Aug. 12—Two years ago, it was Scranton Prep's Matt Tressler losing in a one-hole playoff for the PIAA Class 2A golf championship.
Just 10 months ago, it was North Pocono's Billy Pabst Jr. finishing as the runner-up in Class 3A, falling short on the second hole of a playoff.
Will there be another Lackawanna League golfer ready to step up and compete for an individual state championship again this year? And could it be one of the league's top female players?
Several strong players will see how far they can lead their teams, and advance as individuals, in a season that begins Friday and will play roughly half its matches before attending a day of classes.
Riverside's Michael Maslanka is the only member of last year's boys All-Region team, returning for what he expects to be a strong junior campaign, both as an individual, and on the team level.
Among those at the top of the local watch list are Abington Heights' Luke Morgan, Lackawanna Trail's Gavin June, Mid Valley's Eddie Kaufman, Valley View's LV Pegula and Wallenpaupack's Kevin Wortman.
On the girls side, North Pocono's Gwen Powell is coming off an impressive summer campaign, including an unprecedented fourth Tournament of Champions victory for the junior in the Anthracite Golf Association's Lawler Junior Tour.
The two-time Class 3A District 2 champ and state qualifier is hoping to make it back to states again this year, albeit at Penn State for the first time since 2001. She's hoping to see two-time state Class 2A medalist Ciera Toomey of Dunmore there, but the North Carolina recruit's status remains up in the air as she recovers from a torn ACL suffered in the district Class 4A basketball championship game.
Honesdale's Kayla Benson, a state qualifier, and Scranton Prep's Gianna Cafarella are returning
All-Region players on the girls side.
Maslanka won the boys Tournament of Champions and is riding a wave of confidence.
"I'm the third person to win it twice so it's definitely a huge accomplishment. It builds a lot of confidence coming into the school season.
"Definitely this year my main goal is to win states. The last two years I've had a rough path at districts. It has me wanting it a little more. It pushed me a little more the past winter practicing."
Riverside has almost its entire starting lineup back and expects to challenge Scranton Prep for the Class 2A league title. The teams meet Friday morning at 9 at Glenmaura National to kick off the season.
Montrose has a strong contingent back and is the third pick of coaches as a favorite in the division.
In Class 3A, Abington Heights is the favorite according to coaches, and Comets coach Frank Summa isn't quite sure why.
"Luke's my only returning starter," Summa said. "Valley View has four starters returning, and I am not counting Si (Wallenpaupack coach Bob Simons) out with two starters and those two girls returning.
"It's awfully nice of them. I do have 38 kids who've signed up to try out."
Morgan has pushed himself on the junior circuit after a junior season that saw him finish 13-0 in league play.
"He's been playing well," Summa said. "His putting has improved, but with his ball striking over the summer, if that continues, there's a lot of great hope.
"Between tennis and golf, he has a great eye for the small ball, and he's really focused on his game. He wants to go further than we did last year."
Valley View's hopes are centered around Pegula.
"I would say he's one of the best players in the district right now," Valley View coach Jamie Addley said of the senior. "I see it in his mindset and attitude. He's a lot more confident in himself.
"He's keeping the ball in front of him and not making mistakes."
Wallenpaupack junior Wortman has been on the precipice of excellence for two seasons.
"He has a real nice swing and he's very consistent," Simons said. "It all depends how he handles the pressure and course management."
Simons said team success depends in part on how quickly his freshmen mesh with the veterans.
Scranton Prep alum Nick Biondi, fifth in the state his senior season, takes over for longtime coach Ed Cimoch.
"Huge shoes to fill," Biondi said. "We have a lot of young talent. I'm just going to see how quickly I can cultivate them and get them jelling and moving together."
Scranton Prep won two silvers and a gold medal at states in the last four years, and dominated its division in league play.
But with almost every experienced Scranton Prep player gone, Maslanka and his teammates see an opportunity.
So do individual players like June, who showed he's got the game to compete at states, making four birdies last year in a 15th-place finish as a sophomore.
Kaufman has a mechanically sound swing and missed the cut for states by two as a sophomore. He also shot a 5-under 28 at Scott Greens, one off the high school scoring record there.
Powell's scoring touch over the summer indicates she's ready to dominate the district like she did the summer season.
"I worked more on the mechanics of swing over the winter and over the summer I'm striking the ball better," the junior said. "Hard work, practice."
How will that translate at Penn State's White Course in October?
"There's a lot of good schools, a lot of good girls across the state," Powell said. "I can only control myself. All I can do is put up a good number and hopefully that puts me in a good place.
"Golf is a rented game. You don't own it. You have to enjoy the moment when you hit good shots and put up good numbers."
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