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IAC WRESTLING: TIOGA LOOKING FOR ANOTHER BANNER YEAR IN 2023-24 (2023-12-20)

By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
TIOGA CENTER — Kris Harrington has built Tioga wrestling into the premier Small School program in the state, and there’s no reason to believe anything will change in 2023-24 with the Tigers returning eight state qualifiers from last year.

The Tigers enter the season as the four-time Section IV and two-time New York State Division 2 Duals champions, as well as six-time Section IV, and four-time N.Y. State team champions.

Of course, Harrington and his team doesn’t put any stock in the past.

“Ousmane (Duncanson) said it in an interview during football season, ‘stuff in the past is in the past.’

“It’s great to put the banners on the wall, but we’re looking for something new this season,” said Harrington. “I don’t think it’s fair to compare this year’s team with last year’s team … it’s a new team. I know a lot of the kids are the same, but there’s a different dynamic.

“If we’re down to weight, and we’re in shape, we’re going to be tough to beat,” added Harrington. “The room is very competitive, and if that stays the same for the next eight weeks, we’re a tough out.”

Harrington expects freshman Declan McKee to start at 101 pounds, while sophomores Logan Bellis and Kadin Cole will see time at 108 pounds, with one possibly sliding up to 116 pounds for duals. Sophomore Conner Streeter will also see time at 116.

Senior Levi Bellis will man the 124-pound weight class, with junior Jordan Young, and sophomore Brayden MacWhinnie will also see time there.

Sophomore Jayden Duncanson will be in the 131-pound weight class, while senior Gianni Silvestri will be at 138, seniors Tyler Roe and / or Deakon Bailey will be 145, and seniors Caden Bellis and / or Drew Macumber will be at 152.

“We have a pretty little logjam right there,” said Harrington. “I think you’ll see Caden stay up at 152 for a good chunk of the season.

“That’s four state-placers in two weights; that’s a pretty good little spot for us,” added Harrington.

Senior Ousmane Duncanson and Macumber will be at 160 pounds, with freshmen Max Stauder and James Howey at 170 pounds, junior newcomer Jonah Lamb at 190 pounds, junior Austin Babcock at 215 pounds, and junior Tate MaCauley at 285 pounds.

Freshman Elijah Bellis (145), freshman Bailey Roe (215), and junior Garrett Godfrey (285), and 8th-grader Mark McCane (285) also seeing time.

Harrington is looking for good things from those other than his eight state qualifiers.

“Declan McKee is primed for a nice year,” said Harrington. “He beat the No. 2, No. 3, and No. 5-ranked guys in Section VI last week.

“He looks poised, he doesn’t look like a newcomer,” noted Harrington. “We’re really excited about him.

“Austin Babcock has changed his body, he looks great,” added Harrington. “He’s a lot lighter, and he’s moving a lot better.

Harrington is also excited to see what his upper weights can do this season.

“I’m excited to see what our upper weights can do,

“I think Tate (MaCauley) is primed for a big year, and the other three guys — Garrett (Godfrey), Mark (McCane), and Austin (Babcock) — are grinding every day,” said Harrington.

“Iron sharpens iron in the room, we’ve had that in the lighter and middle weights, and this year we’re having a little bit of that in the upper weights,” he added.

Harrington said the coaching staff is taking a new approach with their big guys.

“Jason Bellis has done a great job … he’s taken the lead with the big guys.

“We’ve changed our operating procedure for the big guys, and I think it’s going to pay dividends, but it’s going to be an adjustment period until we get into January,” said Harrington.

The Tigers got off to a late start as usual with its football team winning its third consecutive state title.

“It’s not our first time with this,” said Harrington. “The football guys just aren’t in (wrestling) shape yet.

“It’s to our advantage that we’ve done this before, and we can draw on that,” he noted. “We’re not going to push guys who are banged up. You try to rush guys back early, then they’re hurt the whole year.

“At end of the day, no one has ever won a state championship in December, but you can lose one pretty easily,” he added. “December doesn’t really concern me because the effort is there.”
 
The Tigers open the 2023-24 duals season tonight at Groton against Horseheads and Groton, then travel to Waverly Thursday, but some of the wrestlers have seen tournament action the last two weeks.

“I like where our team is at now,” said Harrington. “Obviously the unknowns always scare me … it’s Week 4 of competition, but it’s Week 1 for a good chunk of our guys.

“Luckily, those guys who are coming back this week are pretty good, so the moment is not going to be too big.

“As some of our guys saw last weekend, the first time out is tough … the shape is just not there,” noted Harrington. “That’s why I’m happy with the back-to-back (duals), it kind of simulates a two-day tournament. You get a little sore, then you have to come back the next day, make weight, and wrestle when you’re tired and sore.”

The Tigers strength will be in the lower and middle weights, with eight state qualifiers — Bailey, Caden Bellis, Levi Bellis, Jayden Duncanson, Ousmane Duncanson, Macumber, Roe, and Silvestri — returning.

“We have eight guys back who have stepped on the podium at Albany,” said Harrington. “That’s a blessing and a curse, but if you don’t have expectations, then why are we doing this.

“None of these matches are wrestled on paper,” he noted. “What’s nice about it is these guys are prepared to work every single day. To have five or six seniors there leading the charge makes it a lot easier.

“What’s really nice is seeing them try to shepherd some of the young guys, the freshmen and sophomores, into a leadership role because next year, that’s who we’ll be looking to,” added Harrington.

So does Harrington have any concerns?

“There are always things that keep you up at night, whether it’s nagging injuries or what not, but with this group, I’m not worried about effort,” he said. “I think part of it is competition amongst themselves in the room … and competition breeds success.

“On top of that, we’re so fortunate with the (coaching) staff we have here, it’s one of the best in the state,” added Harrington. “That’s top to bottom, starting with the youth program, and having outstanding community and school support.

AROUND SECTION IV
Who can knock Tioga off its Division 2 perch?

“I think it’s the usual suspects — Windsor, Walton, and Walton. I think those will be the tough ones,” said Harrington.

“Locally, we start right off with (Division 1) Horseheads, and Waverly, so we’ll see right where we’re at very early,” he added.

AROUND THE STATE IN DIVISION 2
“I think Chautauqua Lake brings back a lot, and so does Pal-Mac,” said Harrington. “I think those are the two teams to keep an eye on.

“Pal-Mac had two kids move in the district that stiffened their line-up right up — from 152 to heavyweight, they are solid,” he noted. “Chautauqua Lake lost one or two kids, but they bring everyone else back. With growth and everything else, they fill out pretty well.

“I’m really excited for Jan. 7 where we’re going to see a lot of the really, really stout D-1 teams from across the state and Long Island prep schools,” continued Harrington. “I think that will be a good test for us early because we’ll still be coming back.

“Our challenge this year is, get the line-up right, get where we want to be, and then stay healthy,” added Harrington. “At the end of the day, if we’re right we’re going to be tough to beat.”

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IN PHOTO: Front row, from left: Gianni Silvestri, Logan Bellis, Jayden Duncanson, and Tyler Roe. BACK row, from left: Drew Macumber, Ousmane Duncanson, Deakon Bailey, and Caden Bellis. … VSR STOCK PHOTO.


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