November 2, 2020 Tim Birney

TUNKHANNOCK — Seventh-seed Athens was dominant at the net, and nearly flawless at the service line in a sweep of sixth-seed Tunkhannock here Monday evening in the semifinals of the District 2-4 Sub-Regional volleyball playoffs.

The Lady Wildcats will travel to Berwick Thursday for the championship match. It’s their first trip to a District finals since 2005.

The win was anti-climactic in comparison to last week’s five-set upset of second-seeded Greater Nanticoke, but Athens coach Heather Hanson didn’t mind.

“This was a little easier on my heart,” said Hanson. “I’m really happy with how the girls are playing.

“It was a little quiet,” she noted. “I think they were expecting it to be loud like Nanticoke was, and it was not at all, so we had to find it within ourself.

“The girls did well against a team we’ve never played before — typical when we play a team we haven’t played before, it’s hard for us to adjust, and we can be timid,” added Hanson. “I’m glad they got that our of the way early, and were able to dominate.”

The Athens hitters combined for 37 kills, led by seniors Leah Liechty and Kylie Jayne, who combined for 25.

“I’m so happy our hitters are peaking at the right time,” said Hanson. “They’re all gaining confidence, and they were in a groove tonight.

“We’ve had a strong middle game (Liechty and Jayne) the whole season,” she noted. “Now, we have our outsides (Taylor Walker and Ally Martin) stepping up.

“And, Jenny Ryan, who is typically a setter, has really stepped into the right-side position and has been dominating,” added Hanson.

The Lady Wildcats were successful on 64 of their 68 service attempts in the match, including a perfect 25-for-25 in the first first set.

“Our serves definitely set the tone for us,” said Hanson. “If we’re on, we’re tough to beat.

“It shows we’re focused and confident,” she noted. “When we serve well, everything else seems to fall into place.”

“And, Taylor Walker has been serving amazing the last few games. “added Hanson. “She had four aces tonight — beautiful.”

Athens took the lead for good early in the first set, at 8-3, on a six-point service run by junior Taylor Walker, which began with an ace and included a pair of kills by Jayne.

Tunkhannock closed the gap to 12-11, but a pair of service points by Liechty pushed the back to 15-11.

Moments later, Miller reeled off six straight service points, with Walker finishing off two points with kills, to give the Lady Wildcats a 21-13 lead.

Walker finished off the set with three points, with Ryan and Jayne polishing off the final two points with kills, for a 25-15 win.

The second set was close in the early going, with Tunkhannock taking the biggest lead at 13-10.

A side-out and two service points by Taylor tied the match at 13-13.

After the teams traded side-outs, senior Taylor Field served up four straight points, thanks in part to a pair of kills by Liechty, to give the Lady Wildcats an 18-14 lead.

Moments later, sophomore Jenny Ryan’s kill gave Athens the serve back with a 19-16 lead. She then served up three points, with junior Ally Martin and Liechty ending the first two points with kills, and Ryan serving an ace to end the mini-run that upped the lead to 22-16.

After trading side-outs, Martin gave Athens a 24-17 lead with a serve, but Tunkhannock regained the serve with a side-out.

Moments later, Liecthy ended the second set with a hard kill to give Athens a 25-18 win.

The Lady Wildcats didn’t have any long service runs in the third set, but steadily build a 15-8 lead. Tunkhannock trimmed the lead to 18-15, but never got any closer.

Jayne ended the match with a kill to give the Lady Wildcats a 25-19 victory and a trip to the Sub-Regional finals.

Miller led Athens with 32 setter assists, 11 digs, nine service points, and two service aces.

“Kayleigh Miller moved the ball around great tonight and kept everyone intense,” said Hanson. “Not only does she run to get every ball, she also plays incredible defense — it’s so impressive.

“She has been setting since I started coaching here,” noted Hanson. “She is a leader on the floor, and is great at communicating with who she is setting up, so the girls never get confused.”

Field recorded 28 digs in the win, while Ryan had 17 digs, three kills and two assists, and Walker registered 12 points, 11 digs, four aces, and four kills.

Liechty registered 13 kills and five digs for the Lady Wildcats, while Jayne knocked down 12 kills, Martin had five digs and four kills, and seniors Grayce Witherow and Gia Perry added five and three digs, respectively.

Read More



October 31, 2020 Tim Birney

ATHENS — To paraphrase a famous American sports entertainer, “to be the champion, you have to beat the champion.”

Mifflinburg did just that here Saturday afternoon, rallying for a 3-2 win over two-time defending Class AAA champion Athens  in District 4 girls soccer playoff action.

“I told the girls all year long, ‘if you’re gonna get beat, don’t beat yourselves — make somebody beat you,’” said Athens coach Roch Pitts. “And, Mifflinburg beat us. They are a good team, they moved the ball and played well together.

“I thought we played a full 80 minutes. (Mifflinburg) made some great plays to score some goals,” he noted.

“We knew from playing them last year this was going to be a battle,” added Pitts. “I’m not disappointed with how we played, I don’t know what we could have done differently.”

The majority of the game was played in the Athens defensive end but the Lady Wildcats did strike for a pair of goals late in the first half to take a 2-1 lead into the halftime intermission.

“If you watch (Mifflinburg), they obviously have a good number of travel players who are good on the ball, can move, and know what to do,” said Pitts. “We don’t have that, and that’s OK.

“We work a lot on defending,” he noted. “We’re not afraid to sit-in, and play that  counter-attack style of soccer. There are professional teams that have championships that way, and we almost pulled it out today.”

The first 7 1/2 minutes was play predominantly in Mifflinburg’s defensive end.

About 4 minutes into the game, Athens junior Hannah Walker launched a shot toward the goal from 30 yards out that sailed over the crossbar.

About 1 1/2 minutes later, senior Emma Roe, who had a goal and an assist in her final game, made a 50-yard run down the middle of the field, but Mifflinburg defender Makayla Weber poked the ball away deep in the box.

Eight minutes into the game, Athens sophomore keeper Abby Champion touched the ball for the first time.

About one minute later, Champion touched the ball three times in a matter of seconds. Mifflinburg’s Peyton Yocum ripped a shot from 15 yards out that Champion stopped, bout couldn’t control.

Sarah Fritz was on the spot, but her shot from point-blank range also hit Champion. Remi Stahl had the next chance, ripping a shot that also caromed off Champion, who was finally able to corral the ball as it rolled toward the goal line.

In the 11th minute, Walker collected the ball in the open field on the left wing, and fired a shot-on-goal, but Miff keeper Kristi Benfield made a diving stop at the near post.

With 25:44 remaining in the first half, Athens was whistled for a push, and Mifflinburg lined up for a direct kick about 45 yards from the goal. Fritz’s kick from near the out-of-bounds line on the far sideline looped perfectly into the box about 10 yards from the goal, where Yocum’s header re-directed it just inside the near post to give them a 1-0 lead.

Mifflinburg continued to control play for the next 11-plus minutes, until Roe and senior Hannah Blackman worked a give-and-go near midfield, freeing up Roe for a run down the middle of the field. With three defenders converging on her, Roe slid a pass to sophomore Ally Thoman on the left wing.

With little angle for a good shot, Thoman drove a shot over Enfield’s outstretched arms at the near post that settled into the net just inside the far post to tie the game at 1-1 with 14 minutes remaining in the first half.

“For being at short as she is, (Ally Thoman) hits rockets off her foot,” said Pitts. “She hit it upper-90 … the goalie got her hands up, but that was going in — she almost ripped it through the net.”

Almost three minutes later, Roe took a pass from Walker at midfield, beat two defenders, then pushed a pass ahead to herself to beat a third defender. She also beat Benfield to the ball, and knocked a shot inside the far post to give Athens a 2-1 lead with 11:13 remaining in the half.

The teams exchanged scoring chances for the first 18 minutes of the first half, but Athens took the 2-1 lead into the halftime intermission.

With 21:49 remaining in the contest, Avery Metzger beat a pair of Athens defenders on the near sideline, and was able center the ball into the box, where Fritz bodied it past Champion at the near post to tie the game at 2-2.

With 18 1/2 minutes remaining, Roe got free on a breakaway. A hard-charging Benfield got a piece of Roe’s shot, but couldn’t control it. Roe took a quick shot off the rebound, but it rolled wide of the net.

With 6 1/2 minutes remaining, Mifflinburg won a 50-50 ball at midfield and sent a long pass into the box, where Fritz tracked it down about 10 yards from the net, and a hit a low, hard shot past a lunging Champion to put Mifflinburg ahead 3-2.

With Mifflinburg putting seven or defenders back, Athens put a bit of pressure on their net over the next three minutes, but weren’t able to punch through.

The final three minutes was spent in the Athens defensive end.

Athens wraps up the season at 9-3-1.

Pitts said all his seniors will be missed, but got a bit emotional when talking about his “coaches on the field” — Roe and Blackman.

“Not having them around is going to be a little sad, for sure.

“Hannah and Emma are special kids,” he said. “Both of them are fantastic kids.

“You could hear them all game long, all season long, and in practice,” noted Pitts. “I mean, at halftime I would walk over to talk the girls, and I would hear (Hannah and Emma) telling the team exactly what I had in my notes to talk about.

“They are going to be hugely missed,” added Pitts.

Read More



October 31, 2020 Tim Birney

DANVILLE — K.J. Riley threw a 61-yard TD pass on the first play from scrimmage, and added four more first-half TD throws to lead Danville to a 37-0 lead at the intermission en route to a 43-0 win over Athens here Saturday afternoon in the semifinals of the District 4, Class AAA playoffs.

“We really didn’t have any answers. We wanted to come in and mix up some coverages but we had two breakdowns in coverage on their first two touchdowns, ” said Athens coach Jack Young. “When that happens it puts you on your heels and gives you a little doubt in your mind, takes away your confidence and it’s all uphill from there.

“We knew it was important for us to start well and first play of the game giving up a touchdown on a coverage breakdown, it put us in a bad place and it was a tough day,” added Yount.

Riley completed 12 of 19 passes for 219 yards — all in the first half, with Carson Persing hauling in four for 192 yards and two TDs, and Jagger Dressler adding five catches for 79 yards and one TD.

“It was nothing that we didn’t see on film. They did the same thing to their previous opponents that they did to us today and when you don’t put pressure on the quarterback and contain him, it’s a struggle,” said Young. “That’s a really good football team and it’s a different time of the year when you get to the playoffs.”

