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Local athletes balance sports, life and work during fair week

Written by Nate Lull
Aug 11, 2022

Throughout the school year I am always thinking about what I should do and where I should go for my annual “athlete on the farm” article. In the past I have picked one athlete and one farm to spend a day with. This year, however, I had a special offer come my way for my fifth annual feature. I was invited to attend the Otsego County Fair in Morris to see what several local athletes do during fair week. On top of that, I learned that I would actually be showing a heifer in the open fall calf class. Let’s just say, I was a little nervous this year.

The idea first began with the Bonczkowski family from G-MU. Hannah Bonczkowski will be a senior this year for the Raiders and is a 3-sport standout. Her older brother, Gavin, will be a sophomore at Wells College this fall. He plays basketball and baseball for the Express and was also a 3-sport star at G-MU. During the summer months, both Hannah and Gavin work on the famous Johnson Farm in Unadilla. If you haven’t been to their farm stand, you are missing out! They have a variety of farm fresh items for sale, and their sweet corn is a local favorite.

If you follow Unatego athletics, you are probably already familiar with the Johnson family. Braeden Johnson will be a junior this year and Xander Johsnon will be a freshman. They are both phenomenal baseball players and helped the combined Unatego/Franklin boys soccer team to a Tri-Valley League championship last fall. Braeden was also a key contributor on the MAC championship boys basketball team for the Spartans last winter.

In order to be ready for fair week, I had to prepare at the Johnson Farm. I visited the farm about two weeks before the big day to meet my heifer, Donut. All four of the local athletes were there to help me learn how to show. I had done something similar once before at the Delaware County Fair in Walton, but that was a very relaxed event with a very relaxed cow. Donut… had different ideas for me. While she was super nice, I could tell right off the bat she had some sass and knew that her new handler could be bossed around. While I struggled at first, my guides were very helpful in my training. Each athlete had some words of wisdom and helped me learn how to control Donut in the ring. All the little steps that go into showing a cow are amazing. From the body language and eye contact you need as the presenter right down to how your animal’s feet are lined up when they stop in the ring, it can be a lot to remember!

Another highlight while I was at Johnson’s farm was watching a new calf being born. Xander jumped right in to help, and I was honored to see this new life come into the world right before me. Who knows, maybe that will be my show calf for next year! After my time on the farm in Unadilla I definitely felt more prepared and excited for my big day.

I made two separate trips to the fair to get ready. I wanted to work with Donut in the actual show ring so we could both get used to it. Practice was going great until the Monday night fireworks show went off, and let’s just say that Donut was not a fan! I survived that moment and then we were really ready for anything.

The actual show day started early for these athletes. I arrived at 7:00 AM and Xander and Gavin had already been prepping since 4:30 AM. Hannah also arrived in the early morning hours. This crew spent hours washing, brushing, and cleaning their animals for the event. My favorite part of the prep was watching Xander become a master barber with his clippers and blow dryer. He was trimming the hair on the very top of the cow to make her top line look tall and straight. These cows looked good! Gavin and Hannah also took turns at this. They were all meticulous on every detail. Donut was looking excellent after her time at the fair salon!

During my time in the barns, I noticed a lot of other local athletes working with their animals. Athletes from G-MU, Morris, CV-S, Richfield Springs, Schenevus, Worcester, Franklin and more. It was interesting to see these locals in a different setting than the court or field. I know many of them, including Hannah, had other practices or work responsibilities during the week to balance. Not only was Hannah up early to do her fair work, she was making late night trips to Binghamton for practice for the BCANY basketball tournament. This goes back to why I originally started doing the athlete on the farm feature. I wanted to show the average fan how hard these athletes truly work.

It was time for my show with Donut. The walk to the ring went well and she seemed calm and relaxed. It seemed like an endless wait before my class began. My biggest fear was that Donut would know this was the perfect time to mess with me, but she was locked in! The walk around the ring was smooth. I tried to remember all my training. Keep eye contact with the judge, walk slow, and keep Donut’s head up. It was going well.

In this open class the judge is primarily looking at the build of each animal and not the showman, but I still wanted to do my best. As we hit the final lineup, she went through and ranked each animal. Donut took sixth place in a really tough class with some very good looking heifers. I breathed a sigh of relief as we headed back to the barn. We had done it, and I had survived!

My time at the fair was a great learning experience for me. I got to see all the work that is put into this one week at the fair. It’s not only the cows but also rabbits, pigs, goats, horses and more. I spent some time with G-MU’s Meg Perrine who shows rabbits with her family. They travel all over the country for different events. The rabbit fur was incredibly soft! Maybe in the future I need to spend more time with that part of the fair.

I have to give a big thank you to all the athletes and families that I worked with this year. They opened their farm lives to me and that is greatly appreciated. Many other families at the fair were also helpful and gave me tips and advice. I can’t say thanks enough. I am already excited for next year! A special thank you to our athlete on the farm sponsor, McDowell and Walker. With locations in Sidney, Delhi and Afton, they have been manufacturing feed for farm animals since 1955.

Here is how the locals who helped me finished:

-Hannah Bonczkowski: Showing Duke. 2nd in 4-H and Open Classes. 2nd in Showmanship.

-Gavin Bonczkowski: Showing Claudelle. 1st in 4-H and Open Classes. Named Master Showman and Supreme Showman for the Otsego County Fair.

-Xander Johnson: Showing Dua Lipa. 1st in Open Class. Honorable Mention Junior Champion.

Photos: All farm photos were taken by Ricky MacPherson. Click the Ricky MacPherson Photos link on my sponsors page for more local sports photos.

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Caden Fortunato: The sheriff of Deposit-Hancock

Written by Nate Lull
Jun 8, 2022

It was a rainy start to the Section IV Class-D Baseball championship game, but it didn’t bother Caden Fortunato. He glared at the batter from under his straight brimmed D-H hat. You could barely see his eyes, but you could still tell he had a piercing focus on the job at hand. All I could think of was an old western shootout in the streets of some dusty, far away town. I chuckled as I thought of “Sheriff Fortunato” protecting the D-H legacy. “Not in my town son” he would say as he fired in another strikeout. Caden finished the day with a no-hitter and nine strikeouts. The Eagles won the Section IV title and the sheriff had saved the day once again.

If Caden is the sheriff of D-H, he certainly has plenty of backup from his deputies on the team. A crew that seems to have endless depth and embraces the “next man up” philosophy. Their record currently stands at 21-0 as they enter the state final four this Friday in Binghamton. “This team is one of the closest teams I have been a part of” said Caden. “We are a group of best friends that plays baseball together. It would mean the world to this community if we could bring home a state title.”

Deposit-Hancock is looking to repeat their magical 2018 run to a state championship. Anything can happen at this point in the season, but they will certainly need another good outing from Fortunato if they want to hoist that plaque on Saturday. “Caden leads by example when he is on the mound” said D-H Head Coach, Ryan Smith. “He pounds the strike zone, mixes his pitches and has that “so what, next pitch” mentality.” Focusing on what you can control and forgetting what you can’t has been key for the Eagles this season.

I keep thinking back to the scowl on Caden’s face as he looks in at a batter. It’s a look of pure intimidation at times. Off the field he is quiet, reserved, and one of the nicest guys on the team. But on the field, opposing batters must be thinking, jeez that guy looks pissed off.

When asked about the fierce look on his face, the sheriff chuckled and said it’s his focus on the task at hand. “I’m just dialed in” said Fortunato. “I have a job to do and I take care of business.” D-H Assistant Coach Devon Bedient agrees. “Caden is locked in and knows how he wants to attack his opponent when he steps on the mound. He is all business when it’s game time. He has his laughs and smiles, but on game day, it’s business.”

Next year another town will need the sheriff’s services as he will head to Alfred State to sling it for the Pioneers. “It was a no brainer for me” said Fortunato. “I love the coach and culture there, and it’s a small town in the country and that is exactly what I was looking for. I also knew I wanted to go for a trade and they have one of the best trade schools in the state.”

It also didn’t hurt that Alfred State has a special family connection for the Fortunato clan. “It means a lot to me that my Dad played there” said Caden. “One of my best friends is also attending Alfred State so it was an easy choice for me.”

