Brandon Matthews was a star.
Pittston Area golf coach Len Benfante was dealt with replacing Matthews, a former Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association champion, in 2010.
A few years later, Tyler McGarry came out of nowhere and turned into one of the best golfers in the Wyoming Valley.
This year McGarry starts his freshman season at Misericordia University. Benfante will look to fill the void McGarry leaves after two solid years with the Patriots.
Pittston Area’s 2015 golf team is a young bunch. And they’ll be looking at a sophomore to turn in some of the lowest scores on the team.
Pittston Area’s Allie Craig is poised to become one of the better girls players in the Wyoming Valley Conference in her second full year as a Patriot. Craig was a consistent scorer for the Patriots in 2014 as a freshman. Benfante is hoping she can also become a young leader for this year.
Benfante said Craig works on her game more often than not.
“I have high hopes for her not only to lead the team but in her individual efforts,” Benfante said. “She has a legitimate shot to make it to regionals if she stays on her game. If her short game can get to where her long game is, she’s scary.”
Benfante went on to say Craig’s ability off the tee is where she is the strongest.
Pittston Area will take a step back this season after losing some solid players from last year’s squad, including McGarry. The Patriots feature four seniors: Eric Fritz, Chaz Yager, Bobby Neishman and Jeff Donnora. All four saw some action on last year’s team.
Juniors Joe Carchilla and Brandon Seamon will also provide scoring for Benfante throughout the season.
“Sometimes it gets frustrating when you have to take a step back,” Benfante said. “You don’t have to be the best, but you can be the best you can be. If they get that message, I’m happy.”
It’s an early start to the season for Pittston Area. Benfante and his players started practice on Monday, Aug. 17 and had their first match on Thursday, Aug. 20. The match was against Coughlin at Wilkes-Barre Golf Club.
The Patriots fell to Coughlin, 167-198. The match was played mostly in rain. Craig was one of the stars of the day, however. The sophomore opened with a birdie on the first hole. She had a triple-bogey on the last hole, playing through steady rain. She finished with a 44.
Seamon also carded a round in the 40s for the Patriots, ending with a 46. Fritz and Carchilla rounded out the top four with scores of 52 and 56, respectively.
Benfante’s No. 1 goal this season is to be competitive. He wants his players to have fun on the course because it’s a game they can play the rest of their lives.
“They need to enjoy themselves,” he said. “It’s a sport you’re going to play all your life. In a roundabout way, how long do you want to be happy just coming here and getting a shirt and hat?”
Pittston Area has a busy week ahead. The team gets back to work on Monday, Aug. 24 for the Preseason Tryba Tournament at Fox Hill Country Club. On Wednesday, Pittston Area will clash with Wyoming Area also at Fox Hill.
The meat of the Wyoming Valley Conference schedule will then begin. Benfante believes teams like Crestwood, Dallas and Wyoming Valley West will be the teams to beat this season.
“It runs in cycles,” Benfante said. “I had some really good kids in the past few years. I would hope with Allie being a sophomore I can get some more kids interested.”
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick