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FROM THE PRESS BOX: THOUGHTS ON THE FIRST MONTH OF THE HIGH SCHOOL HOOP SEASON (2021-12-31)

The Valley Christmas Tournament marks the end of the first month of basketball season, and to this point, there have been some interesting results.

Let's take a look at each of the eight teams in the Valley.

BOYS BASKETBALL
Athens Wildcats:
The Wildcats are off to a strong start, including victories over Wavily and Towanda to win the annual Valley Christmas Tournament.

Senior J.J. Babcock has been a force this season, and will challenge Troy's Ty Barrett for NTL "Player of the Year." He can score from anywhere on the court, is a solid rebounder, and an excellent passer.

Junior Mason Lister and senior Tucker Brown are playing the best basketball of their careers, and seniors Nalen Carling and Troy Pritchard, who is a terror in the low post, have been steady, and can step up any night with big performances.

The Athens bench is young, but junior Chris Mitchell, sophomore Korey Miller, and freshman Kolsen Keathley have contributed solid minutes. Keep an eye on freshman Xavier Watson, who could develop into another asset off the bench quickly.

If this team continues to share the basketball, take good shots, and play defense, they will be tough to beat.

My only concern is this team's tendency to play one-on-one when adversity hits. They avoided that tendency in their win over Waverly, which is a very good sign.

Sayre Redskins:
The Redskins have a dynamic duo of offensive players in senior Dom Fabbri and and junior Jackson Hubbard, and senior Josh Arnold has already shown he's capable of scoring 20-plus points in a game.

And, Junior Zach Garrity and senior Kannon VnaDuzer do a lot of little things that help teams win games.

The problem is the bench is extremely young and needs time to develop. Freshman Nick Pellicano looks like he could develop into a go-to guy very quickly.

When you look at the NTL, the league is pretty good this season. The Redskins will have their hands full in the Small School Division with two games against Canton, North Penn-Liberty, and Wyalusing.

Tioga Tigers: The Tigers were behind the 8-ball from the outset, opening their season less than 24 hours after half its roster played in the state championship football game.

Pair that with the fact Tioga opened against Owego, Marcellus, and Waverly and an 0-3 start was to be expected. Don't sleep on this team, however, once it gets into divisional play, the wins will come.

The Tigers have good experience in sophomores Evan Sickler and Ethan Perry, and seniors Casey Stoughton, Josh Reis and Gavin Godfrey, and sophomore newcomers Gavin Fisher and Ethan Landmesser and junior Bryce Bailey have each contributed at times in the early going.

There are a few games on Tioga's remaining schedule that will be tough, but the large majority of them are winnable. Don't be surprised if the Tigers make a run at .500 (or better) and a berth in the Section IV playoffs.

Waverly Wolverines: Waverly opened the season with a tough schedule, and will enter the new year at 4-3.

Sophomore Joey Tomasso is a budding superstar, and he has a strong supporting cast of seniors, led by Brennan Traub and Brady Blauvelt.

It's pretty simple, when the Wolverines shoot the ball, they can beat anyone. When they don't, there needs to be more of an emphasis on defending, rebounding, and taking care of the ball.

The defense is sound, but there have been issues stopping penetration to the bucket. Rebounding has been an issue, and coach Lou Judson has expressed concerns about turnovers. If they address those issues, they will make some serious noise in the second half of the season.

GIRLS BASKETBALL
Athens Lady Wildcats:
The Lady Wildcats have one of the best players in the NTL in senior Caydence Macik, and one of the best newcomers in freshman Addy Wheeler.

They also have junior Karlee Bartlow, who is budding into a 15 to 20 points per game scorer, senior Olivia Bartlow, who is quickly becoming a presence in the low post, and junior Emma Bronson, who does a little bit of everything.

The bench is young and inexperienced, but athletic, which allow coach Brian Miller to get back to his style of defensive pressure and fast-break offense when the situation dictates.

Towanda may be the team to beat in the Large School chase, but Athens will definitely be in the mix.

Sayre Lady Redskins: The Lady Redskins are young and very inexperienced, but at least they have the program back on the rails after a year off.

This group just needs to get its legs under them, and get use to the speed of the game at the varsity level.

Wins and losses aren't really important in this situation, it's just about improving and getting the program back on solid ground.

That said, Sayre should be able to compete with a few of the teams in the West.

Tioga Lady Tigers: Tioga dropped its first seven decision before finally getting in the win column Thursday in the consolation game of the B-G Holiday Tournament.

The Lady Tigers only have seven girls on their roster, but all seven are athletic, and have played the game together for years.

The biggest problem is they don't have any one player who is good for 20 points per night, which makes it difficult unless you are regularly creating easy points with your defense, which they haven't been able to do to this point.

Tioga is better than it's 1-7 record, but they've put themselves in quite a hole. Digging out of it and qualifying for the postseason is not impossible, but it will be difficult.

Waverly Lady Wolverines:
The Lady Wolverines are not very big, but they get after it defensively, run the floor, and can shoot the 3 - which is a good recipe for success.

Junior Kennedy Westbrook is becoming the focus of the offense, but senior Olivia Nittinger and junior Addison Westbrook can fill it up from behind the 3-point arc,

Sophomore Peyton Shaw is developing into a player who can score in the low post and from outside the arc, while sophomore Paige Robinson is a threat in transition and will also knock down a 3-pointer, and  senior Lourden Benjamin is a hard-nose, physical player willing to do the dirty work - the type of player every coach loves.

The Lady Wolverines may be susceptible to a team with a strong inside game, which is the exact scenario they will face when they play Newark Valley - the preseason favorite in the IAC Large School Division. As always the question will be, can Waverly's pressure defense keep the ball away from Newark Valley's low-post players.

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