In the movies, old western cowboys always seem to have help from a brother when they are fighting off the bad guys. It’s no different for Caden. As he focuses in before every pitch he is looking at his younger brother, Blake, behind the plate. Blake has caught every game for Caden this season. “Playing ball with my brother is one of the coolest things I’ve gotten to experience. The connection and trust is something that only brothers can have.” I also have no doubt that both Caden and Blake look at all their teammates this season as brothers. It’s a tight knit group that has that special bond only small town high school sports can forge.

With the state semifinals approaching, we should get to see the look of the steely-eyed sheriff one more time. “I like to listen to the same three Eminem songs on repeat before every start” said Fortunato. “The music and my pregame routine help me to get locked in.” Eagles fans are hoping that focus will be there for all their boys as they look to bring home another title to D-H nation. In fact, if all goes well it could be a double celebration as the Deposit-Hancock softball team is also playing in the state semifinals on Saturday.

A championship by either team would certainly start a big celebration for these small towns. “All the time these athletes put in, the summer ball and the open gyms in the winter months, it means a lot to these two communities” said Coach Bedient. “Success doesn’t come easy and they have put in a lot of work.”

So if any of the other teams in the state baseball final four think they are just going to ride in and have an easy go against D-H, they better think again. Sheriff Fortunato and his band of deputies will have a thing or two to say about that.

Photo: Deposit-Hancock’s Caden Fortunato looks in at the plate in the NYS Regional round against Morrisville-Eaton. Photo credit to Benjamin Patton of The Reporter. Click The Reporter photo link on my sponsors page for more local sports photos.

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Norwich point guard finally gets the headline she deserves

Written by Nate Lull
Apr 14, 2022

The high school basketball season has been over for almost a month now, but there is one story idea I couldn’t get out of my head. Throughout the season I report on schools from all over our area and try my best to highlight their accomplishments. As with most sports, the athletes that score a lot or play with a flashy style get most of the headlines and attention. However, in this case I wanted to give credit to an athlete I thought personified the word “team” and made several personal sacrifices so that her team could win. That athlete is Norwich point guard, MacKenzie Hess.

MacKenzie has been involved with the basketball program at NHS since she was in elementary school. “I started off going to the first shot basketball camp when I was little” said Hess. “Then I became the team manager when I was in sixth grade and then I started playing on varsity in tenth grade.”

When you watch MacKenzie play, you can tell the type of passion she has for this program. “She is so team oriented” said Norwich Coach Josh Bennett. “She only cares about group success and does whatever it takes to make that happen. She personifies sacrifice, responsibility, work ethic and integrity. I couldn’t be happier with her personal progress during her time here.”

It is these little sacrifices that have helped the NHS program maintain a standard of excellence during MacKenzie’s time on the floor. She has been a part of two Section IV championships and was robbed of even more success during the COVID pandemic. It would be easy in future years to look back on these teams and talk about the big scoring threats this program has had in recent memory. Names like Halea Eaton, Taylor Hansen, Margaret Dougher, Emily Evans, Abby Flynn and many more come to mind when talking about these teams. Behind all those names was a small point guard who was distributing the rock, diving on the floor, playing scrappy defense and running until her lungs were on fire in the vaunted Norwich press. It was these qualities that stood out to me.

Norwich Athletic Coordinator, Rich Turnbull, noticed these attributes as well. “She got everything she possibly could out of her ability” said Turnbull. “She has a quiet, determined way about her. She isn’t flashy and doesn’t thrive off personal success. MacKenzie does all the little things that aren’t noticeable but makes her team great. She is easy to cheer for.”

All these “little things” have left a lasting impression on the NHS program. “This senior class leaves behind a legacy of winning” said Bennett. “You have to wonder how much more they could have accomplished without the pandemic.”

Hess deflects the attention when you ask her about it. “We were just another chapter in the continuing success of Norwich girls basketball,” said Hess. “We might get a little more attention because we won the section, but I look at it as we just kept the tradition going that was started by past teams.”

Basketball success runs in the family for MacKenzie. Her mom, Cheri (Peck) Hess, is a Section IV Hall of Famer who led the Mount Upton girls basketball team to the New York State Class-D championship game in 1986. That team was coached by the legendary Bob Conway (now at B-G). Cheri was instrumental with helping to get the girls team started at MU after playing her seventh grade year on the boys team. She earned 14 Varsity letters over her five years with the Mounties and finished with 1,071 career points. “I really admire my mom for what she did with basketball” said MacKenzie. “It’s awesome she had such an impact at her school with girls athletics”.  

Cheri now spends most of her free time watching MacKenzie play basketball and soccer at NHS. Before that she enjoyed following MacKenzie and her older daughter, Jordan (now studying at SUNY Geneseo), who also played a variety of sports for the purple and white. “I love their passion for the game” said Cheri. “It is more special than I can describe. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it now. As a parent, the highs and lows, the nervousness before games are more than I ever felt as a player. I am so proud of them on and off the court.”

Another motivating factor for MacKenzie on the court and in life is the loss of her father, Alan, in November of 2019. “My Dad was always pushing me to be the best athlete I could be” said Hess. “My sophomore year was definitely rough, I was thrown into being the starting point guard and then losing him, it was hard. However, I was able to get through that year with the help of my teammates and coaches. They helped me deal with the pain. I tend to still think about him when I am playing today.”

MacKenzie is graduating from NHS this spring but her basketball career isn’t done yet. She will be playing next year at Division-III Medaille College in Buffalo. “It is very exciting” said Hess. “What is also great is that so many of my teammates are going on to play as well. Margaret at St. Lawrence, Emily at DeSales and even Maddy Morris playing club volleyball at St. Bonaventure. I can’t wait to see what they all accomplish in college.”

Years from now I hope that people will look back and remember all the great things this Norwich team accomplished and I also hope they remember the tough point guard that was one of the quiet leaders on the team. “No one, and I mean no one deserves this more than Kenz.” said Bennett. “She is a fantastic representative of what high school athletics is all about, playing for your teammates and your school.”

I think Kenz summed it up best. “I take pride in embracing whatever I need to do in order for our team to win. We talked multiple times as a group about doing whatever it takes to win, all personal goals aside. I just wanted our team to succeed. I didn’t care what it meant for me. I definitely like being the kid on the team that can fit into any role we need.”

In her senior season MacKenzie averaged 10.1 points per game, a jaw dropping 9.2 assists per game, 4.7 steals per game, and 3.8 rebounds per game. She also shot 40.8% from the field and 31.3% from three-point land. Add those stats to her all-out play and I would say that definitely deserves one final high school headline. Good luck in college MacKenzie!

Photo: Norwich guard MacKenzie Hess dribbles the ball at the Broome County Arena in Binghamton during the Section IV championship game. Photo credit to Ricky MacPherson. Click the Ricky MacPherson Photos link on my sponsors page for more local sports photos.

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B-G sophomore sensation Ethne Degan; burning up a track near you

Written by Nate Lull
Mar 9, 2022

If you are a regular visitor to my website you may have noticed the lack of new articles recently. Basketball season definitely got the better of me this winter and there just aren’t enough hours in the day to keep up. During this busy time, I kept thinking about one story I wanted to share. It was about a young local runner that has been smashing records left and right. It was about a runner that inspired me with her effort and dedication to a sport that can often be overlooked.

Ethne Degan has been running at the varsity level at Bainbridge-Guilford since she was in seventh grade. That is not something you normally see in any high school sport, but especially not in track. “When I was four years old and my brother had just been born, my mom would take us down to the track and I loved to watch Robb Munro’s track team practice” said Ethne. It seems like her love for running started right there and only continued to grow with time. “When I was eight, I was in a summer program and one of the counselors timed me doing a mile in 8:00.” For any non-runners out there, let’s just say that is an extremely good time for an eight year old!

B-G coach Nick Mayo remembers the buzz when the community started to notice that this incredible young athlete was living in their district. “Most people who saw Ethne run in elementary school could tell she was very talented” said Mayo. “After her first race as a seventh grader, she went on to win the next five 1,500 meter races she entered. That was a pretty good sign of things to come.”

