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THE FINAL WORD: PUTTING A BOW ON A HISTORIC 2023-24 (2024-06-23)

When I first started Valley Sports Report, I covered athletes like Athens’ Jarred Gambrell, who cleared 50-feet in the triple jump — a PIAA record, Sayre’s Taylor Skerpon, who was an all-state performer in four sports (football, soccer, basketball, and baseball), Waverly’s Kevin Gorman, an all-state running back and linebacker, and Tioga’s Kara McDuffee, a 2,000-point scorer.

When those four graduated, I was saying to myself: “Now what?”

Within a few years, there was Tioga’s Jesse Manuel, who led the Tigers to their first state football title in 2015 and is still second in the state in all-time rushing yards (8,603), and third all-time in TDs (125), Athens wrestler Brian Courtney, who was a four-time PIAA medalist, and two-time state champion, Sayre soccer ace Chloe Tracy, who finished her career with 105 goals and a District 4 record 129 assists, and Breana Gambrell, who won 11 PIAA track & field medals, including six golds and four silvers.

And then, they were gone.

Again, I thought: now what?

Along comes Waverly’s Alex Tomasso, Sidney Tomasso, Kennedy Westbrook, and Jerrell Sackett, Tioga’s Emmett Wood and Emily Sindoni, Athens’ Rachel Hutchison, and Gavin Bradley, and Sayre’s Brayden Horton.

Year after year, student-athletes step up and fill the void created by graduating seniors.

As I sit at my keyboard this year, I am awed at what I see in terms of seniors, especially at Tioga and Waverly.

The seniors at Tioga, led by three-time state champ Ousmane Duncanson, Caden Bellis, and Gianni Silvestri — all state champion wrestlers, who were also part of the Tigers’ three state football title, three state duals titles, and three team titles (four for Bellis and Silvestri) at the N.Y. State wrestling championships.

The list at Tioga is lengthy: Evan Sickler, Tyler Roe, Valentino Rossi, Drew Macumber, Gavin Fisher, Levi Bellis, Cam Rought, and Karson Sindoni — all multi-sport athletes with impressive resumes.

Caden Bellis and Levi Bellis played on three Section IV championship teams this year — football, wrestling, and golf. The golf team was led by Sickler and Roe.

Their accolades are too lengthy to fully document in this space, but feel free to use the “Search” function.

Waverly had a much smaller group of senior standouts, but had a tremendous amount of success this year.

Joey Tomasso graduated as one of the most prolific passers in N.Y. State history for his career (9,183 yards and 104 TDs) and single-season (3,160 yards and 43 TDs), as well as Waverly’s all-time basketball scoring leader with 1,782 points, and with 177 career 3-pointers.

Tomasso, along with fellow seniors Jay Pipher, Jake VanHouten, and Jacob Benjamin, led the Wolverines to a Section IV and state title on the gridiron, and the program’s first Section IV basketball title since 1996. It was the first time Waverly has won football and basketball titles in the same year.

 Waverly nearly pulled off the trifecta, but was a runner-up on the baseball diamond. Senior Ethan Perry, a transfer from Tioga, played a huge part of the baseball team’s success, and was part of the football and basketball teams as well.

Another Waverly senior, Ralph Johnson, made a tremendous impact this spring, winning three state gold medals at the State Track & Field Championships, then shattering his own record in the 200-meter dash on his way to a third-place finish at the New Balance Nationals.

Johnson leaves Waverly as the 100- and 200-meter dash record-holders, as well as being part of the 400-meter relay record (set last year), along with classmate Micah Chandler, who also was among the fastest sprinters in the state.

Mackenzie LaForest, a pioneer for girls wrestling at Waverly, finished as a state runner-up after winning two state titles, and Elizabeth Vaughn ran her way to a pair of N.Y. Cross Country Championships.

And while I’ve waxed poetic about Waverly and Tioga’s seniors, there are a handful of athletes at Athens and Sayre who also made a mark and will be missed.

Athens senior Evan Cooper led the golf team to its second straight unbeaten NTL title, and was one of five Wildcats to qualify for Districts. He also advanced to States for the second straight year.

Josh Nittinger, Nicholas Jacob, Josh Martin, who missed his senior season due to a knee injury suffered in the football preseason, Connor Mosher, Korey Miller, Mya Thompson, and Ashlyn VanFleet will also leave some sizable shoes to fill at Athens.

Sayre’s Layla Bennett was a trailblazer for girls wrestling, winning District 4 and Regional titles on her way to the PIAA Championships.

Tanner Green, Kaden Bennett, Will Crossett, Meghan Flynn, and Liz Shaw will also be tough to replace at Sayre.

And once again, I say: Now what?

While it’s true these seniors will be missed, there are bunch of tremendously-talented under classmen ready to step into the spotlight.

Athens leads the way with very talented freshman and sophomore classes, with Waverly not far behind, especially when you look at girls sports.

I look forward to seeing what Athens sophomores Abby Burgess, Hannah Rathbun, and Nick Grazul, and freshmen Connor Davidson, Brendan Cooke, Gretchan Hiley, and McKenna Jarvis can accomplish the next two or three years.

Likewise for Sayre sophomores Karter Green and Rylee Lantz, and freshmen Payton Black and Jordan Brown … Waverly sophomores Troy Beeman and Kaitlyn Sutton, freshmen Matthias Welles and Ryleigh Judson, and 8th-grader Lauryn Wells … and Tioga sophomores RaeAnne Feeko, Logan Bellis, and Jayden Duncanson, and freshmen Declan McKee, Jackson Bombard,, Jade Keaty, and Vanessa Tunnicliff, and 8th-grader Kyah Nelson.

I didn’t even mention the juniors waiting in the wings to have their times as seniors, like Waverly’s Xavier Watson, Kolsen Keathley, Addison Westbrook, and Kam Hills … Athens’ Sara Bronson, Addy Wheeler, Emma Renninger and Caleb Nason … Sayre’s Marco Quiros, Nick Pellicano, Abbie McGaughey, Ryan Ressler, Mikey Griffin, and Raegan Parrish … and Tioga’s Tate MaCauley, Garrett Godfrey, Shea Bailey, Brennan Sindoni, Jonah Lamb, and Kali Bailey.

I don’t know if we’ll ever see another class like Tioga graduates this year, and we may not see Waverly enjoy the same success it did this year again, but if I’ve learned one thing from the first 15 years of Valley Sports Report, it’s “never under-estimate the student-athletes and the coaches in this Valley of ours.”

I know I probably missed a notable senior or two, and for that I apologize, but know I enjoyed watching and serving as your scribe the last few years.

Best of luck in your future endeavors, and thank you for providing so many wonderful memories for me, your parents, and the readers.


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