Riley’s first TD was a 61-yard strike to a wide-open Carson Persing on a crossing route just 19 seconds into the game. Athens blocked the PAT kick, but still trailed 6-0.

Athens’ first play from scrimmage had the exact opposite result as sophomore QB Mason Lister was stripped of the ball while rolling out to pass, and the Ironmen recovered at the Wildcat 16.

The Athens defense held, and Riley split the up rights with a 31-yard field to give Danville a 9-0 lead just 77 seconds into the game.

Four of the next five Wildcat possessions ended with a punt, and the other with an interception.

Riley threw two more TD passes in the second quarter — a 20-yarder to Carson Persing with 5 minutes remaining, and a 5-yarder to Dressler with 3:49 remaining — to make it 23-0.

Riley added a 5-yard TD pass to Hayden Winn with 10:30 remaining in the first half, and an 8-yard TD to Ian Persing just 62 seconds later to give the Ironmen a 37-0 lead.

With the clock running in the second half due to the so-called “mercy rule,” Athens ran 26 offensive plays to Danville’s eight.

The Ironmen, however, blocked two punts in the third quarter, the second of which was scooped and returned 10 yards by C.J. Outt with 2:09 left in the third quarter for the only points of the second half.

Sophomore Caleb NIchols led Athens with 45 rushing yards on eight carries, while junior Shayne Reid had 40 yards on eight carries, and sophomore Chris Bathgate added 24 yards on two carries.

Lister completed 7 of 15 passes for 33 yards, with one interception. Junior Karter Rude led the Wildcats with four receptions for 32 yards.

Athens ends the season at 5-2, and will not be looking to play another game.

“We weren’t supposed to be here,” said Young. “A lot of people didn’t think we’d even play a season this year, never mind playoffs, so for our kids to get better each week and finish 5-1 and come play a really good football team, it was a special time for us.

“We didn’t want it to end like it did today, but I’m super proud of these kids for working hard and we only have seven seniors, so the future is bright for us,” added Young.

Read More



October 31, 2020 Tim Taylor

ATHENS — Jersey Shore erased the bitter taste of three consecutive PIAA District 4 semifinal losses to Athens here Saturday afternoon, downing the Wildcats, 1-0, in a Class AAA semi-final match-up.

It's the first time in five seasons the Wildcats will not play in the Class AAA championship game.

Bulldog sophomore Peyton Welshans notched the only goal of the game, working a shot into the back of the net with 28:28 remaining in the second half.

A brief defensive breakdown set up Welshans' shot as he would collect the ball behind the defense and when Wildcat goalkeeper Asher Ellis came out of goal to challenge, Welshans was able to find some space.

"I think throughout the season most of the goals that we had go in against us probably were an overwhelming majority of our own small mistakes, a bobble here or a PK is called there," Athens coach Jake Lezak said. "I think one PK during the season was an actual PK."

Read More



October 30, 2020 Tim Birney

NANTICOKE, Pa. —  Seventh-seeded Athens won the first two sets, but needed to rally in the fifth set to pull out a thrilling 3-2 win over second-seeded Greater Nanticoke in the quarterfinals of the District 2-4 Sub-Regional volleyball playoffs.

The Lady Wildcats won decisions of 25-23 and 25-18 to take a 2-0 lead, but the Lady Trojans pulled out hard-fought 26-24 and 25-23 wins to even the match. In the decisive fifth set, Athens trailed by two points on three different occasions before rallying for a 15-12 win.

“The girls found a way to win, like they always do,” said Athens coach Heather Hanson. “I am so proud of them right now.

“To win the first two, then lose the next two, that is terrifying — to pull out that fifth set says so much about these girls,” added Hanson. “It’s a huge win for us.”

Hanson also notes her team overcame an Internet scouting attempt that went awry.

“We had no idea what we were coming up against.

“We had watched them on live stream, but I think it may have been their JV team because when we got here, they were all 6-feet tall,” laughed Hanson. “So, it had to be about us playing our own game, and not worrying about what they do.

“(Nanticoke is a good team. They were impressive,” she noted. “They were running their backside a lot, which we don’t see a lot of in the NTL. It was a different style of play from what we’re use to.

“The girls adjusted, though,” she added. “I’m beyond ecstatic with them.”

Greater Nanticoke jumped out to a quick 6-1 lead in the first set, but a five-point service run by senior Taylor Field, which featured one ace and three kills by senior Leah Liecthy, gave Athens an 8-7 lead.

The teams had just one service point apiece during the next service rotation and the score was tied at 14-14, until a six-point service run by Rylie Lewis gave the Lady Trojans a 20-14 lead.

After a side-out, Field served up three more points to trim the deficit to 20-18.

On Greater Nanticoke’s ensuing serve, Athens sophomore Jenny Ryan placed a perfect push shot from the net for a side-out to trim the deficit to 21-19.

Ryan then served up two points, including an ace and a kill by junior Ally Martin, to tie the first set at 21-21.

After an Athens side-out, Greater Nanticoke extended its lead to 23-21, before the Lady Wildcats took back the serve when the Lady Trojans were whistled for “two hands” on a set.

Trailing 23-22, Martin served up an ace to tie the score. On Martin’s next serve, junior Taylor Walker registered a kill to give the Lady Wildcats a 24-23 lead.

The return of Walker’s next serve ended up a bit long, and Liechty tipped the ball straight down to give the Lady Wildcats a 25-23 win.

