FROM THE PRESS BOX: TIOGA FOOTBALL, WRESTLING ONCE AGAIN TOP THE BAKER'S DOZEN 'STORYLINES OF THE YEAR'
I've talked about storylines in the past and how they normally come in one of four realms: the start of a storyline, the continuation of one, the likely culmination of one, or a storyline totally out of the blue.
This year’s list is topped by the same two storylines as last year in the wake of Tioga football and wrestling penning sequels to their state title runs, and also includes several record-breaking achievements, several state medals, and a switch in conferences for one Valley team.
Not making the list, but worthy of note were a pair of items.
First, you’ll notice Waverly senior Jerrell Sackett making the list a couple of times — once for winning a N.Y. State Swimming & Diving gold medal in the 200-meter freestyle relay, and once for bringing home a silver medal in the 400-meter relay at the N.Y. State Track & Field Championships. I don’t recall anyone else achieving that feat before.
Secondly, the Sayre softball (28 losses in a row) and basketball teams (29 in a row), as well as the Tioga field hockey (33 in a row) teams each snapped long losing streaks during the 2022-23 school year. Hopefully, all three programs are headed on an upward trajectory, and will make headlines in the upcoming years.
Without any further ado, I give you, from No. 13 to No. 1, the Valley Sports Report "Baker's Dozen Storylines of the Year:
"13. Athens swim teams enjoy historic seasons:
After a very good regular season, the Athens boys and girls swim teams took a school-record 23 swimmers to the District 4 Championships.
Senior Chris DeForest had four top-two finishes to pace the boys, while senior Taegan Williams and freshman Olivia Cheresnowsky each won three medals to lead the Lady Wildcats.
Both teams finished second in the team standings — their best finishes ever.
Both teams are chock full of talented young swimmers, so it’s just the beginning of this storyline.12. After tremendous regular seasons, Athens and Waverly baseball lose in playoff openers:
Heading into the 2023 spring season, expectations were sky-high for the Athens and Waverly baseball programs.
Athens won its first 11 games, and Waverly its first 12, heading into a Valley showdown at Waverly on April 29. Athens senior Lucas Horton allowed one hit over 6 1/3 innings, while striking out 14 to outduel Waverly junior Jay Pipher in a 1-0 Wildcat win in the “Game of the Year.”
Athens finished the regular season at 18-1, having beaten Wyalusing twice to win the NTL Large School Division title, while Waverly was 17-2, winning both a division title and the overall IAC Large School Championship.
However, both season came to a screeching halt in the opening rounds of their respective playoffs. Waverly dropped a 7-0 decision to Lansing in the Section IV quarterfinals, while Athens dropped a 10-4 decision to Mifflinburg in the District 4 semifinals.
This is a unique storyline that really doesn’t fit the mold, so it’s doubtful it will be replicated.11. Sayre baseball sees postseason run come to an end:
The Sayre baseball program won District 4 titles in 2017 and ’18 and was runner-up in 2019. After Covid wiped out the 2020 season, which may have featured Sayre’s best roster in this run, the Redskins won another district title in 2021, but were upset in semifinals in 2022.
Most people expected Sayre to make one final run in 2023, but with uncertainty swirling around the school district, four would-be starters, including three incoming freshmen, transferred out of the district, leaving coach Jamie VanDuzer with only two starters returning.
VanDuzer did a tremendous job piecing together a roster, and the Redskins posted a respectable 8-12 record, but failed to qualify for the postseason.
The next Sayre coach will be hard-pressed to revive this storyline, but time will.10. Prolific scorers highlight Valley hoop season:
Four different Valley basketball players — Athens senior Mason Lister, Waverly junior Joey Tomasso, Sayre senior Jackson Hubbard, and Waverly senior Kennedy Westbrook — scored their 1,000th career point this season.
Tomasso scored a school record 30.9 points per game, including a school-record 49-point outing, while Hubbard scored 25.8 points per game, including a school-record 55-point performance.
Tioga’s Evan Sicker, who ended his junior season with 963 points, averaged 22.5 points, including a career-high 46-point outing, and 9.1 rebounds, and Lister, who may have had the most complete season, averaged 18.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 3.1 steals per game.
And, Westbrook averaged 19.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 5 steals per game for the Lady Wolverines.
On top of that, Sickler knocked down 58 3-pointers, Hubbard made 53, Tomasso 50, and Westbrook 42.
There will most likely be an addendum to this storyline next year as Tomasso and Sickler finish up their careers, but it could be quite a while until another chapter like this one is written.
9. Waverly leaves the IAC for the STAC:
After 35 years in the Interscholastic Athletic Conference, Waverly severed its ties with the conference that is comprised mainly of Class C and Class D schools to join the Southern Tier Athletic Conference, which is made up of Class B, A, and AA schools.
Waverly’s administration cited the ability to play a more competitive schedule that will help its student-athletes be more prepared for the postseason. It’s also widely-known that the STAC is far more receptive to new ideas.
