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FROM THE PRESS BOX: PUTTING A BOW ON AN INCREDIBLE 2021-22 SPORTS YEAR (2022-06-22)

The 2021-22 school year was one for the ages.

The Tioga football team reeled off 12 straight wins and won the program’s second state title, and Waverly started the season at 10-0 for the first time in program history, before falling to longtime nemesis Chenango Forks in the Section IV, Class C championship game.

Tioga’s Emmett Wood capped a historic career for the Tigers with 7,367 rushing yards and 99 TDs. Had it not been for losing a half season (and the postseason) to Covid in 2020, Wood may have challenged Jesse Manuel’s school record of 8,524 yards, which ranks second all-time in New York State. Wood is third on that list.

While Wood made a host of headlines, it was the quarterback play in the Valley that really stood out in the fall of 2021.

Waverly sophomore Joey Tomasso took his game to the next level, while Sayre senior Brayden Horton capped a brilliant career, and Athens junior Mason Lister had a very good season that was a bit overshadowed by his peers. Tioga sophomore Caden Bellis burst on to the scene as a dual-threat QB, and led Tioga to a state title.

While Horton graduates, the other three returns for what should be another season of great QB play in the fall of 2022.

Football wasn’t the only game in town in the fall.

Four Valley cross country runners qualified for States, including the Athens sister act of freshman Sara and junior Emma Bronson, and Waverly freshman Harper Minaker. Tioga junior Thomas Hurd all qualified for States, becoming the first Tiger harrier to do so since 2012.

The Tioga volleyball team reached the Section IV, Class D Championship match, falling to defending state champion Candor. The two longtime IAC rivals met four times — Candor winning three — during the season with all four matches reaching the fifth set.

Another rivalry reached new heights in the fall. The Waverly-Notre Dame girls soccer played three times and combined for one goal. The first two meetings were double-overtime scoreless ties. The third match-up — in an IAC divisional playoffs — went 87 minutes before Notre Dame tallied the game-winner. That’s 287 minutes of scoreless soccer between a pair of heated rivals.

Also on the soccer pitch, the Waverly boys program, which did not field a team in 2017, went 7-5 and qualified for the postseason for the first time since 2016. The seven wins was one more than the program combined to win from 2018 through 2020.

And, the Athens boys, after seeing its six-year run atop the NTL standings snapped in 2020, bounced back thanks to a late-season win over arch-rival Wellsboro to win the 2021 title.

On the links, Sayre senior Kannon VanDuzer qualified for the PIAA Golf Championships, while Athens won the NTL title.

And finally this fall, my favorite story. With the Waverly girls swim team set to face Whitney Point, which had just three swimmers on its roster, coach Amy Steck allowed her swimmers to choose the event they wanted to compete in. Eighth-grader Mira Kittle chose to try the 1-meter diving competition, and promptly broke the school record, which had been in the record book since 1994.

Wrestling dominated the winter season.

Tioga claimed its fifth straight Section IV Division 2 Championship, and its third straight team title at the New York State Championships. The Tigers also won their third straight Section IV Duals title, and their first-ever New York State Division 2 Duals title — beating Canisteo-Greenwood, 50-7, in the finals.

Sophomores Gianni Silvestri and Ousmane Duncanson won state titles, while junior Donovan Smith and sophomore Caden Bellis won silver medals, and 8th-grader Jayden Duncanson won a bronze medal. In all, seven of Tioga’s nine state qualifiers earned medals.

Athens senior Gavin Bradley capped a brilliant four-year varsity career by winning his fourth PIAA medal, and his first state title. He became just the second wrestler in program history to win four PIAA medals. He was joined at the PIAA Championships by senior teammates Karter Rude and Kaden Setzer.

In Waverly, the five-year rebuild reached its completion as the Wolverines qualified for the Section IV Duals, and notched a win over Windsor in the opening round, then sent two wrestlers — junior Ty Beeman and freshman Kam Hills — to the Division 2 Championships.

The girls wrestling phenomenon also burst on to the scene this winter, with Tioga junior Emily Sindoni at the forefront. She won the first-ever Section IV title at the inaugural girls Section IV Championships, and also won a gold medal at the New York State Girls Folkstyle Championships.

Waverly’s Mackenzie LaForest also won a Section IV title, while Athens senior Raven McCarthy-Gardner won a bronze medal at the Pa. State Championships, and Sayre’s Layla Bennett won a fifth-place medal.

The Waverly boys swim foursome of juniors Jerrell Sackett, Oscar Williams and Ryan Clark, and senior Kaden Wheeler re-wrote quite a bit of the record book for the storied program.

The foursome broke all three relay (200-yard medley, and 200- and 400-yard freestyle) records at the Wolverine Invite in mid-January, and continued to lower their times the remainder of the season. They won a silver medal in the 200 free relay and a ninth-place medal in the 400 free at the State meet.

Sackett also broke the school record in the 50 free, and won a bronze medal — matching the best individual finish ever for a Waverly swimmer at the State meet.

On the hardwoods, Athens reached the District 4 championship game for the first time since 2000, then won its first state playoff game since 1956 to reach the “Sweet 16.”

The spring season brought a return to normalcy, with a return to a “normal” spring sports schedule, and a return of state championships on both sides of the border in every sport for the first time since 2019.

This spring, the Waverly track team was the big story, sending 10 athletes to States in five events, including three relays — two boys and one girls. Sophomore Micah Chandler brought home Waverly’s only hardware — a fifth-place medal.

Tioga didn’t send anyone to States, but its 4-by-1 relay team broke the school record in its final run at the State Qualifier.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Athens track team did not send anyone to the PIAA Championships for the first time in more than 15 years.

On the diamonds, Waverly reached the Section IV, Class B finals for the first time since 2013, but lost to longtime nemesis Oneonta, while two-time defending District 4 Class AA champion Sayre was upended by Muncy in the semifinals.

During the fall, the Bronson sisters both qualified for the PIAA Cross Country Championships. In the spring, they both ended their seasons at the District 4 Championship with record-breaking runs. Sara broke the school record in the 3,200-meter run, and Emma setting a new standard in the 1,600-meter run.

The 2021-22 sports year marks the end of high school competition for many outstanding Valley athletes, but also marks the end of several historic careers, like those of Tioga’s Emmett Wood, Sayre’s Brayden Horton, and Athens’ Gavin Bradley, and Caydence Macik.

There are plenty of other graduating seniors I’ll miss watching complete, like Tioga’s Julia Bellis, Julia Walsh, Gavin Godfrey, Chris Walsh, Matt Watson, and Josh Snell; Waverly’s Olivia Nittinger, Kaden Wheeler, D.J. Shaw, and Cayden Turscik; Sayre’s Mason Hughey, David Northrup, Kannon VanDuzer, and Dom Fabbri; and Athens’ Karter Rude, Kaden Setzer, J.J. Babcock, Hannah Walker, Troy Pritchard, Tucker Brown, and Olivia Bartlow.

I know I missed a few, and I apologize for that.

It’s always tough to say good-bye to a group of seniors I’ve watched grow since their days in junior high, and before. However, there are always youngster ready to fill in the gaps.

I’m looking forward to the likes of Athens youngsters like Kolsen Keathley, Xavier Watson, Ethan Hicks, Carter Hicks, Cooper Robinson, Matthias Welles, and Caleb Nason take the next step. Likewise with Sayre youngsters Nick Pellicano, Raegan Parrish, Abbie McGaughey, Liz Shaw, Hogan Shaw, Brendon Cooke, Karter Green, and Ronin Ault.

North of the Border, Waverly youngsters Kam Hills, Troy Beeman, Peyton Fravel, Lauren Gorsline, Mira Kittle, Maddy Olmsted, Ryleigh Judson, and Haylie Davenport; and Tioga youngsters Jayden Duncanson, Declan McKee, Gavin Albrecht, Ava Smolinsky, Andrew Earley, Tate MaCauley, Logan Bellis, Garrett Godfrey, and Shea Bailey are all in line to take the next step.

I know I’ve missed a few youngsters, too, and again I apologize. There are also some that will unexpectedly thrust themselves into the headlines, and those make for the best stories.

I seem to say this every year, and I also mean it every year, “How can next year top this year?”

And nearly every year, somehow, it does.

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