The Lady Wildcats took a quick 4-0 lead in the second set, thanks to a side-out and a three-point service run by senior Kayleigh Miller.

Athens stretched its lead to 11-4, then took its biggest lead at 15-7. Greater Nanticoke closed the gap to five points — at 18-13 and 19-14, but could get no closer.

Walker registered a kill for a GN side-out to give the Lady Wildcats a 24-18, then closed out the match with a kill after a Miller serve to finish off a 25-18 win.

“We overcame a few mistakes in the first two sets, and pulled out the wins,” said Hanson. “We played pretty well.”

The Lady Trojans never trailed in the third set. They led 19-14, but two serves by Walker tied the score at 24-24.

After a side-out, Athens had an unforced error to give Greater Nanticoke a 26-24 win.

The Lady Wildcats led 1-0 and 4-3 in the fourth set, but the Lady Trojans rallied to take an 8-6 lead, then stretched its advantage to 18-9.

After a side-out, Walker reeled off five straight service points to cut the deficit to 18-15.

The Lady Trojans built their lead back to 22-16, but a four-point service run by Martin, which included three kills by Liechty, tied the score at 23-23.

After a side-out, an Athens hitting error gave the Lady Trojans a 25-23 win in the fourth set.

“The key is how do you overcome errors?” said Hanson. “In volleyball, you have to shake it off.

“You can’t put about it, or dwell on it , or you dig yourself a five- or-six point hole, and that’s what we did in the third and fourth sets,” she added.

Greater Nanticoke had leads of 2-0, 5-3, and 7-5 in the fifth set, but Athens rallied to tie the score at 8-8.

A service ace by Liechty, and a kill by Jayne on her next serve gave the Lady Wildcats the lead for good at 10-8.

A kill by Jayne gave Athens the serve back with an 11-9 lead. Jayne finished off Miller’s first serve with a kill, and her second with a block to give the Lady Wildcats a 13-9 lead.

After a side-out, Greater Nanticoke trimmed the Athens lead to 13-11, but a long kill attempt gave Athens the serve with a 14-11 lead.

The Lady Trojans forced a side-out, but on their first serve, Miller set Jayne, and her kill gave the Lady Wildcats the win.

Hanson said she used her timeouts early in the fifth set in an attempt to settle her team down. She was 50-percent effective.

“During the first timeout, I was pumped up, and gave them the ‘let’s go,” and that didn’t motivate them,” she laughed.

“During the second timeout, I told them to relax,” Hanson noted. “I know that’s what works with this team, but at times I get too excited as a coach, and that gets them excited. I had to calm down, and calm them down.

“This is the most intense match we’ve been in, in terms of timeouts back-and-forth,” added Hanson. “This is the first match where we’ve had to strategize our time outs to stop momentum. There weren’t a lot of major runs.”

Miller registered 51 setter assists, 23 digs, and three service aces for the Lady Wildcats, and Walker had 13 digs, 11 kills, and four aces.

“Kayleigh Miller has just been so steady, so consistent for us,” said Hanson. “And, Taylor Walker’s serves and hits were phenomenal again tonight — she is peaking at the right time.”

Liechty registered 22 kills and two aces, while Ryan recorded 14 kills, 20 digs, four assists, and two aces, and Jayne put down 17 kills.

“We have this middle going on with Leah Liechty and Kylie Jayne, and they are amazing,” said Hanson. I keep telling (setter) Kayleigh (Miller) to keep going to the middles

“Our outsides are coming along, but I always want to run the middles.”

Several of Ryan’s kills in the early-going were touch shots to open spaces.

“She’s been practicing those shots every game, and finally she found a team it works against,“ said Hanson. “I told her if it’s working, keep going to it.”

Field tallied 37 digs, including several of the diving and one-handed variety, and and two aces.

“That’s T-Field, she always makes plays to keep the ball alive that make you shake your head,” said Hanson. “We see that out of her all the time.

“I’m so proud of her,” added Hanson. “She trained as a setter her entire life, and then I came in and needed a libero. I asked her, and she sacrificed everything to do it.”

Senior Grayce Witherow added nine digs, and Martin had four kills, three digs, and two aces.

Athens, now 11-6, returns to action Monday at third-seeded Tunkhannock in the District 2-4 Sub-Regional semifinals.

Read More



October 29, 2020 Chris Manning

TURBOTVILLE — Of all the NTL teams, the new pandemic changes to the PIAA Cross Country Championships hurt Athens the most.

Typically, Class AA takes two teams and 10 individuals from the District IV Championships, but this year, to keep the numbers down, only one team and five individuals are headed to States.

Read More



October 26, 2020 Tim Birney

ATHENS — Wyalusing took advantage of three costly errors in a row to take the first set, but Athens responded with three dominant wins in a regular-season closing 3-1 win here Monday night in NTL volleyball action.

The Lady Rams won the first set 25-22 on three consecutive unforced errors to end the match by Athens, but the Lady Wildcats answered with wins of 25-9, 25-9, and 25-15.

“It was a rough start, then we woke up,” said Athens coach Heather Hanson. “That’s volleyball sometimes. I'm glad they were able to turn it around and play some Wildcat volleyball.

The girls have set a standard of play for themselves, so they know when its time to pick it up,” she noted. “There was incredible play by everyone tonight.

