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FROM THE PRESS BOX: BUCKLE UP! YEAR 13 AT VALLEY SPORTS REPORT COULD BE A VERY GOOD ONE (2021-08-16)

Today marks the start of Valley Sports Report’s 13th year of high school sports coverage in the Valley.

If things continue to return toward normal, and the powers-that-be keep their wits about them, the 2021-22 high school sports calendar could bring us some incredible action, and possibly one of the best years yet.

The fall season will likely be all about football.

Tioga is loaded with returning skill-position players, led by former New York State Player of the Year Emmett Wood, and also bring several more up from the junior varsity program. The Tigers are the prohibitive favorite to win their ninth Section IV title since 2011.

Athens and Sayre are also loaded with skill players, but have a big obstacle in their roads to NTL division titles. I expect both teams to reach the postseason.

Waverly is young, but talented. I expect the Wolverines to win their division, but Chenango Forks is a major obstacle in their quest for a Section IV title.

The Athens boys and girls soccer teams both received a bit of a boost last week, with Sayre players being accepted into the fold for the 2021 seasons.

Senior Mason Hughey and junior Brayden Post should make an immediate impact for the Athens boys, while sophomore Kendra Merrill could do the same for the Lady Wildcats.

I’m looking forward to watching the progression of Athens junior Emma Bronson, and the debut of her sister Sarah for the Athens cross country. Ditto freshman Harper Minaker and sophomore Elizabeth Vaughn at Waverly.

Sayre senior Kannon VanDuzer leads a throng of Valley golfers returning at Sayre and Athens. It could be an interesting season on the links.

In the pool, Waverly returns a trio of seniors in Lourden Benjamin, Delaney Vascoe, and Willow Sharpsteen that could make some noise not only in the IAC, but in Section IV as well.

This winter, wrestling could steal the majority of the headlines, but basketball in the Valley should be very good as well.

With nearly everyone returning from the 2019 team that won the team title at the New York State Division 2 championships, and reached the semifinals of the N.Y. State Duals, plus the addition of Osumane and Jayden Duncanson from SVEC, Tioga is loaded for bear, and has its sights set on a pair of state titles in 2021-22.

Athens senior Gavin Bradley, who already has three PIAA medals to his credit, continues his quest for state gold, and I wouldn’t bet against him.

And don’t look now, but Waverly’s program is beginning to emerge from the ashes, and could be a year or two away from making a lot of noise in Section IV.

The Athens and Waverly boys teams should be a lot of fun to watch this season, and should make a lot of noise in the postseason. Sayre and Tioga should be improved as well.

On the girls side, Athens’ Brian Miller and Waverly’s Bob Kelly are too good on the sidelines for me to expect anything other than 15 wins or more.

The Waverly boys swim team should be very good once again, with Kaden Wheeler back for his senior season leading the way, and Athens junior Taegan Williams will look to get to States.

Junior Zach Vanderpool ended the bowling season with an IAC record performance, while junior Victoria Houseknecht and sophomore Rachel Houseknecht return as the top two bowlers in the IAC. All three should be dominant next season.

The Tioga boys will be also be gunning for another division title, and odds are good they will get it.

Baseball is likely to headline next spring’s action.

Sayre is the odds-on-favorite to win its fourth District title in five season, while Athens returns nearly everyone from a 12-9 team, and should push for a NTL Large School title.

Waverly also returns nearly everyone from a 15-5 team, and could challenge for the program’s second Section IV title, while Tioga should improve on its 6-7 record, but is a year away from being very good.

On the softball diamond, Athens returns enough to challenge for a division title, while Tioga and Waverly both have big holes to fill in the pitching circle.

Tioga senior Julia Walsh, Athens sophomore Mya Thompson and Athens junior Olivia Bartlow could build on their postseason performances this spring, and make a run at an appearance at States next spring.

I’ve touched on a lot of what I expect to see in 2021-22, but as always, things I can’t foresee will unfold, and make the best stories of the year.

Buckle up, this year could be a lot of fun!

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