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FROM THE PRESS BOX: VALLEY SPORTS REPORT KICKS OFF 15TH SEASON OF COVERAGE, AND 2023-24 IS GOING TO BE A DOOZY OF A YEAR (2023-08-14)

Valley Sports Report kicks off its 15th season of high school sports coverage here in the Valley Monday, and I have a feeling it’s going to be another doozy of a season.

There are going to be a lot of new faces trying to replace the likes of Waverly’s Jerrell Sackett, Kennedy Westbrook, Ty Beeman, and Kayleb Bechy, Athens’ Lucas Horton, Mason Lister, Ally Thoman, and Jenny Ryan, Sayre’s Jackson Hubbard and Zach Garrity, and Tioga’s Emily Sindoni, and Reese Howey.

But, there are also going to be a lot of familiar faces back for one last hurrah like Waverly’s Joey Tomasso, Jay Pipher, and Jake VanHouten, and Tioga’s Caden Bellis, Ousmane Duncanson, Gianni Silvestri, Evan Sickler, Drew Macumber, and Valentino Rossi.

One thing that will definitely be different in 2023-24 is the look of Waverly’s sports schedules as it ended its 35-year run in the IAC, and will join the Southern Tier Athletic Conference. Aside from football, the Wolverines will play in a division with Owego, Seton Catholic, Chenango Forks, and Chenango Valley, with its crossover games against Norwich, Oneonta, Susquehanna Valley, and Windsor.

This fall, all eyes will be on Tioga football as it seeks its sixth consecutive Section IV, Class D title (11th in 12 seasons), and third straight state championship.

Just as many eyes will be on Waverly football as it seeks if first-ever repeat as Section IV champions, and the program’s first-ever state title.

Tioga and Waverly will meet at Memorial Stadium for bragging rights on Sept. 8. Get your tickets early!

On the flip side, Athens will look to replace 10 starters, and will do so with first-year coach Shawn Bradley at the helm as he replaces Jack Young, who roamed the Wildcat sidelines for more than two decades.

Sayre, after a year without varsity football, will also have a first-year coach at the helm in Ricky Lindblad.

Football is not the only sport in the fall, and there will be plenty of other things to keep an eye on.

Tioga volleyball will look to repeat as Section IV champs, which would be longtime coach Des Ford’s 10th career title.

Waverly’s Mira Kittle re-wrote portions of the Lady Wolverines’ swimming record book last year, and became the first freshman — girl or boy — to qualify for States, doing so in the backstroke, and the 50-yard freestyle. What will she do for an encore during her sophomore season?

Athens junior Sara Bronson will look to return to the PIAA Cross Country Championships, while Waverly senior Elizabeth Vaughn, and junior Harper Minaker, who qualified in 2021, look to return to the New York State Championships.

There are also several storylines I’ll be tracking on the soccer pitch this season.

And don’t forget about the Athens golf team as it seeks it third straight NTL title.

This winter, the Tioga wrestling program will look to maintain its dominance, not just in Section IV, but in the state. And, it will do returning intact as two-time defending New York State Duals champs — riding a 31-match win streak, and four-time defending team champ at the New York State Division 2 Wrestling Championships.

Waverly graduates four quality wrestlers, but returns a number of good, young underclassmen, and should be able to compete for a wild card spot at the state duals, as well as send a number of wrestlers to the state championships.

Athens graduated just one senior, and received some help through the "transfer portal." The Wildcats should be a solid, but young team.

On the hardwoods, Tomasso, coming off a season in which he averaged 30.9 points per game, will make a run at the school scoring record, and will look to lead the team to its first Section IV title in 26 years.

Tioga advanced to the Class C title game last season, and returns nearly everyone. However, with the classification numbers being adjusted, the Tigers will be in Class B in 2023-24, so instead of battling Moravia for a Section title, they will have to get through Waverly and Seton Catholic.

Athens will look to replace six seniors, and two underclassmen, who provided the vast majority of its points and rebounds last season. However, their JV team won 20 games, so the cupboard is not bare.

Sayre will be young once again, and will also have a new coach at the helm again.

On the girl side, Waverly will be without Kennedy Westbrook, but will have a talented group as it heads into its first season in the STAC.

Athens graduated three seniors, but coach Brian Miller always finds a way to keep his team in the NTL title chase.

In the pool, the Athens girls and boys return a host of District 4 qualifiers, and should be well-represented at Districts again in 2024.

The Waverly boys were hit hard by graduation, leaving senior Liam Wright as the Wolverines’ main hope of keeping a string of state qualifiers alive.

Spring of 2024 could be an interesting one.

The Athens softball team could be fun to watch, and Sayre could be much improved, while Tioga should be in the mix for an IAC championship, and a run at a Section IV title, and Waverly has a lot of young talent, but will likely have a new head coach.

Waverly baseball should be in the mix for a STAC division title, and a run at a Section IV title, while Tioga could make a run at an IAC title.

Athens will look to replace 10 seniors, but big numbers and a quality JV team should keep the Wildcats competitive in the NTL.

Sayre will have a new head coach, and a lot of young players returning, so they’re a bit of a wild card.

On the track, the Waverly boys graduate a pair of sprint aces, but should be well-represented at States again in 2024, while Tioga returns nearly intact looking to repeat as Section IV, Class D champs.

As always Athens will have good athletes, but graduation and transfers have taken away most of their top performers. It will be interesting to see who emerges as team leaders.

On the girls side, Athens’ Bronson and Abby Burgess have a good shot at qualifying for the PIAA Championships, while Waverly and Tioga have a couple girls on the fringe of qualifying for the New York State meet.

On the links, the Tioga boys will look to improve on their runner-up finish at the Section IV Class D Championships.

And, second-year tennis coach Ron Chamberlain will look to improve on Waverly’s 7-3 mark in 2023, which may have been the best in school history, in 2024.

The best thing about high school sports is the unexpected. There will be several storylines in 2023-24 that I didn’t touch on, and some of the ones I touched on may not materialize.

There will be youngsters who emerge (Brendan Cooke, Conner Davidson, Jordan Brown, Declan McKee) that we know about and make headlines, and others we don’t know who will do the same thing.

Things will get real here soon, and I can’t wait. The 15th year of the Valley Sports Report is going to be the best yet.

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