“The biggest highlight is serving 95 out of 98 serves,” added Hanson. “That’s some focus right there. Shout out to all the girls, the whole team supporting one another.”

Senior Kayleigh Miller had 32 setter assists, 15 digs, four service aces, and two kills to lead Athens, while  senior Kylie Jayne registered 17 kills and two digs, senior Leah Liechty had 12 kills and three digs, and senior Taylor Field recorded 29 digs and two aces.

Sophomore Jenny Ryan had 14 digs, four kills and three assists for the Lady Wildcats, while junior Taylor Walker had six digs, four aces, and three kills, junior Ally Martin had six kills, two aces, and two digs, senior Grayce Witherow added nine digs, and senior Kim Wheeler chipped in with two digs and one kill

Athens finishes the regular season at 10-6, and will face Greater Nanticoke Thursday at 5 p.m. in the opening round of the District 2-4 Sub-Regional playoffs.

 “I can’t believe this was the last game of the regular season,” said Hanson. “This team is so special and incredible. Thank goodness for the playoffs to keep it going.”

Read More



October 24, 2020 Tim Birney

ATHENS — Carter Lewis won the boys race to lead Athens to a second-place finish, and Sara Bronson finished second in the girls race here Saturday morning in the NTL Junior High Cross Country Championships.

Northeast Bradford won the team titles in the boys and girls championships.

Lewis finished first and teammate Ethan Hicks was third but NEB runners finished second (Creed Dewing) and fourth (Ryan Jones), and all five scoring runners placed in the top 17 to lift the Panthers to the win.

NEB tallied 35 placement points, while Athens was second with 55 points, Towanda was third with 75, Sullivan County was fourth with 79, and Troy was fifth with 89 points.

Lewis clocked in at 8:56.8, while Hicks crossed the finish line in 9:00.2. Dewing was second in 8:58.3, and Jones was fourth in 9:07.6, while Troy’s Hart Houseknecht placed fifth in 9:07.9.

Peter Jones placed 14th for the Wildcats in a time of 9:49.1, while Pierce Oldroyd was 25th in 10:43.3, and Charan Venkatswamy (11:06.1), Aiden Oldroyd (11:13.7), and Ryan Gorman (11:15.2) finished 28th through 30th, respectively.

Jack Cheresnowsky was 34th in 11:40.9, while Ty Lezak was 38th in 12:34.8, and Ethan Talada was 43rd in 27.19.7.

Bronson and Addyson Wheeler finished second and ninth to lead the Lady Wildcats to a fourth-place finish, well behind NEB, which saw its five scoring runners all finish in the Top 11.

Bronson clocked in at 9:46.7 — three seconds off the pace of race-winner Gracelynn Laudermilch of NEB, while Troy;s Alyssa Parks was third in 9:55.5, NEB’s Lillian Hughes was fourth in 10:21.9, and NEB’s Anaiah Kolsea was fifth in 10:23.4.

Mackenna Patton (12:34.6), Olivia Cheresnowsky (12:34.9), and Victoria Gao (12:35.3) finished 23rd through 25th, respectively, for the junior Lady Wildcats.

Sayre’s lone runs ‚ Rose Shikanga finished 26th in a time of 12:43.1.

Read More



October 24, 2020 Tim Birney

MONTGOMERY — Sophomore Caleb NIchols got Athens off on the right foot on the first play from scrimmage, and the Wildcats shook off “little” mistakes, thanks to big plays in a 35-7 win over Montgomery here Friday night in NTL football action.

“It was a long bus ride, and we weren’t sharp early— on either side of the ball,” said Athens coach Jack Young. “We made some mistakes, but boy, we made some big plays, too.”

Athens’ first little mistake was booting the opening kickoff out-of-bounds. That, however, overshadowed on Montgomery’s the first play from scrimmage when Nichols stepped in from of a Logan Almeida pass and sprinted 35 yards to paydirt. Shayne Reid’s PAT kick made it 7-0.

“Every time (Montgomery) tried to throw the ball deep down the field, something bad happened,” said Young. “We got a couple of picks tonight, which was nice because we haven’t had one in a while.

“And, teams are going to quit throwing to Caleb Nichols’ side because the kid is a player,” he added.

After an exchange of punts, Reid ripped off a 48-yard TD, then tacked on the extra point to make it 14-0 midway through the first quarter.

The Red Raiders responded with their best possession of the night, a nine-play, 61-yard scoring drive, capped by an 11-yard TD pass from Almeida to Devon Deem. Gabe McNear’s PAT kick cut the deficit to 14-7 early in the second quarter.

While the Wildcat defense contained Montgomery’s standout running back Kaide Drick on the scoring drive, Almeida did the majority of the damage, completing several short passes and rushing for 23 yards.

“If a team wants to dink-and-dunk us in the air, we’re going to let them a little bit,” said Young. “That’s better than getting beat over the top. And, we don’t want a guy to rush for 200 yards on us.”

The Wildcats held Drick, who was averaging 124 yards per game entering the contest and rushed for 277 yards in a win over Wyalusing last week, to 76 yards on 16 carries, 

“We just wanted to keep building off the physicality we showed in the second half against South Williamsport,” said Young. “We were fundamentally sound defensively.

“If everybody just takes care of their job, then you’re going to do a pretty good job defensively,” he added. “I couldn’t be prouder of our defense.”

