FROM THE PRESS BOX: FOOTBALL, WRESTLING, STATE MEDALS DOMINATE TOP STORIES OF 2O23
2023 is a year that will not soon be forgotten.
It began with the Tioga wrestling team winning its second straight New York State Duals title, and its fourth straight team title at the New York State Championships, and ended with Tioga and Waverly both winning state titles on the gridiron.
2023 also featured state medals for the Waverly boys swim and track & field teams, as well as record-breaking performances in a myriad of sports, the emergence of new stars, the rise of the Tioga soccer programs, and the return to the gridiron for a proud Valley program.
Without further ado, here are the The Baker’s Dozen (Plus-1) top stories of 2023:13B. Sayre football returns to the gridiron:
For the first time in 112 years, Sayre failed to field a football team in the fall of 2022. This fall, the Redskins returned to action under the lights at the Lockhart Street Bowl.
The season didn’t go as hoped as the Redskins finished with a 1-9 record, but the team did maintain enough numbers to play all 10 games.13A. Tioga becomes a soccer school?:
Obviously I jest, but what the Tioga boys and girls soccer programs did in light of the underlying factors is impressive.
The Tioga boys program was non-existent from 2017-20, and now three years later it won its first division title since 2015.
The Lady Tigers, who struggled to field more than 11 girls the last several years, saw their numbers increase this season. In turn, they won nine games — second-most in program history, and won the first postseason game in program history. The feat is even more impressive considering Tioga also fields teams in volleyball, cross country, and field hockey in the fall.
12. Athens freshman runs his way to States:
As an 8th-grader Graham Wanck won the junior high race at the prestigious McQuaid Cross Country Invitational in Rochester, making a statement he was a runner to watch.
He delivered on that promise this year as a freshman, finishing third at the NTL Championships, and qualifying for the PIAA Championships with a strong showing at the District 4 Championships.11. Girls wrestling taking flight:
With Tioga senior Emily Sindoni, the top-ranked 126-pounder in the nation, leading the way, girls wrestling on both sides of the border saw an increase in numbers, and performance.
Sindoni won her second Section IV title, and her second state title, while Waverly’s Mackenzie LaForest also won a state title.
The Athens girls won duals against Waverly and Horseheads this season — the first two duals ever in Section IV. And, freshman Anaiah Kolesar brought home a state medal for the Lady Wildcats.10. 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 Ethan Denlinger 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.
9. 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 during the 2022-23 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.
In the third game of the 2023-24 season, Sickler scored his 1,000th career point.
8. Waverly wrestling rejoins elite programs in Section IV:
In 2022, we called the Waverly rebuilding process under coach Devan Witman complete after the Wolverines earned a berth in the Section IV Duals, and sent two wrestlers to States.
In 2023, 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.7. 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 closed the book on the IAC, and begins a new one in the STAC in 2023-24.
6. Waverly sprinters keep setting records
: As it did in 2022, Waverly’s boys sprint squad continued to re-write the program’s record book in 2023.
Senior Kayleb Bechy lowered his school record in the 100-meter dash to 10.79 seconds, and 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 lasted 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.5. Sophomore Mira Kittle re-writes Waverly girls swim record book on way to state meet:
Mira Kittle keeps getting better and better, and re-writing record books at Waverly, and throughout Section IV.
Kittle lowered her own records in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle sprints, and the 100-yard backstroke, and was part of record-setting relays in the 200-yard medley, and 200-yard freestyle. She also broke several pool records throughout Section IV.
Kittle swam in three events at States this season, and brought home a 9th-place medal in the 50-yard freestyle, after swimming the second-fastest time during qualifier.4. Senior Jerrell Sackett leads Waverly swim 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.
3. 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.
Including its 3-0 mark in 2023-24, Tioga is currently riding a 34-match dual win streak, and is 96-8 during Harrington’s tenure. The Tigers are 53-3 since the start of the 2017-18 season.2. Tioga football wins third straight Class D state title:
With 21 of 22 starting positions returning heading into the 2023 season it was almost pre-ordained Tioga would win its third straight Class D state title.
We know it’s not that easy, but Tioga certainly made it look easy this season. Aside from its 23-17 overtime win over Waverly, the Tigers’ closest game was a 56-28 win over Delhi in Week 3.
During the postseason, Tioga out scored its opponents by an average of 60-13, with only 14 of the 63 points it allowed in five postseason games scored on the first team defense.1. Waverly football wins first-ever state title:
This storyline began in 2019 when an 8th-grader named Joey Tomasso took his first snap at Waverly.
Two years later, Tomasso directed Waverly to 10 straight wins to start the season, but eventual state champion Chenango Forks ended the Wolverines’ season in decisive fashion in the Section IV, Class C championship game.
Last year, Waverly got over the hump by beating Chenango Forks in the title game, but were soundly beaten in the state quarterfinals by General Brown.
This year, Tomasso & Co. put it all together in decisive fashion, again beating Forks to get out of Section IV, then winning its three state playoff games by an average of 45.7 to 11.3, to earn coach Jason Miller his first state title in 21 years on the Waverly sidelines.