Since that time Ethne has continued to take the local high school scene by storm. Runners who were juniors and seniors told me how nervous they were to race against her, and other coaches have ventured guesses at what colleges might come calling for her down the road. However, if you aren’t plugged into the local cross country or track world, you might not realize that the girl running down Route 7 is one of the brightest young stars in all of Section IV.

One thing you don’t have to question about Ethne is her willingness to train. “Ethne has a fantastic work ethic” said Mayo. “She works hard in practice and competitions. She is a leader who demonstrates an eagerness to work for the benefit of the team. Outside of practice it is not uncommon to see her out for a long run around the streets of Bainbridge.”

Some recent accomplishments for Ethne include a personal best in the 1500 (4:49) and the 3000 (10:23) at the indoor state championship meet in Staten Island. On top of that, she helped her team to a Section IV Division-II title and was individual champion in the 1500 and 3000. Ethne was also invited to run in the Emerging Elite mile race at the Nike Indoor Nationals this upcoming weekend. Her cross country season concluded with a 14th place finish at the state meet in Class-C, earning her a medal for her efforts.

Despite all this success, Ethne has bigger goals for her time left at B-G. “I’m shooting to get the 1500 school record as well as the 3000 MAC record” said Ethne. “I would like to medal at states for track and field and better my placement at the cross country state championships. I also tried steeplechase for the first time last spring and would like to hit the super qualifying mark for state championships in that.”

Coach Mayo shared an interesting story about Ethne and her relationship with the steeplechase race. “One recent memory I have about Ethne was her unwillingness to run the steeplechase until last year” said Mayo. “She finally decided to give it a try, and in her first attempt she broke the school record and the all-time MAC record which was held by former B-G and D1 college runner, Kati Holowacz.” As someone who ran steeplechase in high school and knows how hard it is, this story absolutely blew me away.

As a runner it can become easy to only focus on logging miles, but Ethne has done the opposite of that. “She is a fantastic student” remarked Mayo. “She is always on top of her academics. She is involved in orchestra, jazz ensemble as well as taking piano lessons privately.”

In addition, Ethne participated in Irish step dancing (“like Riverdance” she says) for the Carle School of Irish Dance in Endicott for seven years. She competed at the highest level as an open champion dancer and qualified for nationals three years in a row. While she recently made the difficult decision to stop dancing competitively, she does think it helped her become a successful runner at a young age. “I do think dance played a huge role physically as well as mentally for me” said Ethne. “It built up my leg strength and flexibility and I also learned about being self motivated and how important hard work is. I can’t thank my dance teachers enough!”

As with any runner, Ethne is not without her pre-race routines. “I always have to eat eggs and bacon before a meet” she said. “My coaches also always tease me about my pre-race race to the bathroom” she said with a laugh. Coach Mayo chimed in sharing that “part of her routine is putting on her spikes. I don’t know if I have ever seen anyone put on spikes slower than she does before a race. It seems like as race time gets closer she moves even slower” he said with a smile.

Ethne is an all around great runner who inspires her team, coaches, community and me! I am currently training to run the Boston Marathon on April 18th. There have been many cold, windy and snowy mornings lately where I am sitting by the door staring at my shoes. While I am tempted to think of every excuse to stay inside and avoid the cold, I think of other athletes and to Ethne for the effort she puts into her training. I anticipate she will be running marathons and maybe even ultras someday. That helps me get up the courage to lace up my shoes and brave the cold one more time.

The future is bright for Ethne and even if you aren’t a “track person”, do yourself a favor and get to a meet before she graduates so you can witness the effort, grit and the magic for yourself.

Photo: Bainbridge-Guilford’s Ethne Degan comes in for another victory this past cross country season. Photo credit to Benjamin Patton of The Reporter. Click The Reporter photo link on my sponsors page for more local sports photos.

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Kara Dumas, Gilboa golf standout and Delaware League hidden gem

Written by Nate Lull
Dec 17, 2021

One of my favorite parts of covering small school sports is getting to know athletes who live in places that some might consider "off the beaten path." Such is the case with many Delaware League schools, including Gilboa-Conesville. There is a certain charm to living in a rural small town but it doesn't always make it easy to participate in activities like travel sports or to get on a college coach's radar. I find that Class-D athletes often have to go above and beyond to find ways to improve their game outside of school sports. One athlete that fits into this category is Wildcats standout, Kara Dumas.

Kara plays four sports at GCS including soccer, basketball, softball and golf. While she is a team leader in all four, I wanted to focus on her recent accomplishments on the golf course. The Delaware League only offers boys golf each fall. For a girl who wants to participate, she has to play against the boys. "It was definitely intimidating when I was younger" said Kara, who started playing in second grade. "My advice to girls that might be interested in playing golf is to not be intimidated by anyone playing around you. I started to realize that I shouldn't be afraid of boys and that I should aim to beat them, and eventually I did."

The Wildcats have been co-champions of the Delaware League in 2019 and 2021 with Kara playing a big role on those teams. She finished with the third best score in the league tournament this year with an 86. She chipped in for birdie on the 17th hole and parred the 18th hole to secure her spot in the top three. Her coach and Dad, Andy Dumas (who has been teaching at GCS for 28 years and coaching golf for 16 years) was very proud of her performance that day. "It's funny because I don't like to follow her on the course" said Dumas. "It's too stressful for me but that is one of my favorite memories from her career."

She credits her success on the golf course to setting goals over the years. "I wanted to break 90 for 18-holes this year and I was able to do that three different times because I believed in myself and kept trying to improve my game." Kara is being humble here when in fact she was handling a hectic schedule as she worked on her golf dream. "My wife, Michelle, and I are amazed at Kara's ability to manage all her obligations " said coach Andy. "At one point, she was playing softball, was in the school drama production and was playing AAU basketball for Daphne Thompson's team. She would go to softball practice after school, attend drama rehearsal directly afterwards until she had basketball practice in Oneonta (an hour away). We would drive in the car with the interior lights on she could do homework to and from Oneonta."

It's this type of dedication that has allowed Kara to become a Delaware League all-star in every sport she has played. This includes being named a first team all-star this year in golf. Her performance made her eligible for the Section IV girls state qualifier. If she plays well she could make the state team. She also played in the qualifying tournament as a ninth grader, before COVID-19 canceled the last two tournaments.

It wasn't always easy for Kara. "When she first started playing on the varsity team as a seventh grader, that was difficult at times" said Andy. "If she was matched up with older players, they wouldn't speak to her, making for a lonely round." As time went on Kara accepted the challenge and grew to enjoy her role as the underdog. "Now I love playing against the boys" said Kara. "It's fun to joke around with them and even more fun when I beat them."

Kara isn't the only girl making waves in the Delaware League golf world. Her good friend, Gwen Glennon, from Hunter-Tannersville has become a valued partner on the course. "We have really bonded over the years with golf and with playing other sports against each other" remarked Kara. "Sometimes we both needed a break from the boys so it was nice to have her there. It's been amazing to have a friend with similar interests."

I should note here that I could also easily write articles featuring H-T's Gwen Glennon and former Unadilla Valley standout Bailey Shoemaker. Both have been tremendous advocates for the local girls golf scene. Shoemaker has an absolutely incredible story as she is committed to Division-1 USC to play golf in college. Make sure to keep an eye out for future coverage on Glennon and Shoemaker.

Speaking of college golf, Kara is looking to play at the Division-3 level and hopes to make the SUNY Cortland team while studying physical education. "She made great strides this past summer and hopefully she can continue that if she wants to play in college" said Andy.

Kara took a big step during the COVID pandemic in order to improve her odds of getting on a college team. "She was looking for ways to fill the void of losing sports seasons" said Andy. "She took up weight training in our basement and the only outdoor activity available was golf. She has always had a good swing, but with a new muscular stature, she was hitting the ball a lot farther. We traded in her clubs, got fitted for new ones that aligned with her swing speed and began lessons in Clifton Park. By summer, she was playing almost every day."

Some work off the course helped Kara improve as well. "Through her instructor and watching female collegiate golfers on YouTube, she began to think about the game more strategically." said Andy. "That also made a big difference."

