THE FINAL WORD: PUTTING A BOW ON THE 2022-23 SPORTS SEASONS — IT WAS ANOTHER 'INCREDIBLE' YEAR
Each year in this space i spew superlatives about the just-completed school year, praising the teams, individuals, and coaches in the Valley for an “incredible” or “amazing” year of high school sports.
Year-in and year-out, I find myself saying, “how could next year possibly top this one?”
Yet somehow, it feels like every year is better than the previous one.
Was 2022-23 better than 2021-22?
Last year’s top two stories focused on Tioga wrestling and Tioga football, both winning state titles — multiple state titles in wrestling’s case.
This year, Tioga wrestling practically duplicated last season, winning their second consecutive NY State Duals title, and fourth straight team title at the New York State Division 2 Championships. Again this year, Tioga crowned two champs (Caden Bellis and Ousmane Duncanson), and had two runners-up (Gianni Silvestri and Logan Bellis), and a third-place finisher (Jayden Duncanson).
On the gridiron, the Tigers went 14-0 to win their second straight state title, and run their win streak to 27 games. Junior Caden Bellis was named the Class D “Player of the Year.”
The No. 4 story last year, focused on Waverly football’s historic season in which they won their first 10 games of the season for the first time in program history.
This year, the Wolverines lost at home during the regular season, but avenged that loss (and last year’s loss in the Class C Championship game) with a win over Chenango Forks in this year’s Class C title game, securing Jason Miler’s fourth Section IV title.
The next two stories focused on Waverly’s track & field and boys swimming programs that each sent a number of athletes to their respective state championships.
This year, Waverly sent six athletes to States, as opposed to 10 last year, but won three medals, as opposed to one. And, Kayleb Bechy and Ralph Johnson broke school records in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, respectively, and teamed with Micah Chandler and Jerrell Sackett to break the school and Section IV record in the 400-meter relay.
In the pool, Liam Wright replaced Kaden Wheeler on Waverly’s state-bound 200-yard freestyle relay. Last year, the foursome won a state silver medal. This year, it won gold, and established a new school record in the process.
Sackett, who anchored the relay, won fourth-place medals at States in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle sprints. (If you weren’t paying attention, Sackett won a silver medal in track, and a gold medal in swimming — both on relays. I’ve never heard of that happening around here.)
So five of the top six stories in 2021-22 involved state titles, school records, and state medals, with this year’s sequels equalling or topping last year’s chapters.
On top of all that this fall, Tioga volleyball won its first Section IV title since 2018 — the seventh since 2009 for coach Des Ford, and the ninth of her career.
Mason Lister and Lucas Horton capped four-year varsity football careers, leading Athens to a District 4, Class 3A semi-final appearance. Lister ended his career with a school-record 5,555 passing years, and 66 TDs.
Lister wasn’t the only record-breaker in the fall. His counterpart at Waverly, Joey Tomasso, ended his junior season as the school record-holder for passing yardage (5,746 yards) and TDs (60), as well as the single-season passing yardage record (2,245). His teammate, and favorite target, junior Jay Pipher established new records for career receiving yardage (1,898 yards) and receptions (112), as well as the single-season receiving record (1,039 yards).
Staying on the gridiron, Caden Bellis now holds the school record for career passing yardage (2,523) and TDs (39) at Tioga, as well as the single-season records he set this year of 1,509 yards, and 24 TDs.
Waverly’s Mira Kittle also established new school records in the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard backstroke, and was a part of two record-breaking relays. She became the first Waverly freshman — boy or girl — to qualify for States, qualifying in the backstroke and the 50 free.
Athens junior Evan Cooper finished second at the District 4 Golf Championships, and advanced to play at the PIAA Championships.
A trio of harriers — Waverly’s Regan Vaughn, and Athens’ Sara Bronson and Ethan Denlinger — punched their tickets to States.
And, the Tioga field hockey team earned a 1-0 overtime win over Newark Valley to snap a 33-game losing streak.
The fall was not all positive, however, as Sayre did not field a football team for the first time since 1912.
This winter, Waverly had one of its best seasons in years on the wrestling mats, advancing to the finals of the Section IV Duals, placing second at the Section IV, Division 2 championships, and sending five wrestlers to States to rejoin the upper echelon of programs in Section IV.
Tioga senior Emily Sindoni continued to lead the sport of girls wrestling in the area, winning her second state title, her second Section IV title, and her second National title.
Waverly’s Makenzie LaForest also won a N.Y. State title, and freshman Anaiah Kolesar brought home a state medal for Athens.
The Waverly boys weren’t the only swim team to excel. The Athens swim teams sent 23 swimmers to the District 4 Championships, with Chris DeForest earning a trip to States.
The Sayre basketball teams both exceeded expectations. The boys posted a 12-10 record and won the program’s first-ever NTL Small School title under first-year coach Jon Ward.
Longtime Athens girls coach Bob Fauver returned to the sidelines after an extended absence, and took over a Sayre program that was 0-15, and not competitive whatsoever, in 2021-22. After an 0-10 start, the Lady Redskins reeled off three wins in a row, and finished the season at 4-18.
The Waverly boys bowling team, a perennial power in Section IV, posted its best finish ever at States, placing fourth. Senior Zach Vanderpool capped a brilliant career with a Section IV gold medal.
The Tioga boys basketball team finished the season strong, knocking off top-seeded Delhi in the Class C playoffs, eventually losing in the title game to Moravia.
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.
This spring, Athens sophomore Sara Bronson was the lone Valley girl to qualify for States, running a school record-breaking 3,200-meter time at the District 4 Track & Field Championships.
Charlie Havens directed the Athens baseball team to an 18-1 regular-season title, and an NTL Large School crown, but the Wildcats fell in the opening game of District play.
Likewise, Waverly baseball reeled off a 17-2 regular-season mark, winning the IAC South Large School crown, as well as the overall IAC Large School Championship, but lost its first playoff game, too.
Sayre baseball missed out on District play for the first time since 2016, but posted a respectable 8-12 record after losing a large graduating class, Lucas Horton via transfer to Athens, and three freshman, who also transferred out of the district.
There were a number of senior standouts who played their final games on the baseball diamond this spring, including Horton, Lister, Luke Kraft, and Cam Sullivan at Athens, Bryce Bailey and Ty Beeman at Waverly, and Zach Garrity and Jackson Hubbard at Sayre.
The Sayre softball team went 2-18, but snapped a 28-game losing streak dating back to May 5, 2021.
The Waverly tennis team posted a 7-3 record under rookie coach Ron Chamberlain. No one knows for sure, but the 7-3 mark may be the best in program history.
The Athens softball team was stripped of three wins by the PIAA for use of an ineligible player — something I’ve never seen happen around here.
The Tioga softball team won its first nine games, but dropped its final eight after a rash of injuries and sickness.
The Tioga foursome of junior Elyse Haney, freshmen Mia Hall and Ava Smolinsky, and 7th-grader Vida Rossi established a new school record in the 400-meter relay, and freshman Gavin Albrecht established himself as someone to watch in the pole vault event the next three years.
As you can see, it was quite a year.
I know I didn’t mention all the seniors this year, but I would like to thank those of you who left everything on the field. You make my job so much easier. Best of luck in college, in the service, or in the work field.
One last question: Can 2023-24 possibly top this year?
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