IN FULL SWING
Pittston Area’s Craig looking for postseason run
EXETER — Every athlete’s high school career starts with the same first step of making the team.
Allie Craig made the Pittston Area varsity golf team as a freshman then continued climbing the hierarchy.
That same year, she earned a spot in the starting lineup. By 10th grade, she was the Patriots’ No. 1 player.
“She just has an unbelievable competitive nature,” said longtime Pittston Area coach Len Benfante, whose past standouts include 2010 state champion Brandon Matthews. “I have to say, of all the years I’ve been coaching, she’s as competitive as anybody I’ve ever coached.”
Feeding off that competitive edge, Craig, a multiyear captain, has remained the Patriots’ No. 1 player into her senior year.
She has recovered from offseason knee surgery in peak form, showing it earlier this year at Fox Hill — Pittston Area’s home course — where she shot 88 over 18 holes for her lowest score yet at the Tryba Preseason Tournament.
While the Patriots have a losing record, they are a perfect 3-0 this year when Craig is medalist.
Now, with pre-districts later this month, Craig hopes a lifetime of hard work pays off with the deepest postseason run of her career.
“My game has improved a lot this season,” she said. “My scores have dropped, my short game is starting to come along the way I’ve been wanting it to. Now it’s just a matter of: Can I keep it together for 18 holes instead of just the nine-hole matches?”
Growing up, Craig played some baseball and basketball, and also gave bowling a try.
Eventually, though, she dropped all other sports in favor of golf, which she first played at nine years old.
“My uncle Tommy (Durkin) taught my father and then my father taught me,” Craig said.
Given that family history, it’s natural Craig would try golf — and that she’s now trying to get her 5-year-old brother T.J. into the sport.
But she said she’s stuck with the sport because of its personal aspect, in which she could self-analyze and challenge herself to play her best with no one else to blame for shortcomings.
Craig’s father, Rich Craig, recalled one of his daughter’s early highlights, when, at 14, she recovered from a wrist injury to win the regional driving and chipping competitions at the Drive, Chip and Putt Championships in Binghamton, New York.
“I putt year-round; (my dad) has my basement laid out so it’s kind of like a putting green,” Allie Craig said. “He bought a simulator so I could swing in my house and not get rusty over the winter. He’s my swing coach. He will take me to the range whenever he can. He’s put so much time and effort into making me as good as I am, so I owe everything and all my success to my father.”
All that hard work has paid off in the form of Craig’s success at Pittston Area, as well as at Anthracite Golf Association events, where earlier in her career she’d been moved up to compete in older age brackets.
The years of playing at a high level resulted in scar
tissue buildup in her right knee, however.
After playing through pain last season, she finally underwent surgery in December on a slight meniscus tear.
Craig admitted to playing “scared” following surgery at risk of reinjuring her knee, but there have been no setbacks this season, which she hopes to end on the highest note of her Patriots career.
The only female player who’s a No. 1 in the Wyoming Valley Conference, Craig is aiming to qualify for regionals for the first time.
Regardless of what happens, she hopes to attend med school with plans of majoring in psychology or chemistry-biology.
While she’s currently undecided, Craig is hopeful she will continue her academic and athletic careers at Division II West Chester.
As Allie’s high school career soon ends, Rich Craig, a golf lifer who played at Seton Catholic, thanked the Pittston Area coaches who sacrificed their time, while reflecting back on his proudest moments.
“Not only playing, but thinking her way through and being a leader for the team,” Rich Craig said. “That makes me more proud than anything else.”
Pittston Area’s Allie Craig has been in the starting lineup for the Patriots since her freshman year.
Pittston Area’s Allie Craig takes a swing.