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FROM THE PRESS BOX: STATE CHAMPS, STATE MEDALISTS DOMINATE BAKER'S DOZEN STORYLINES OF 2023-24 (2024-06-22)

I've talked about storylines in the past and how they normally come in one of four realms: the start of a storyline, the continuation of one, the likely culmination of one, or a storyline totally out of the blue.

Tioga football and wrestling three-peat state title runs were dislodged from the top two spots this year in a list that is saturated with record-breaking achievements, and state medals, as well as a return to the gridiron for a once-proud football program.

This year, you’ll notice a few of the storyline are a combination of two seasons pertaining to the same student-athlete.

Without any further ado, I give you, from No. 13 to No. 1, the Valley Sports Report "Baker's Dozen Storylines of the Year:"

13. 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.

The question now is: Which way does this storyline go? Is the next chapter about the re-building program? Or, does another dip in numbers put the program in danger again? Or, does Sayre’s program dissolve and co-op with Athens? It will be interesting to see.

12. Waverly boys bowling post best-ever finish at States: Despite the fact Owego seemed to have its number all season, Waverly defended its title at the Section IV State Qualifier, and made a return trip to the state championships.

The Wolverines, who had five bowlers average 200 or higher on the season, finished second at States to top last year’s fourth-place finish, as well as their third-place finish in 2011.

With three seniors departing the program, this storyline may have run its course, but this is one of the best programs in the Valley, so a sequel in the near future isn’t out of the question.

11. Athens girls wrestling posts impressive season:
The Wildcats were 3-1 in Duals, won a team title at the first-ever District 4 Championships, and finished third at the PIAA Central Regionals, qualifying four girls for States.

During the season, Athens won the Williamsport Showcase, and finished second at the Jarvis Tournament, Southern Tier Memorial, and the Coal Cracker.

More importantly, Athens had 18 wrestlers get at least three matches this season, with 15 of them getting at least 10 matches. And, 16 of those 18 will be back next year.

I have a feeling this storyline has many more chapters to be written.

10. 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.

This spring, Wanck narrowly missed a trip to States, finishing third in the 3,200-meter run at the District 4, Class 3A Championships. He broke the school record in the event by more than 19 seconds, and beat his personal-best by more than 20 seconds.

There’s little doubt, providing he stays healthy, Wanck will write sequels to these storyline the next three years.

9. Tioga golf wins second Section IV title in program history:
This storyline flew under the radar a bit, but the Tigers, who finished third in 2022, and second in 2023 in Class D, won the Section IV, Class C title this year — just the second Section IV title in program history.

With three of their top four golfers graduating, it’s doubtful this storyline continues.

8. Athens’ Bronson finally gets her PIAA medal: After three trips to the PIAA Cross Country Championships, junior Sara Bronson made her second trip to Shippensburg and won her first state medal, placing fourth in the 1,600-meter run.

Bronson also qualified for the PIAA Cross Country Championships in the fall.

Bronson has already had an incredible career, and there’s one more chapter to be written in 2025.

7. 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.

With two years left, there’s no doubt Kittle will continue to re-write the Waverly record book, and break more records throughout Section IV, so this is a storyline you’ll see again and again.

6. Waverly’s Troy Beeman is program’s first state champ since 2015: Beeman didn’t wrestle a match until Jan. 4, but he put together a 12-3 record, including a third-place finish at the Southern Tier Memorial, and a first-place finish at the STAC Championships heading into the postseason.

Once the Section IV postseason began, Beeman was unbeatable. He won the Qualifier B — registering three falls, then won his first Section IV title, scoring two falls, and a 1-0 win in the finals.

At States, Beeman was 4-0, including a pair of overtime wins, including a 9-4 sudden-victory win over Wilson’s William Wortkoetter in the 285-pound finals.

Beeman is only a sophomore, so this storyline could have a couple sequels.

5. Waverly basketball wins first Section IV title in nearly three decades: Waverly dominated Class B in Section IV this season, posting a 14-0 record, and winning 12 of those games by 14 points or more.

The Wolverines won their three Sectional games by an average of 18.3 points, including a 71-45 win over Lansing in the Class B finals. It was the first title for the program since 1996, and the first for coach Lou Judson in his 21 years on the sidelines.

It also marked the only time Waverly has won Section titles in football and basketball in the same school year.

Waverly graduates five seniors from its rotation, but brings back three players with significant experience, and its JV team won a STAC title. This storyline may have another chapter, but it could be the culmination of this senior group’s quest to be the best. Time will tell.

4. End of an era? Tioga wrestling continues its dominance: Ten state qualifiers, including six Section IV champions, and all 10 brought home state medals, including a state champ, three runners-up, and three third-place finishers, and two fourth-place finishers. I don’t think you’ll ever see any team duplicate that anytime soon.

TIoga has won seven straight Section IV, Division 2 titles, and five straight team titles at the state championships, as well as five consecutive Section IV, Division 2 Duals titles, and three straight N.Y. State Duals title.

The Tigers graduate seven seniors, including the program's first-time three-time state champ Ousmane Duncanson, who combined for 919 career wins, and 17 state medals, including six state titles, four second-place finishes, and one third-place finish, but they also return four under classmen who were state place-finishers this year, including sophomores Jayden Duncanson and Logan Bellis, who have five state medals between them — two second-place and three third-place.

Is the end of the storyline? Some of the majors stars of this storyline will be moving on, but Tioga certainly has other stars ready to step up and keep it going. It will be interesting to watch it develop.

3. Tioga 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.

Tioga graduates 13 seniors, so adding a fourth straight state title won’t be easy, but don’t count out Nick Aiello and his coaching staff, who have 11 Section IV titles and four state titles to their credit. Whether it’s another state title, or the end of Tioga’s win streak, which now stands at 41, there is definitely more to be written about Tioga football in 2024.

2. Johnson and Waverly relay bring home three gold medals: Last year, the Waverly sprinters broke records left-and-right, and two seniors — Kayleb Bechy and Jerrell Sackett — graduated, leaving me to write "It will be tough for this storyline to continue with the graduation of Bechy and Sackett, but we could see an individual sprint record or two fall next year."

Well, Ralph Johnson did break Bechy’s record of 10.79 in the 100-meter dash, eventually lowering it to 10.65 seconds. He also lowered his own school record in the 200-meter dash from 21.95 seconds to 21.52.

(Johnson went on to the New Balance Nationals, and placed third in the nation in the 200, lowering his school-record time to 21.08 seconds.)

After a heart-breaking DQ for a false start in the 100 finals at States, Johnson re-regrouped and won the NYSPHSAA gold in the 200, and the Federation gold as well.

Johnson teamed with senior Micah Chandler, who also qualified for States in the 100 and 200, and juniors Kolsen Keathley and Xavier Watson — both transfers from Athens — to put a new 400-meter relay team together this season.

The foursome was unbeaten until finishing second to Horseheads at the STAC Championships, and the State Qualifier. At States, while they didn’t run as fast of a time as last year’s relay, the quartet won a NYSPHSAA gold medal, and was fourth in the Federation race.

This winter, Johnson won every race he ran this season until the state finals, where he finished second in the New York State Public High Schools and in the Federation.

Johnson set a school record with a time of 6.41 seconds at the State Qualifier. He ran a 6.42 at States for the best-ever state finish for a Waverly indoor track athlete.

With the loss of Johnson and Chandler to graduation, this storyline may have come to a conclusion, but you never know.

1. Waverly win first-ever football 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.

While any sequel written won’t include Tomasso or fellow all-stater Jay Pipher, the Wolverines will return enough talent to possibly write another chapter in coach Jason Miller’s storyline in 2024.

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