Len Benfante knows what it feels like to have a top player on his golf team. In his 27 years at the Pittston Area helm, he’s coached the likes of Brandon Matthews and Tyler McGarry.
His top player this year also has a chance to win a district crown and advance to regionals. Pittston Area junior Allie Craig is a two-time District 2 qualifier while playing for the Patriots.
Over the past two seasons, it’s been her short game that has been a downside. Benfante has seen that part of her game progress through this offseason.
“I have seen some improvement around the greens, which have been her Achilles heel,” Benfante said. “Her putting is improved. The putting pace is so much better. She’s not making the putts but she was around the hole.”
The Patriots will open the season with the annual Tryba Tournament at 9 a.m. Monday, Aug. 22 at Fox Hill Country Club. Conference play begins when the Patriots and Wyoming Area square off Wednesday, Aug. 24, also at Fox Hill.
Craig, who finished fourth at last year’s district tournament at Elmhurst Country Club and missed the cut by just a few strokes, will be Pittston Area’s No. 1. She will be playing alongside the top boys in the Wyoming Valley Conference. However, Benfante said that’s something that drives her.
“She loves the competition,” Benfante said. “She wants to beat them and she gets mad when she loses. She wants to be there unless someone takes it from her.”
Behind Craig are seniors Brandon Seaman and Joe Carchilla, who both have match experience from the past two years. Along with Craig, the trio are the only players with match experience this year. First-year senior Matt Havrilla and sophomore Dylan Burwell are looking to get into the mix.
Two freshmen, Nick Scavo and Derek Cunis, may also see time in the starting lineup this season.
“I’m looking for that bunch to round out our lineup,” Benfante said. “In practice so far they’ve all been pretty equal with the scores they’re shooting. We’re at a better point than we were last year.”
The Patriots, after the PIAA’s realignment, are still part of the Wyoming Valley Conference 3A Division 1. Coughlin and Tunkhannock are still in WVC Division 3A-1. Dallas moves from Division 3A-1 to 3A-2, so Pittston Area and Wyoming Area will each play the Mountaineers once instead of twice.
“I would expect us to be somewhere around .500 this season,” Benfante said. “After last year, I would be thrilled. Hopefully some of them get to districts.”
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick