action in 2021, and could slide in nicely to replace Wessels in the circle. Youngster Erin Luther could also be a factor.

Prediction: Tioga will likely battle it out again this season with S-VE for the IAC South Small School Division title. I like their chances to repeat. ... Scoring runs should not be a problem for the Lady Tigers, and they'll pound mediocre pitching. The big question is in the circle, if coach Heather Klossner irons out that wrinkle, they could be looking at another postseason run. ... 2022 Record - 17-5, Section IV, Class C finals.

Waverly Lady Wolverines:
The Lady Wolverines only lose three seniors, but they accounted for all but 12 innings in the pitcher's circle in 2021.

Sophomore Olivia Robinson, who had an exceptional rookie season at the plate, acquitted herself well in the pitcher's circle in 11 innings this season, and may be the one coach Brian Wendela relies on to take over for Hali Jenner.

Waverly returns its top three hitters in senior Aubrey Ennis, Robinson, and senior Bella Romano, but they will need some help either from other returning starters, or a few graduates from a JV team, like Maddison Cron, Lea VanAllen, or Ciara Sindoni.

Prediction: Again, it's all about pitching. If one of Waverly's youngsters steps up and gets the job done in the circle, then the Lady Wolverines will be just fine. ... Notre Dame is the overwhelming favorite to win the IAC South Large School title, but Waverly should battle Edison for second place in the division. ... 2022 Record - 10-10, Section IV Class B Quarterfinals.

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