Young also noted the play of several youngsters.

“We had some breakdowns defensively,” said Young. “We were missing a couple kids tonight, and it showed, but I’m super-proud of the young kids that stepped in and played hard.

“(Sophomore) Matt Machmer for one … he didn’t come here expecting to start at corner(back), but he’s a heck of a fundamental player, and that boy can tackle.

“Freshmen Josh NIttinger and Jason Dunn have been getting on the field a lot, which makes some of our older players better and fresher as the game goes on,” added Young. “That’s what I’m really proud of.”

The defenses ruled the majority of the second quarter, until junior Karter Rude’s 23-yard punt return set up Athens  at midfield.

A few plays later, the Wildcats were in the end zone on a 9-yard TD run by Nichols to up the lead to 20-7. The key play of the drive was a 23-yard pass from sophomore QB Mason Lister to fullback Tanner Dildine, who did most of the work with his legs.

The Wildcats opened the second half with a time-consuming 14-play possession, but an inopportune intentional-grounding penalty just inside the Montgomery 20 set them way behind the chains. They couldn’t recovered and were forced to punt.

Early in the fourth quarter, Montgomery moved the ball into Athens territory, but Rude picked off an Almeida pass and returned it to the Red Raider 33.

“Karter Rude told us all week long “i’m gonna get one,’ and he did,” said Young. “We had a good feeling he would based on what they do and how we were going to defend it.”

Athens fed Reid on the ensuing drive, and he accounted for 31 yards, including a 5-yard TD run. Lister’s pass to senior tight end Ben Pernaselli  provided the two-point conversion to give the Wildcats a 28-7 lead.

“We talked at halftime and decided throwing the football was not what was going to win us this football game,” said Young. “I’m an old-school football coach, when we can run the football, we’re going to run the football.”

Montgomery clung to a sliver of hope on its next possession, but the Wildcat defense continued to stymie Drick, and the Red Raiders were forced to punt.

Reid drove the final nail into the Montgomery coffin on the punt, a short boot to the Athens sideline. With the Wildcat sideline yelling “poison, poison, poison,” Reid scooped up the punt and raced to the Red Raiders’ 8-yard line.

Two plays later, Lister found a wide-open J.J. Babcock in the end zone for a 5-yard TD pass. Reid’s PAT provided the final margin.

Reid led all ground-gainers in the game with 142 yards and two TDs on 21 carries, while Dildine added 15 yards on three carries.

Lister completed 9 of 20 pass attempts for 100 yards, and one TD. Babcock led the Wildcat receivers with four grabs for 40 yards and one TD, while Rude had two catches for 21 yards, and Reid had two receptions for 16 yards.

Drickwhile Almeida rushed for 41 yards on four carries.

Almeida completed 11 of 18 pass attempts for 47 yards and one TD, but was picked off twice.

Athens, now 5-1, will likely travel to Danville Friday for the semifinals of the District 4, Class AAA semifinals. (The playoff pairings will be announced this weekend.)

(Matt Patton contributed to this story.)

Read More



October 22, 2020 Tim Birney

ATHENS — Not only was Wednesday Jake Lezak’s birthday, but the Athens coach was named the 2019-20 National Federation of High Schools Pa.  Boys Soccer Coach of the Year.

“It was a pretty good day,” said Lezak. “I’m basically speechless. It’s incredible, a fantastic honor, and very humbling.”

Athens athletic director J.B. Sullivan said Lezak, who has directed the Wildcats to four consecutive District 4 championship games — winning a pair of them, is a deserving recipient.

'I am ecstatic coach Lezak was selected,” he said. “In his near 20-year career at Athens, he and his staff have worked tirelessly for the betterment of Athens' student-athletes and have had exemplary results.   

“It is a very well-deserved honor and I congratulate him on behalf of Athens Area School District,” added Sullivan.

Currently in his 16th season at the helm of the Wildcats, Lezak has 244 victories, two District 4 titles, and countless NTL titles, including the last six.

Lezak doles out credit for his success to several sources — first and foremost being his family.

“There's no way I could do all of this without my wife and family support,” he said. “Merideth has supported my crazy passion through the years, and our family has been there to help with the boys and many other things so I can stay on the sideline.”

Secondly, Lezak credits his players throughout the years.

“It’s one of those things where you put a lot of time and work in with the players, and it’s the players who have really made something like this possible.

“Their work ethic, and their commitment to the program has been relentless,” he said. “They understand what our goals are, and they understand what we want to achieve as a program.

“We want recognition, and we want to be noticed as a team that’s going to compete,” continued Lezak. “One of the biggest things for us is, we don’t want to just show up at Districts, we want to make teams believe that we can win, and that we’ll beat them.

“As much as this is one person getting recognized here, this is really recognition for the entire program, and how far we’ve come in the last 17 years,” added Lezak, who has been head coach for 16 years, and took one year off early in his career.

One of the biggest contributors in Lezak’s success is longtime assistant coach Dan Lane, who was Lezak’s youth coach.

“Dan Lane has been with me since the beginning. It’s been great, we’ve really worked well together.

“Soccer is not his first true love, but I needed him, and I talked him into coaching,” said Lezak. “He was my youth coach in school, and I fell back on him.

“I had no clue what I was doing when it came to high school soccer,” he continued. “I had just gotten out of college as a player, and had coached goal keepers at that point.

