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THE FINAL WORD: PUTTING A BOW ON THE 2023 FALL SEASON (2023-12-19)

It was quite a fall season.

As far as New York football, I don’t believe it’s hyperbole to say we’ll never see anything like it again.

It's very conceivable these two programs, with the quality coaches they have at the helm, could win state titles again in the same year, but there will never be another first time.

Two state titles separate by a mere 13 miles is truly unbelievable, except that we were here to witness it.

Tioga was utterly dominant in its march to a third consecutive Class D state title, while Waverly walked through the state playoffs on its way to the program’s first-ever state title — with it stiffest competition coming from Chenango Forks in the Section IV championship game,

Waverly’s Joey Tomasso and Tioga’s Caden Bellis will likely be “Player of the Year” in their respective classes, and will graduate holding nearly every passing record in their program’s record book.

South of the Border, Athens and Sayre both saw more than their fair share of struggles this season, but both have reasons to believe better days are ahead.

The biggest story this side of the Tioga and Waverly football teams was that of Waverly sophomore Mira Kittle, who continued to re-write the Waverly swimming record book, as well as breaking pool and meet records throughout Section IV.

Kittle, who earned a ninth-place medal in the 50 free, swam on a pair of relays at the state meet. She and fellow sophomore Olivia Cheresnowsky were the oldest swimmers on the relays, which says a lot for the future of the Waverly girls swim team.

The shining light in the soccer seasons was Tioga, with both the boys and girls posting the best records in the Valley. The Lady Tigers also notched the only postseason win among Valley teams.

Senior Tyler Roe had a record-breaking season leading the Tioga boys to their first division title since 2015, and sophomore Sophia Haney, and 7th-grader Grace Howey led the Lady Tigers to their first-ever postseason win.

The Athens girls have a great deal of young talent, and should be improved next year. Waverly graduates some key seniors from a 8-6-1 team, but also has a great deal of young talent … they could be a year away in the STAC.

The Waverly boys graduate an experienced group of seniors, so will likely be in rebuilding mode in the rugged STAC, while the Athens boys will continue to look for someone to put the ball in the net.

On the cross country circuit, Athens junior Sara Bronson and Waverly senior Elizabeth Vaughn made return trips to their respective state meets, while Athens freshman Graham Wanck qualified for States in his first varsity season.

With Bronson and Wanck returning, and Waverly junior Harper Minaker and sophomore Mackenzie Chamberlain on the cusp, we could see three (or four) qualify for States in 2024.

Tioga posted the best season among Valley volleyball teams, but saw its season end one win away from a berth in the state playoffs, while Waverly had a solid season in their inaugural campaign in the STAC.

Athens had a down year under coach Heather Hanson, and Sayre’s struggles continued.

Speaking of Waverly’s transition into the STAC, the girls soccer and swim teams posted winning record, while the volleyball team lost a couple of close matches and finished 6-10. Only the boys soccer team really struggled, winning two games.

Ironically, the Waverly girls soccer and volleyball teams saw their season’s end in the postseason against former IAC foes.

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Every year, it saddens me to think there are athletes I’ll never see play again in their fall sport. This year, perhaps more than any before.

It’s sad to think that Joey Tomasso, Jay Pipher, Jake VanHouten, and Jacob Benjamin will play another football game for Waverly. The same can be said for Caden Bellis, Ousmane Duncanson, Evan Sickler, Valentino Rossi, Drew Macumber, Karson Sindoni, Levi Bellis, and Cam Rought at Tioga, as well as Josh Nittinger at Athens, and Kaden Bennett at Sayre.

The same can be said of Tioga’s Layni Whitmore and Megan Vance on the volleyball hardwoods, as well as Peyton Shaw, Ashlen Croft, and Erica Ryck at Waverly. And, Waverly's Paige Robinson, Lea VanAllen, Griff Schillmoeller and Charlie Larrabee, Athens' Mya Toompson, and Alex Campbell, and Tioga's Elyse Haney, Tyler Roe, and Ethan Landmesser on the soccer pitch.

Of course, there are always youngsters who emerge each year, and this year was no different with Athens freshmen Connor Davidson and Graham Wanck, Waverly freshman Ben Shaw, and Sayre sophomore Karter Green, as well as Tioga sophomores RaeAnne Feeko and Audi Zorn, Tioga 7th-grader Grace Howey, Athens sophomore Abby Burgess, and freshmen Delanie Patton and Brinley Nichols, and Waverly 7th-graders Megan Atanasoff, Audrey Kellogg, and Natalie Steck, and Waverly 8th-graders Lauryn Welles, Macie Wheeler, and Kendall Rockwell among the top reasons to look forward to the future.

I always wonder how the next fall, this time the fall of 2024, can be better than the one just completed, but somehow they always seem to measure up. It will be interesting to see if next fall really can measure up to 2023.

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