It certainly seems like Kara has a bright future ahead in the golf world. Looking back I had to ask her what her favorite Gilboa golf memory was. "Definitely my last match at Stamford when we played Roxbury" she said. "I shot my best round of 9-holes ever, a 40, and we became league co-champions." Sounds like a pretty special day to me!

Right now you can find Kara on the basketball court and this spring she will be back in the pitchers circle on the softball field as she wraps up her time at GCS. "The Gilboa community has always meant so much to me when it comes to sports, drama club, and band or chorus" said Kara. "I can never thank them enough for all the years of support."

Gilboa might be off the beaten path, but what a special place to grow up and learn life lessons through sports and clubs. Having your Dad at all your matches is a nice perk too. "Having my Dad as my coach has made us pretty much inseparable" said Kara. "I've had a front row seat for much of Kara's development and success" said Andy. "Switching over to coach my daughters was the best decision I ever made for me and for my family."

Photo: Gilboa's Kara Dumas tees off during her senior golf season. Photo submitted by the Dumas family. Photo editing by Benjamin Patton of The Reporter. Click The Reporter photo link on my sponsors page for more local sports photos.

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Whitney Point Field Hockey brings home 7th state title

Written by Nate Lull
Nov 16, 2021

The long, bumpy school bus ride to Long Island this past weekend was well worth it for the Whitney Point Field Hockey team. The Eagles capped a perfect season at 18-0 with a 6-1 victory over Hoosick Falls (Section 2) at Centereach High School. WP added another chapter to the rich history of their program with the seventh state title in school history and the sixth since 2014.

To say that The Point was dominant this season is an understatement. They outscored opponents 43-1 from the start of the sectional tournament and put up 17 goals in two games at the state final four. They defeated Pierson (Section 11) by a score of 11-0 in the state semis before dispatching Hoosick Falls in the title game. In fact, Whitney Point’s 17 goals were more than all the other teams in the state final four combined, regardless of class. The other 11 teams across three classes scored a combined 15 total goals.

Hoosick Falls came ready to play in the title game and when the Panthers tied it at 1-1 midway through the second quarter you had to wonder if doubt was creeping into the minds of the Eagles. “This team doesn’t get rattled very easily” said Whitney Point Coach Nicole Huston. “Hoosick Falls got that goal and it just made us come together and get stronger. That’s how it has been all season.”

After that moment Whitney Point was in full control of the action and went into the halftime break with a 2-1 edge. That quickly ballooned into a 6-1 lead by the end of the third quarter after the Eagles took full advantage of their opportunities. WP had 17 corners on the day and their execution was flawless. “We try to teach our players to be students of the game” said Huston. “We can make changes on the fly and it doesn’t allow your opponent to read you. We actually didn’t call any set plays in that second half. That was all based on the kids reading the defense and playing pickup ball. It’s really fun to watch those connections.”

Hoosick Falls couldn’t just focus on stopping one player either. While marking Ohio State commit, Brenna Bough (seven goals, six assists in the state final four) is probably at the forefront of every coach’s game plan, there are so many other pieces to be aware of. Kaylie Lynch finished the weekend with seven goals and Taylor Petrie buried two goals in the championship game. Reese Abrahamson dished out two assists in the semis, and the defensive unit was rock solid – only giving up a total of seven corners in the final four.

It felt like a long time coming for this Whitney Point team to get back to the top. After winning five state titles in a row from 2014-2018, the Eagles were stunned by a loss to Greene in the sectional playoffs in 2019. Add in a year away from play due to COVID-19 and it feels like it has been forever since we last saw the Eagles at the state tournament. “We have been giving 110% and building our team since that loss” said Bough. “But it didn’t just come on the field, it was also our relationships off the field, something we call ‘ohana’. We all look at each other as sisters. All those things together have helped us grow and constantly push each other. That is what makes Whitney Point Field Hockey.”

Speaking of their bond off the field, the trip to states wasn’t without a few shenanigans from the Eagles players. “Coach Huston was really on us about eating healthy” said Bough. “So we tried to order a cookie cake with DoorDash and get it delivered to the hotel. Of course her and coach Dani caught us trying to smuggle it in. You can’t get anything past those two” said Brenna with a smile.

Bough had an incredible season (48 goals and 29 assists) to lead this team back to states and coach Huston speaks highly of her. “Brenna is a ball of fire” said Huston. “Her intensity and drive is unmatched. Her skill set is beyond the high school level and she is only a junior. I love coaching her because it is a challenge for both of us. We know she can dribble through anyone but her growth happens when she connects with her teammates and we string together a set of passes which results in goals or corners. Every game she has one to three defenders on her and she can still create.”

Huston is quick to give the rest of the team credit as well. “We were only up one goal at the half in the title game” said Huston. “I told the girls it will take all 24 of you to make this happen. Are you willing to do that? They all said yes right away.” Bough agreed with Huston. “Without all 24 girls on this team and our amazing coaching staff, we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this huge goal of ours.”

Bough also mentioned that she thought Kaylie Lynch was the unsung hero of the weekend. “She’s the quiet one” said Brenna. “You wouldn’t see it coming with her. She never takes the fame even if she deserves it. Kaylie was great and really everyone was an unsung hero to me over those two games.”

Huston was in agreement. “Kaylie is a consistent, quiet player who most overlook because she isn’t a flashy player. She has a history of coming up big for us in postseason games and she will be a great addition to any college program.” In the end, Huston kept going back to the fact that this title was all about the team. “The entire group was willing to work together to achieve this goal. They all made personal sacrifices for the better of the team.”

The Eagles graduate eight players from this state championship squad, but they will bring back a strong core group, including Bough, for the 2022 season. One would have to assume that WP will be heavy favorites for making another trip to Long Island next fall.

Photo: Whitney Point Field Hockey players celebrate after the final horn in the state championship game. Photo credit to Ricky MacPherson. Click the Ricky MacPherson Photos link on my sponsors page for more local sports photos.

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SK Soccer continues the tradition with another trip to the final four

Written by Nate Lull
Nov 12, 2021

It’s not uncommon for me to hear this in my sports travels, “Nate, you sure do spend a lot of time covering South Kortright.” My general response goes something like this, “Well, they just keep winning.”

Since I started my job at WCDO in 2014, I have covered several SK teams in the state tournament including boys and girls soccer, boys and girls basketball, and baseball. Some of these teams have made it multiple times since then, and this year’s boys soccer team can now be added to that list. They became the third group from SK to make it this far, following in the footsteps of the teams from 2016 and 2017. This is their story.

The 2021 edition of the Rams boys soccer team started out just like many others with a championship in the Stamford Mayor’s Cup. This was SK’s seventh straight tournament title and even with some new faces on the field, you could tell Kortright was going to be strong again. “We did get off to a good start at Mayor’s Cup” said longtime SK Coach Bob VanValkenburgh. “But after that we stalled out for a little while and we were trying to figure out how to fix it.”

A mid September 3-1 setback on the road to rival Margaretville certainly got a lot of people talking. Could SK be beaten this year? Around this same time the Rams had a tie against a feisty Worcester team in the Chic Walshe Tournament in Davenport. It took PK’s to advance to the championship game. Waiting for SK was Section-III powerhouse, Cooperstown. The Hawkeyes are the only other local team still playing this weekend as they are in the NYS Class-C final four. “That was a 1-1 game with 20 minutes to go” said VanValkenburgh. “Even though we came up short, I think that game helped the guys believe that we could play with the top teams.” Coop pulled away late for a 3-1 victory, but it was clear that SK had turned a corner.

Legendary Cooperstown Coach Frank Miosek recently gave me his thoughts on South Kortright. “They are one of the best, if not the best team we played this season”. At the time of this conversation, the Rams were warming up just one field away for their state regional game with Belleville Henderson. The Panthers were the Section-III champs and were undefeated coming into the contest. “Do you think SK can play with those guys?” I asked. “Oh I think they will win” said Miosek with a sly grin, as if he knew something nobody else did. “I talk with Bobby a lot and they will be just fine.” Two hours later the Rams finished off a 1-0 win over BH and all I could do was shake my head. Never doubt Frank and Bob Van I thought to myself. They always have a trick or two up their sleeves.