“When I came back (to Athens), Dan didn’t really want to coach, but said ‘if you can’t find anybody else, I’ll do it,’” noted Lezak. “It’s been great, we compliment each other very well.

“Honestly, this program would not be where it’s at without him. And, I would not be where I am without such a good assistant coach,” Lezak added.

There are others to recognize as well.

“Zach Colegrove has been with us the last four-plus years, and he’s been a great asset to us.

“We’ve added some other assistant coaches this year as well,” said Lezak. “Having these younger guys step into assistant coaching roles, even though they’re volunteers, has helped lighten the load.

“I want them to learn. I want to help them become coaches, even if they don’t work within our program in the future,” he added. “Maybe they go somewhere else and make an impact on some other kids.”

One big key for Lezak has been constantly trying to make the program better.

“It really is a 12-month commitment,” said Lezak.

There is no off-season,” he noted. “We already have 32 guys signed up for the indoor season for next year’s team.

“We haven’t even finished the regular season yet, and we’ve already laid out the framework for next year,” added Lezak.

Read More



October 22, 2020 Tim Birney

TOWANDA — Athens sailed to a 3-0 win over Towanda here Thursday night in NTL volleyball action to sweep the season series.

The Lady Wildcats, now 8-6, won by sores of 25-11, 25-11, and 25-14.

“That one day of practice helped the girls fine-tune a few things and they played great tonight,” said Athens coach Heather Hanson.

Senior Kayleigh Miller led Athens with 40 setter assists, eight digs, four service aces, and three kills, while junior Taylor Walker registered 12 kills and 10 digs, and senior Taylor Field recorded 25 digs.

Taylor Walker had an incredible game,” said Hanson. “We had three hitters get double-digit kills tonight. That makes me very happy.

“Taylor Field’s defense was beautiful, she is so graceful and relentless out there,” noted Hanson. “And, Kayleigh Miller guided the team with fantastic sets and got to every second ball.

Senior Leah Liechty had 11 kills, two aces, and two digs, while senior Kylee Jayne knocked down 11 kills, sophomore Jenny Ryan had eight kills, two digs, and two assists, junior Ally Martin added five kills and three digs, and seniors Grayce Witherow and Gia Perry chipped in with 13 and five digs, respectively.

“Grayce Witherow had some outstanding digs in the back row and was very aggressive on defense,” said Hanson.

Athens hosts Wyalusing Monday, and wraps up the regular season Tuesday at Wellsboro.

Read More



October 22, 2020 Tim Birney

SAYRE — Senior Joey Toscano tallied a pair of goals, and four of his teammate also found the net as Athens rolled to a 6-0 win over Sayre here Thursday evening in NTL boys soccer action at the Lockhart Street Bowl.

After the Wildcats’ loss to Wellsboro on Oct. 13,  longtime Athens coach Jake Lezak said his team needed to play better. He liked what he saw Thursday.

“We have improved greatly in the last two weeks,” he said. “The players have been pushed for their technical side, and that’s really where we needed to improve the most. Tactically, I think we’re a smart team, and we understand the game.

“Technically we have a lot of deficits all over the place, and that’s what we’ve been focusing on — making sure we take care of the ball, our first-touches and making sure we connect.

“That was the problem against Wellsboro,” noted Lezak. “We were getting the passes off, and we were making the right runs, we were just passing it right to the other team.

“Tonight, we looked much better,” he added. “We played well.”

After playing Athens close in a 2-0 loss at Alumni Stadium earlier in the season, and with a return to health, Sayre coach Greg Hughey was expecting a close game Thursday.

“I’m very disappointed,” he said. “We’ve had some injuries, but we got everyone back, and we played a great game against Troy.

“(Athens) did the same runs, the same things they normally do. We just didn’t diagnose it, and we couldn’t keep up,” noted Hughey. “I didn’t think it was anything we hadn’t seen before, and I didn’t think it was anything we couldn’t handle, but tonight, for some reason, we just didn’t execute.

“Our communication was bad, too,” he added. “The second goal they scored in the first half was the result of poor communication … same thing with first goal in second half.”

Athens had a 14-5 advantage in shots-on-goal, although with the number of shots that sailed high and wide, it appeared much larger. The Wildcats also had a 4-3 edge in corner kicks.

Lezak said the key was controlling the ball, and keeping Sayre’s biggest offensive weapons in check.

“We knew that (Mason Hughey) and Cody (VanBenthuysen) needed to be kept in check,” he said. “They have great shots, and if they turn and you give them space, they’re going to put it on target.

“We knew defensively we needed to hold them down, but we also had to counter-attack and get out of there quickly.

“I think our backline did a fantastic job,” added Lezak. “(Hughey) put a lot of pressure on them, he’s a good player. He definitely kept us honest back there.”

Coach Hughey noted his team may have been relying too much on Mason Hughey and VanBenthuysen.

“We needed to push up a little more, and we didn’t do it,” he said. “We needed our center defensive-mids to be pushing up a little bit to help out. We had one or two guys running on offense, and that’s not enough against their defense.”

Toscano scored his first goal in the 23rd minute, and about three minutes later, junior Jason Gao made it 2-0, which is where it stood at halftime.

Junior Nate Quinn scored three minutes into the second half, which triggered a three-goal spree. Two minutes later, senior Travis Reynard rocketed a shot into the upper-90 to make it 4-0, and just 78 seconds after that, Toscano scored his second goal to make it 5-0.

“The third goal took the wind out of us a bit, then they just piled it up from there,” said Hughey. “We just fell apart defensively after that.”

Sophomore Ryan Thompson capped the scoring with 23:16 remaining in the contest.

Sophomore Cole Gelbutis recorded eight saves in net for the Redskins, and senior Asher Ellis had five for the Wildcats.

Athens wraps up the regular season at 11-2, while Sayre finishes at 5-8.

The Wildcats now await word on their official playoff seed, and a potential home game, while Sayre, unofficially in ninth place in the District 4, Class A power points rankings used to determine qualifiers waits to see if any team will decline the postseason opportunity, allowing the Redskins entry into the eight-team field.

Read More



October 20, 2020 Tim Birney

TROY — Athens bounced back from a “disheartening” five-set loss at NEB Monday, with a sweep of Troy here Tuesday night in NTL Large School volleyball action.

The Lady Wildcats won by scores of 25-22, 25-14, and 26-24.

“The girls figured it out tonight, they played as a team,” said Athens coach Heather Hanson. “The girls made this game a team-building exercise.

“The slow starts, being down by five, giving up the lead several times, communication errors, and running into each other are all things that have contributed to us losing,” noted Hanson. “Tonight, the girls learned a little bit about depending on each other and were able to overcome the negatives that have gotten us the past three (matches).”

Hanson was also excited to have fans in attendance.

“Oh my gosh, what a loud crowd and awesome atmosphere,” she said. “You forget what it feels like! It was incredible to feel the love and hear the cheers and chanting from both sides. And this was just allowing two spectators per player.

“I know it means the world to the girls to have their biggest supporters cheering them on and I am so thankful and grateful to the Troy School District for letting the away team have spectators,” added Hanson. “And thanks to the Athens Board of Education for allowing us to have two spectators per player at the next home games coming up.”

Senior Kayleigh Miller led Athens with 24 setter assists, 16 digs, and two service aces, while sophomore Jenny Ryan had 11 digs and four kills, and junior Taylor Walker had 11 digs, four aces, and three kills.

Seniors Kylie Jayne and Leah Liechty registered 11 and 10 kills, respectively, , while senior Taylor Field recorded 13 digs and two kills, and junior Ally Martin added dix aces, four kills, and four digs.

Athens, now 8-6, returns to action Thursday when it hosts Towanda.

“I’m so pumped to have an actual practice tomorrow,” said Hanson. “It’s been a busy schedule of play, play, play, with no time to correct errors, or make adjustments. And, of course, my favorite, get back to basics and discipline.”

Read More



October 20, 2020 Tim Birney

EAST TROY — Senior Emma Roe scored in the 16th minute, and the Athens defense made it stand up in a 1-0 win over Troy here in NTL girls soccer action on a rainy Tuesday afternoon.

The win is a bit of redemption for the Lady Wildcats, who dropped a 2-1 decision to Troy at home Saturday.

“I thought we played a really tough scrappy game tonight in a tough place to play,” said Athens coach Rich Pitts. “The girls really sacrificed their bodies tonight to pull out a huge win.

“And, we needed to win to, hopefully, pull off a home game in districts,” Pitts added, noting his team is currently the second seed in Class AAA standings.

With 24:06 remaining in the first half, sophomore Ally Thoman played a through ball from the corner, and Roe drove a shot into the net for the game’s only goal.

“Roe and Ally (Thoman) really put a lot of pressure on Troy's back line with speed and passing, including a great link up for the goal,” said Pitts.

The Athens coach said it was a complete team effort against a good Troy team.

“Hannah Blackman really did a great job putting girls in the best spots to be successful,” he said. “Her voice is so amazing and the information she gives is always spot on.

“Mya Thompson did everything asked of her in multiple positions,” said Pitts. “She has been a great addition for us this year.  She works so hard and did a great job marking (Nicole) McClellan the last 15 (minutes) of the game.  

And, Taylar Fisher and Norah Reid helped our back line shut down their speedy forwards by doubling them,” noted Pitts. “Mia Robinson, (Hannah) Walker, Teagan (Williams) and Kaylee (Grazul) were awesome all night dealing with the pressure they put on us.”

“I’m super-happy getting the win tonight, and now on to districts,” added Pitts.

Athens had a 9-8 edge in shots-on-goal, while Troy had a 6-3 advantage in corner kicks.

Olivia Tate had six save in net for Troy, while sophomore Abby Champion had three for Athens.

Athens wraps up the regular season at 9-2-1.

Read More



October 19, 2020 Tim Birney

LERAYSVILLE — Northeast Bradford took a different route to get there, but in the end prevailed in another five-set thriller over Athens here Monday night in NTL volleyball action.

The Lady Wildcats pulled out a pair of close sets — 27-25 and 25-23, but the Lady Panthers re-grouped and won the final three sets by scores of 25-19, 25-17, and 15-7.

Athens coach Heather Hanson said the night was a mixed bag for her team.

“The first two games were really close, and we pulled out wins ,which proved to me we are getting mentally tough.

“Then, the third game hit and our errors dug us into too many holes,” said Hanson. “It’s discouraging

(No stats available.)

Athens, now 7-6, returns to action Tuesday at Troy.

Read More