Waverly closes the book on the IAC, and begins a new one in the STAC in 2023-24.8. Waverly sprinters keep setting records:
In a continuation of last year’s storyline, Waverly’s boys sprint squad continued to re-write the program’s record book.
Senior Kayleb Bechy lowered his school record in the 100-meter dash to 10.79 seconds, but junior Ralph Johnson ran a 10.85. Speaking of Johnson, he established a new record of 21.95 seconds in the 200-meter dash.
Bechy and Johnson teamed with junior Micah Chandler and senior Jerrel Sackett to lower the 400-meter relay school record several times this season, including a Section IV record time of 42.3 seconds at the State Qualifier. That record only last a week, however, as the foursome lowered it again with a run of 42.03 in winning the silver medal at States.
Waverly’s 400-meter relay, as well as its 1,600-meter relay foursome of Sackett, Chandler, senior Treyton Moore, and Charlie Larrabee also ran at the New Balance High School Nationals.
It will be tough for this storyline to continue with the graduation of Bechy and Sackett, but we could see an individual sprint record or two fall next year.7. Tioga volleyball returns to the top of Class D in Section IV:
Tioga won its first Section IV title in five years, winning the ninth title in coach Des Ford’s career.
The Lady Tigers won five Section IV titles from 2012-17, and reached the Section IV title every year from 2009-18.
This title came a bit out of the blue, so a sequel could be in the works in 2023.6. Waverly wrestling rejoins elite programs in Section IV:
Last year, we called the Waverly rebuilding program under coach Devan Witman complete after the Wolverines earned a berth in the Section IV Duals, and sent two wrestlers to States.
This year, Waverly took the next step — advancing to the finals of the Section IV Duals, and sending five wrestlers to States — and rejoined the upper echelon of programs in Section IV.
The Wolverines return three of their five state qualifiers, and are flush with talented young wrestlers headed to the varsity program in coming years, so there are likely several more chapters to be written in this storyline.5. Senior Jerrell Sackett leads Waverly relay to State gold:
Senior Jerrell Sackett won seven state medals in his two trips to the New York State Swimming Championships, but he will be most remembered for his record-breaking 50-yard leg in the 200-yard freestyle relay that helped the Wolverine foursome secure a gold medal — the first in the storied history of the boys program.
Sackett, who finished fourth in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle sprints, just a day after swimming the fastest times in both events during the preliminaries, teamed with classmates Oscar Williams, Ryan Clark, and junior Liam Wright to win the 200 free relay.
Sackett, Clark, and Williams also won a pair of relay medals, including a silver medal in the 200-yard free relay, last year.
4. No Sayre football for first time since 1912:
The Sayre football program fell apart just prior to the start of the preseason, and did not field a team for the first time in 110 years.
The Redskins did field a junior varsity team in 2022, and went unbeaten so there is hope for the future. However, with both school boards recently approving a merger study, the future of Sayre football is uncertain.
There is definitely another chapter to be written on Sayre football. Let’s hope it’s not the final chapter.3. Waverly football vanquishes Chenango Forks to win fourth Section IV title under coach Jason Miller:
Waverly coach Jason Miller had won three Section IV titles heading into 2022, but one of his teams have never beaten powerhouse Chenango Forks in a championship game.
As a matter of fact, Forks had won its last 18 times in championship appearances, until the Wolverines rallied for a 28-14 win in this year’s Class C title tilt.
The win was extra sweet for Waverly as it avenged not only a loss in last year’s Class C title game, but its only regular-season loss in 2022.
With quite a bit returning for 2023, including record-breaking QB Joey Tomasso, and his record-breaking favorite target, Jay Pipher, another chapter of this storyline is most likely in store.
2. Tioga wrestling continues dominance in Section IV, and New York State:
In Kris Harrington’s seven years at Tioga, the Tigers have won six Section IV titles (there were no Section IV or state tournaments in 2021), four teams titles at the New York State Division 2 Championships, four Section IV Duals titles (and have participated in all five State Duals — the first year as a wild card), and two New York State Division 2 Duals titles.
In the six postseasons under Harrington, Tioga has sent 35 wrestlers to states, and brought home 27 state medals, including seven state champions, six runners-up, and three third-place finishers.
Tioga is currently riding a 31-match dual win streak, and is 66-8 during Harrington’s tenure. The Tigers are 50-3 since the start of the 2017-18 season.
1. Tioga football continues dominance:
The Tigers wrapped up a perfect 14-0 season with its second consecutive state title.
Tioga, winners of 27 straight, rolled through the regular season at 8-0, then won its two Section IV playoff games 49-18 (SVEC) and 42-14 (Delhi). It was the 10th Section IV title in 11 postseasons for coach Nick Aiello.
After a 42-6 rout of Dolgeville in the Class D quarterfinals, Tioga was pushed to the limit in a 41-34 win over Randolph. The Class D title game was a bit anti-climactic as the Tigers rolled over Cambridge-Salem, 63-20.
All three of Tioga’s opponents in the state playoffs were unbeaten entering their games with the Tigers.
With all but one starter returning, a sequel to this year’s story is almost certain.
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