On a quick side note, how ironic is it that SK and Cooperstown are both in the final four for soccer and also both won sectional championships for baseball this past spring? You have to think that all these big games have become second nature to both squads. “I feel like the success of baseball has made us stay calm in games” said SK senior Patrick Dengler. “It has also helped our bond and team chemistry for sure.”

Now back to soccer. VanValkenburgh also thought the mid-September rough patch was a key turning point for the Rams. “I talked with Frank before that game and we both agreed, we go to the Chic Walshe to hopefully play each other. It always helps both sides and we have such a good relationship.” After the loss to Cooperstown, this Rams team has been on a roll, as they haven’t lost a game since. Adding in some new drills at practice, a few small tweaks to the formation and the leadership of a core group of seniors has helped the Rams flourish.

One of those seniors is Logan Firment. A leader that Bob Van and other players rave about. “He came up in eighth grade and has been around a ton of big games” said VanValkenburgh. “He sets the tone for us, holds guys accountable and leads by example. When things got tough it would have been easy to start pointing fingers and finding excuses, but guys like Logan made it easy to get everyone to buy in.”

Firment was honored by the praise, but quickly turned his attention to the other leaders on the team. “The seniors really stepped it up in practice, pushing and motivating the younger players” said Firment. “We knew that if we worked our tails off the rest of the team would push it to that next level too. It has really helped with our conditioning and skills.”

What the Rams were really buying into was a renewed emphasis on sticking to the basics. “We put in some drills to be more physical, get that competition going and use our size to our advantage” said VanValkenburgh. “We also wanted to start making better passes and communicating better. It has all really paid off.”

From my perspective, it is a brand of soccer that has always served SK well. They use their strength to their advantage whenever possible. “Our whole team takes pride in playing physical and sacrificing our bodies for a 50/50 ball” said senior defender Dengler. “We have that mentality that we are going to get every ball.” Another part of the game that improved for the Rams was passing. Junior Jadyn Sturniolo summed it up well. “Coach Van really made us get in-depth with getting good touches and good passes instead of just sending the ball sky high. In my opinion, it’s a great way to play the game and it has helped us win.”

Several players mentioned a common theme in regards to their recent success. That theme was communication. “We weren’t talking enough” said senior Jacob Morton. “We weren’t on the same page with what was going on and that Margaretville game was a wake-up call for us.” Dengler agreed with Morton. “Coach Van made a few changes to the lineup, moved Logan up front and pulled my brother Darren to the back and since then we have had a ton of energy and we have been a solid unit.” Senior Damien Gloster, one of the most improved defenders also chimed in. “We really do take pride in our defense and I am glad we started becoming more of a well-oiled machine” said Gloster. “Nobody ever talks about how defense wins games but since we have been communicating more we have been holding teams down and helping our team to find success.”

Let’s get back to Firment for a minute. I recently wrote an article about Harpursville football player, Luke Merrill. I mentioned that he was so naturally strong that it was incredible and that he looked like he could chop down a tree with one swing of an axe and might also wrestle bears for fun in his free time. Well the same could be said for Firment and really the rest of the SK defense too. This team has size to go along with skill and that never hurts. One might attribute it to a strong Delaware County upbringing where you fill your days with hunting, fishing, throwing hay and playing sports. Whatever the case might be, I wouldn’t want to mess with the SK backline. The bears of Delco might be in trouble if a wrestling match ever breaks out in the woods. But seriously, back to the soccer talk...

From the moment the word came down that SK would face Section IX champion, Mount Academy, the talk immediately went back to 2017. The Rams faced the same opponent on that trip to Middletown and ended up on the wrong side of a 6-0 setback. That team from the Mount was loaded with talent and ended up being co-champs with Chazy (who is also in this year’s final four and is looking for their tenth title in school history). Several players from that MA squad also went on to high level college soccer careers, not something you see every day at the Class-D level. “We know they are going to be tough again” said VanValkenburgh. “But I also told my guys this is a different team, it’s not 2017 anymore, that game doesn’t matter. We have to believe.”

Coach Van also pointed out that this group has a lot of balance on the scoresheet. “In past years we might have one or two guys with a bunch of goals but this year we have five or six guys with 10, 11, 12 goals each. It isn’t flashy but it works for us.” VanValkenburgh also praised the play of goalie, Adam Champlin. “He just keeps getting better and better for us back there.”

The history and tradition are so rich at SK. Does that make these guys nervous? “It’s more motivation than pressure” said Firment. “Looking at all the trophies that SK has just makes our team hungry. It also helps that everyone is behind us. The fans, parents, community… they all make playing sports fun.” Dengler shared similar thoughts. “Our families and friends are at every game, even other teams around the league. The Downsville boys and Roxbury girls soccer teams have been at our sectional games providing support and to see all these schools from our area pulling for us, I think it’s pretty amazing.”

Another part of that tradition and history is having a leader like Coach VanValkenburgh. “Playing for Coach Van is an amazing experience” said Morton.“He knows how to put a team of boys together and push them through rough patches and every guy on our team respects him for that.” Morton continued, “To me he is more than a coach, we all look at him as a friend because he knows the potential of his guys and he will push you to make you better.”

This 2021 team grew up watching some extremely successful groups before them. Names came up like Stanley Andersen, Derek Burns, Tyler Lamport, Derek Firment, Chris Champlin and Dawson Darling. One name came up more than all the others and that was the famous Griff Metzko. “We all looked up to Griff when we were younger” said Dengler. “He always gave 110% at whatever he did.” Morton echoed these thoughts “Griff is my cousin and he had great sportsmanship and class. He was someone I wanted to be like when I was older.” Even Coach Van got in on the love for Griff. “He is such a great young man” said VanValkenburgh. “We still rely on him even today. He helped me scout Belleville Henderson and he joked with me that ‘he better not screw this up’, he is always around to help if we need.” Griff now works for the NY Power Authority. A job that several Rams on this team have mentioned they would love to have some day.

One last thing on Griff. The tradition of the long SK throw-in still lives on today. Griff was one of many that could hurl the ball into any goal mouth to give the Rams a chance on net. Like Jon Kenchen before him, Chris Champlin after him, and Logan Firment on this year’s team. It is still a dangerous weapon for Kortright. Who knows, maybe one of those golden throws could be the difference this weekend.

My final thoughts on this SK team is that these guys all looked up to older players and they have continued that by giving back to the younger kids of today. A few photos recently surfaced on Facebook of Logan Firment standing with younger SK players. Logan had on his white soccer jersey and the younger kids had on his blue jersey. The size difference was staggering, and it really did look like Logan was some sort of Greek god standing next to these star struck kids. Most importantly though is that these young players were catching the “SK fever” and would want to keep the tradition going in the future.

“As a kid I was always helping coach Van at practice, no matter what sport it was” said Firment. “I always looked up to those guys and they made me the player I am today. So I try to carry on the tradition of little kids at SK falling in love with sports at a young age.” He continued, “Also being a good role model is special to me, it shows a lot about your character as a person and athlete when you do something to make a little kids day.”

The twists and turns of the season for the 2021 South Kortright Rams have been very fun to watch from the outside. It is a team, school and community filled with special people who have a passion for sports that is unmatched. It has been my honor to cover them. No matter what happens in this rematch with Mount Academy, this year’s edition of the Rams can hold their heads high knowing they kept up the proud tradition that many others established before them. And maybe, just maybe, they can add another state championship trophy to the case back at SKCS.

Photo: South Kortright’s Logan Firment celebrates after a Rams goal at the WNSC in Oneonta. Photo credit to Benjamin Patton of The Reporter. Click The Reporter photo link on my sponsors page for more local sports photos.

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Quitting is not an option for Margaretville Soccer

Written by Nate Lull
Nov 9, 2021

It’s hard to put into words the conditions at the 2021 Delaware League championship game on October 16th. A rainstorm moved in as the teams began warming up, and all I can really say is that it was absurd. I think Forrest Gump said it best, “We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin’ rain and big ol’ fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways and sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath.” This particular Saturday in October seemed to have all that and more as Roxbury and Margaretville got set to play for the crossover title. Sure the weather would take the headline on this day but there was something else that struck me about this Margaretville team before the game even began.

The Blue Devils were starting the championship game with just 10 players (one player short of the usual 11). I can’t remember another example in recent history where a team started such an important game shorthanded, but this wasn’t anything new for MCS. They had played almost half of their season with less than 11. “We had 14 players when we started the season,” said Margaretville Coach Toni Smith, “but between several injuries and illnesses we were down to 11 and then 10 before our first game. We quickly had to regroup and figure out what we were going to do.”

What the team decided was to adopt a new attitude with warm-up shirts to match. “The girls wanted to wear fireball red shirts” said Smith. “I thought don’t we look like Jefferson?” she said with a laugh. “I even had a photographer ask me if he was at the right place because we are blue and white, not red. As time went on the girls adopted this attitude of playing with a “fire red” intensity. It didn’t matter if we were short handed, we were still going to give it our all.”

MCS senior standout Netalia Herrera, who is planning to play at Buffalo State next year, said that the new attitude was great for the team. “Coach always kept us motivated, reassuring us not to worry about how many players we have because we are “fire red” and to remember that we are strong and intimidating.” Herrera said the change continued to grow during the season. “Honestly we didn’t have too much spirit in the beginning of the year. We knew we were young and that our numbers were low. It even made it hard at practice. But when we almost won our first game against Delhi (a close 1-0 loss at the Mayor’s Cup), the confidence started to grow in our little team.”

Despite all the challenges, the Blue Devils finished the season with a record of 9-4. That’s pretty impressive when looking at their schedule. They played tough teams like Roxbury (twice), Delhi, Cherry Valley-Springfield, South Kortright, Downsville and more. One signature win for the Blue Devils was a league tiebreaker game where they nipped Downsville 2-1. Herrera and Marisol Flores scored one goal each and MCS was headed to the league title contest. “That was one of my favorite games” said Herrera. “Downsville is always very strong and at one point we were down to nine players but we came together as a family and had one goal, that was to win and we did it.”

Herrera’s teammate, the talented Marisol Flores also mentioned the Downsville game as a key moment in the season. “They are always a very competitive team” said Flores. “When I saw there was five minutes left I felt so emotional because I couldn’t believe how far we had come. I was so proud of our team because we gave everything we had and never put our heads down.”

Longtime Downsville Coach, Burt Reed, had high praise for this scrappy MCS bunch. “This group of Margaretville girls is extremely competitive” said Reed. “As a coach you love their heart and effort. Instead of making excuses for why they could fail, they accepted the challenge put in front of them and achieved their goal.”

Now back to that rainy, cold, wet, damp league championship game. The Blue Devils were set to face a tough, state ranked Roxbury team. Let’s just say the first half didn’t go as planned for MCS. Goalie Kayla Clark made an early save but felt a pop in her finger. She toughed it out until halftime, but it was soon discovered that her finger was broken. Back-up goalie Ana Gavette was already out with an ankle injury and the Blue Devils were down to eight players as they went into the half trailing 2-0.

Margaretville was huddled under a pop-up tent as they tried to get some relief from the hurricane like conditions. The referees came over and asked if the Blue Devils wanted to continue or call the game off. Nobody would have blamed them if they said yes, but without a moment’s hesitation all the girls said they wanted to play. “As a coach in that moment you have a lot to think about” said Smith. “We had sectionals coming up and I didn’t want anyone else to get hurt. I was questioning if we should even be out there in that weather but the girls all said they wanted to keep going. I felt it was important to support them.”

Herrera immediately volunteered to go in goal. “I have never been in goal in a serious game like that” said Herrera. “I was very nervous and I wouldn’t want to do it again but I knew I had to do it for the team because we didn’t want to quit.” Flores had similar thoughts about stopping at halftime. “We wanted to show everyone that we never quit. For some of us it is the last time we would get to play in crossovers and we just couldn’t leave it like that.”

As the final horn rang it was Roxbury coming away with a 6-0 win but even in defeat the Blue Devils knew they could hold their heads high. “I was so proud of my players” said Smith. “They were very focused, determined and it took alot of hard work, but they did it. We won the league in 2019 and many of these girls were on that team. We just wanted to show that we were going to leave it all out there.”

Herrera and Flores get many of the accolades but Smith said several athletes played huge roles in this shorthanded season. “Kayla Clark came out to play in goal for the first time” said Smith. “She didn’t have to do that but she knew it meant a lot to the other girls on the team. Also, Bailee Herrell was just incredible for us. She could play offense, defense, fill gaps, cover other positions and really serve the team well. Ana Gavette stepped up when we needed her too. On the field or in the goal, she always did her best.”

It would be easy to look at the final score and think that this was a blowout championship game. But if you saw the heart and effort the MCS players put in, you know it is a lesson that will serve them well for the rest of their lives. Herrera summed it up perfectly. “In that moment we all came together, made that decision and we all agreed that win or lose its okay because we gave it our all.” In a time where so much has been taken away from local athletes, it was incredible to see the grit and toughness of the “fire red” Margaretville Blue Devils.

Photo: Margaretville’s Netalia Herrera sends a pass up the field in the Delaware League championship game. Photo credit to Benjamin Patton of The Reporter. Click The Reporter photo link on my sponsors page for more local sports pictures.

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Merrill’s leadership and toughness make him one of Section IV’s best

Written by Nate Lull
Nov 4, 2021

Luke Merrill walked into the WCDO office on a warm day in late June. He was there to pick up a football trophy he had earned during the spring season. Most of the time when I see a football player without pads on I think how much smaller they look. But on this day I thought, Luke actually looks bigger than he does on the field. As we shook hands I had to tell myself “don’t wince” because his handshake felt like a vice. We had a nice chat about football, summer basketball and his offseason workout plan. As he walked out the door I remember thinking, how the hell can anyone tackle that guy? Based on Luke’s numbers this fall for the Harpursville/Afton football team, I would say several local players are asking themselves the same thing.

In seven games this season Luke has rushed for 875 yards on 98 carries and has scored 12 touchdowns. He has 108 yards receiving and 1 touchdown through the air. On defense he has two interceptions including one that he took to the end zone. He also has a 91 yard kickoff return for a score. Luke had a stellar spring season as well rushing for 625 yards on 52 carries with 8 touchdowns. H/A Head Coach Jason Lyon acknowledges that Luke’s stats are eye popping but that there are other parts of his game that impress him even more. “As far as knowledge of the game and ability, he is one of the best athletes I have ever coached” said Lyon. “He has an ability to make a cut to get to a hole that is just starting to open before anyone else sees it. He is aware that his accomplishments would not be what they are without the rest of the team. After plays you often hear him thanking his linemen for their blocks. He just gets football.”

Linemen like Cooper East, Landon James and James Craig have been opening up huge holes for Luke to run through this year, and it has helped the Hornets to a 6-1 record and a spot in the Section IV Class-D semifinals this Saturday against Newark Valley. “Those guys up front are the ones that make it happen” said Merrill. ‘Without them I wouldn’t have a place to run. They always get the key block to help us move the ball down the field. I am constantly thanking the meat up front.”

Sure Luke has had room to run this season but it’s not like he is afraid of contact either. He’s been known to love smash-mouth football. It isn’t uncommon to see him run into the pile and then burst out the other side, tacklers bouncing off him like a pinball machine. After seeing Luke in the office this summer I couldn’t help but think that the local coffee shop guys must love seeing a player like that. The type of kid that looks like he could chop down a tree with one swing of an axe or who wrestles bears for fun in his free time. Obviously I made those stories up (or did I?) but that’s the kind of raw strength Luke has and fans of all ages can certainly appreciate that.

Others in Harpursville agree that it is more than just natural ability that makes Luke special. “I’ve watched Luke mature into a great running back but he is also a very good teammate too” said HCS athletic director, Josh Quick. “Part of that maturity comes from him mentoring other kids and bringing them up to his level. I really enjoy watching him play and watching him be a leader on the field.”

Coach Lyon agreed, “Luke is very dedicated to the H/A family and he is a role model for our youth programs too. He leads by example and he would never ask his teammates to do something he is not willing to do on his own.”

While everyone seems to be praising Luke, he makes sure he gives the credit right back. “Coach Lyon has done so much for this program” he said. “He brought in discipline and courage.” Merrill was also quick to give credit to former Harpursville running back Josh Wilson. “I really looked up to him when I was younger. He was so fast and was the star of the show. I learned a lot from him.”

Merrill is also a standout in basketball and track for Harpursville. I was lucky enough to watch Luke post a dazzling double-double against B-G in an empty gym last winter during the COVID shortened season. I almost felt guilty that I actually got to see it in person as Luke’s late game heroics lifted the Hornets to a road victory. He likes to keep in shape during the spring by winning several sprinting events on the track for HCS.

A win this Saturday would give Harpursville/Afton a berth in the sectional championship game. They have to get past a tough Newark Valley team first. The Hornets nipped NV in the opening game of this season, 42-33 on the road, so you know the Cardinals will be hungry for revenge. “That first game against NV was a battle” said Merrill. “We really had to dig deep to come out on top. It was non-stop the entire game and we couldn’t let off the gas. We will have to do the same this time.”

When the season is over, Merrill hopes to have a short break to do some of the other things he loves. “I like to hunt a lot” he said. “I haven’t had much time for that right now but maybe soon. I also like to fish and ride quads with my friends.” That all sounds like fun but Luke makes sure the work is done first. “I lifted all summer to be ready for the season and I do my push-ups and sit-ups every night” he said. “I do 100 of each.”

With that routine each night along with a monster work ethic and a great attitude, it is no wonder that Luke Merrill is the talk of the town in local Class-D Football this fall. It’s a well deserved honor for a first class young man.

Photo: Harpursville/Afton’s Luke Merrill runs for a touchdown in a game earlier this season. Photo credit to Ricky MacPherson. Click the Ricky MacPherson Photos link on my sponsors page for more local sports photos.

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Franklin’s Shannon Kingsbury: Not your average 7th grader

Written by Nate Lull
Oct 29, 2021

My local sports travels take me all over Section IV. It’s not uncommon for me to visit several towns and schools in one day. It seems no matter where I go this fall I keep getting asked, “have you seen that 7th grader play for Franklin?”

That 7th grader is Shannon Kingsbury, an up and coming star on the varsity soccer team at FCS. Her stats alone give you a pretty good idea of the type of season she is having for the Purple Devils.

As of October 29th, Shannon has totaled 34 goals and 10 assists for 78 points. Of her 34 goals, 21 came against teams that played in sectionals in the B, C and D tournaments. She has scored at least one goal in 16 of Franklin’s 19 games, and four of those were game winning goals. A jaw dropping stat line when you consider that Shannon is just 12 years old and competing against the best defenders each team has to offer, many of which are juniors or seniors.

Longtime Franklin Coach JJ Laing said he first noticed Shannon when she was playing for the Franklin youth program when she was in 3rd and 4th grade. “You could see she had a passion for it, even at a young age” said Laing. Despite COVID, Laing was able to watch several of her travel soccer matches for her club team, BC United. It was the first time he’d seen her play since 5th grade. “She had definitely stepped it up a level since I had last seen her play. In my opinion she was the best player on the field that day, and I thought she might be ready for the varsity level.”

Laing credits the spring season last year to knowing what his team might look like in the near future. “Playing those games in the spring really helped us realize what potential we had for the upcoming fall season and we all thought Shannon would be able to contribute to the team.”

The FCS coaching staff thought that if Shannon could score 12 to 14 goals that would be a dream scenario for the fall 2021 season. “We never imagined it would happen like this” said Laing.

Franklin’s first game of the year was against Gilboa in the Stamford Mayor’s Cup. I was sitting with Stamford Athletic Director Greg O’Connell during the game. OC leaned over to me and said “I heard this 7th grader is pretty good, let’s see how she does today.” Shannon proceeded to score three goals in the first 13 minutes of the contest and finished with five total goals on the day. Greg and I were blown away by the performance.

That was just the start to this dream season and certainly got local sports fans talking. Shannon’s numbers continued to grow and in the blink of an eye she made FCS history. Shannon passed Purple Devil great, Patty Uzenski, for the school single season goal record. Patty had scored 32 goals in both 1987 and 1988. This was a remarkable feat for Shannon during her first varsity season.

Shannon is quick to credit her teammates and coaches for her remarkable success this year. “I really look up to this group of seniors” said Shannon. “Anything I need I can always text or call them and no matter how many questions I have or how much advice I need, they are always there for me.” When asked about breaking the record, Shannon is again quick to credit the girls on the field with her. “I don’t think it has really sunk in yet” she said. “Every goal has to start somewhere and everyone makes such good passes to get the ball up the field.” She continued by saying how uneasy she was when practice started up this summer. “I was very nervous when the season started with all the unknowns. I didn’t know if I would fit in. On the first day of preseason everyone was so welcoming and amazing to me, that really helped.”

One of the senior leaders on this team is FCS standout, Kayla Campbell. Well known around the area along with her sister, Marissa for being long time 3-sport stars, Kayla has put her name in the record books as well. She now owns the school record for career assists, passing Pam Johnson (Baldwin) who previously held it with 36. The Kayla to Shannon connection has been strong as Kayla has assisted on nine of Shannon’s goals. It goes both ways as Shannon has assisted on six of Kayla’s goals (she has 27 goals and 13 assists of her own this season). It should also be noted that although Shannon and Kayla get many of the headlines, the scoring has come from a variety of sources for Franklin. Patty Rodriguez-Matias, Valentina Temple and Zoe Warren all have at least five goals each.

Franklin has advanced to the Section IV Class-D championship game for the first time since 2012, and another battle with Schenevus awaits them. Shannon had four goals in the regular season match-up with the Dragons. “I really thought that was her coming of age game” said Laing. “She only has one gear and that’s full bore. She really showed it that day.”

Schenevus is led by their superstar Angelina Competiello, who has 41 goals and 17 assists this season. It wasn’t long ago that Ang was the superstar 7th grader in the area. “Shannon does remind me of myself in so many ways” said Competiello. “When I was in 7th grade I remember feeling extremely motivated for my team’s success and having a big individual drive as well. I see the same in Shannon.” She continued the trip down memory lane and offered some advice to Shannon. “It’s been amazing to see her grow and succeed. As once being in her shoes, I feel we have a lot in common, including our mindset towards success. It makes me super happy to see her work ethic and I wish her all the best. She just has to keep her head high, even in the toughest moments because it’s your passion and love for the game that will overcome it all.”

No matter what happens in the sectional title game this Saturday it is safe to say that Shannon has lived up to the hype as one of the best young players in the area. She has company in her own family in that category. Shannon is a triplet and her brother Jacob had a very strong season for the Franklin/Unatego soccer team that finished as Tri-Valley League champions. Jacob had four goals, 11 assists and showed great promise for the future. Shannon’s brother Logan didn’t play soccer this fall, but I have been told he is a tremendous goalie. “Logan loves basketball and baseball” said Shannon. “He is an amazing goalie, but he won’t admit it. I think he will play soccer again sometime – hopefully.”

It has been a tremendous season for Shannon and the Purple Devils. I am sure the buzz will only continue to grow around her and her teammates in future years. One of the biggest things that stands out to me when watching her play is her joy for the game. Coach Laing said it best. “You would think that every goal she scores is the first goal of her career. She just loves to score and loves the game. You see her immediately run to her teammates and jump in their arms. It’s great to see that.”

Kudos to Shannon and her teammates for handling all the success and attention so well this season. They have done it with grace. Best of luck to both Franklin and Schenevus in the Section IV title game this weekend. It will be a hard fought battle, and the mutual respect for each other is wonderful to see.

Photo: Franklin’s Shannon Kingsbury looks to shoot in a game earlier this year at FCS. Photo credit to Ricky MacPherson. Click the Ricky MacPherson Photos link on my sponsors page for more local sports photos.

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Jacobs performance goes deeper than the stat line for D-H

Written by Nate Lull
Oct 20, 2021

This is what Friday Night Lights is all about. It’s a cool, crisp autumn night under the lights at Hancock Central School in mid-October. The stands are packed as the hometown Eagles earn an exciting 50-44 victory over the Walton Warriors. It’s a back-and-forth game with big plays and even bigger hits. It’s the type of game that the players will be talking about at a backyard BBQ twenty years from now. They might start by saying “remember the night Wyatt went off?!”

Senior Wyatt Jacobs certainly had himself a night with video game type statistics. Freshly inserted into the quarterback position he finished with 311 yards passing, 129 yards rushing, 5 rushing TD’s (yes I said 5) and 2 passing TD's. In my line of work, these are the type of numbers you see from players after two or three games, not one. It was truly remarkable.

After the game I knew I wanted to write about this performance but didn’t realize all I would find once I started talking with Wyatt. He is a quiet and humble young man whose answers first were about the game and giving credit to his teammates. “It just felt great to get that win with the guys” said Wyatt. “It was easily the most fun game I have been a part of. During the game it was kind of a blur and I didn’t realize the stats until after. It kind of felt like a movie, it almost didn’t feel real while I was playing.”

This is a tight knit group at D-H and Wyatt said he has a special bond with all his teammates. “I threw a touchdown pass to Jacob and that felt really good. He’s my best bro and it felt amazing.” That’s Jacob Dobromirescu, who finished with 149 yards receiving and 1 TD on the night. “It was a moment we had talked about for such a long time and for it to happen the way it did, it felt special.” Dobromirescu was also able to make a great play on defense by chasing a Walton player down. “It was the fastest I’ve seen him run and it showed how bad we wanted it. That play fired me up.” Wyatt also added how Caden Fortunato delivered on a key play near the end zone when the team really needed it.

The article could have been done right then and there, but there was more to this story. I later found out that Wyatt lost his Mom (Kate Jacobs) in June of 2020 to cancer. He said that this special performance was all for her. “She’s the person I love the most” he said. “She’s my hero, and she made me feel so loved. I’m so grateful I got to grow up with her. She was truly just an amazing human being. I know she knows how much that game meant to me and when you are playing for your momma, you just have an extra gear.”

I lost my Mom to cancer at a younger age so I felt a special connection with Wyatt over this. But for me, I was out of college and into my adult life when it happened. For him to have it happen while he was still in high school, I just can’t even imagine. “It made me very distant from the world at times” said Wyatt. “It made me mature and I became more independent because of it.”

To make things even harder on Wyatt, his older brother Ethan previously had Leukemia. Luckily Ethan was able to beat it. “It was pretty hard to see my brother go through it and not really know what he was dealing with” said a reserved Wyatt. “He always makes sure I keep my head up and that I keep pushing. Even in those tough times where it felt like there was no hope he was always right there to give me some love and let me know it was going to be alright.”

To make this fall evening in Hancock even more special, Ethan was in attendance to see Wyatt’s big night. He now lives in Florida and the timing of him coming up for this game couldn’t have been more special. “After the game, Ethan and my Dad came onto the field and bear hugged me. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.”

D-H Coach Duane Wormuth was extremely happy with his squad’s performance against Walton. “It was a real team effort to put 50 points up on the board” said Wormuth. “Wyatt made plays when we needed but so did our defense and special teams units.” Wyatt agreed with coach’s statement about the win. “We were all connecting really well during that game. I truly felt we were all on the same page. Off the field we are all great friends and spend a lot of time together. I had all the trust in the world in my guys.”

Wyatt says he would like to go to college to study business finance or marketing and would also like to play football or baseball in college. Based on what I have seen on and off the field from this young man, any college program would be lucky to have him. To be so humble, mature, and grounded at his age is truly remarkable. Twenty years from now the town might only remember the crazy stats from this D-H victory, but for Wyatt it will be different. He will remember the special night with his best friends and how he left it all out on the field for them and his Mom, who was definitely watching from above.

Photo: Deposit-Hancock's Wyatt Jacobs runs against the Walton Warriors on 10/15/21. Photo credit to Benjamin Patton of The Reporter. Click The Reporter photo link on my sponsors page for more local sports pictures.

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Quiet Roxbury defender deserves some love

Written by Nate Lull
Oct 9, 2021

A common theme across all sports, from high school all the way to the pro’s, is to see the superstars from each team getting all the attention and headlines. It seems to be this way no matter the sport. The public loves to follow the athletes who score the goals or touchdowns or the ones that hit the big home run, but sometimes we need to look beyond that. There are superstars hiding in plain site everywhere. That is very true this season in Roxbury.

As I write this, the Roxbury Girls Soccer team sits in first place in the Delaware League. They haven’t lost a league game and have punched their tickets to the crossover championship game as well. The team is filled with goal scorers and solid players that play year round and deserve the attention they receive. But I’d also like to point out a player on defense that sometimes gets overshadowed. Her name is Ayla Vorisek.

Ayla works relentlessly on her craft and is part of a Roxbury defense that has earned shutout after shutout this season. Off the field she is perhaps one of the nicest athletes in the area, but on the pitch she is a fierce competitor that loves to win a hard 50/50 ball or protect her goalie by sacrificing her body and blocking a shot.

Ayla has put years into her game, starting in youth and working her way up through modified to the varsity squad. She has taken those long car rides for travel soccer and given up her personal time to get better at the game. All that hard work is paying off as this RCS team looks primed for a shot at the league title and a deep sectional run. With COVID taking out Roxbury’s season in 2020 I was worried this special group wouldn’t get a chance to showcase their talents, but so far 2021 has been good to the Rockets.

I was especially impressed with Ayla at the Mayor’s Cup in Stamford earlier this year. She was unafraid to take on any challenges and was just rock solid on defense as RCS took second place in the tournament. Her stats aren’t gaudy and you might not see her on an all-star team, but she is the type of player that keeps a team rolling. The type of player some old school coaches would call “the glue.”

I know that Roxbury supporters are well aware of Ayla’s talents as they brave any weather to go support their beloved Rockets. But I also hope that the casual fan who finds a chance to watch Roxbury this postseason will take a few minutes to admire the gritty play of Ayla Vorisek on the back line.

Some of us live and die with small town sports this time of year, and players like Ayla give fans hope that maybe this is the year that something special is in the cards for their team. Good luck to Ayla and RCS in the upcoming playoffs.

Photo: Roxbury's Ayla Vorisek competing at the Mayor’s Cup Tournament earlier this season against Jaidon Brodie and the Laurens Leopards. Photo credit to Benjamin Patton of The Reporter. Click The Reporter photo link on my sponsors page for more local sports pictures.

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The website is live!

Written by Nate Lull
Sep 24, 2021

Here we go! The Nate Lull website is up and running. This has been a dream of mine since I started my job at WCDO in 2014. I can't tell you how many times I have had someone approach me and say "I am not a Twitter person, is there another way I can get all the game info?" I knew a website was the best way, but the thought of building a site from scratch was daunting. I won't lie, it still scares me a little bit to have another major platform to keep up with, but I also think this is going to be well worth it.

I can't say thanks enough to my good friend, Chris at Steckline Design who built this site. Allow me to gush on Chris for a minute. He is a G-MU grad and has done all my logo work for a few years now. He also did a bunch of design work for Hidden Springs Brewhouse in Norwich and many other local businesses. The man has talent! I love covering local athletes, but I love when they find a passion after their sports career even more. Chris has done just that. He went from working hard on the field and court for the Raiders to doing amazing design work for a living.

Updating games on Twitter has always been my bread and butter and I won't be changing that. But I also know that this website will allow a whole new audience to see what is going on with local sports. I think our area really needs it, and I am glad to take on the challenge. High school sports are such a big part of our area. We live far from professional teams, so what do we do? We immerse ourselves into our local teams. On a cold winter night in the middle of February our gyms are packed. People wouldn't think of missing a game. The same goes for football on Friday nights and championship soccer matches at the Wright National Soccer Campus. I hope that this website will help fans stay informed and give them the information they want and need.

I plan to post articles at least once a week. The articles will mostly just be my rambling thoughts on games I have watched or stories I have picked up while on the road. I hope you enjoy it. Feedback is always welcome (good or bad!).

Lastly, if you want to see more of Chris' work, check him out on Instagram: @stecklinedesign

Talk soon!

Photo: Bainbridge-Guilford's Erica Selfridge. Now playing D2 Volleyball for Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. Photo credit to Ricky MacPherson.