Sam Luptak Jr.
New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
Only the best golfers reach the boys PIAA Individual Championship.
Lawrence County has two with that chance.
Shenango’s Darren Carone and Neshannock’s Matt Cioffi will face off against 40 others in the western regional of the PIAA championship today at Tom’s Run Golf Course in Blairsville.
“I feel pretty confident,” Carone said. “I’m going to be pretty prepared for it.”
Both golfers shot 3-over par 75 in the WPIAL Class AA Individual Finals to finish in a tie for second place. The top 16 finishers of the event, which took place at the Youghiogheny Country Club in Elizabeth Township, qualified for today’s PIAA event.
“It feels pretty good,” Cioffi said. “All the hard work paid off.”
Working hard is something that comes naturally for both golfers.
“He’s a very good student in school,” Shenango coach John Dado said of Carone. “He’s a very hard worker.”
Carone, showing a dedication to his school work, decided to skip the section qualifier two years so he wouldn’t miss out on too much school. Dado adjusted his team’s match starting time this season to accommodate his boys.
“They do miss a lot of school for golf,” Dado said. “We get them out at 3:30, so they don’t have to get out of school early.”
It’s a year-long grind for Carone. If there was still daylight left during the summer, he’d be on the course.
“He’s been working all summer to prepare for the PIAA western regional,” Dado said. “Hopefully he’ll shoot a low enough score to move on.”
Neshannock coach Mike Kirkwood believes there isn’t a harder worker than Cioffi.
“All summer long, he’ll play 27 holes before some kids wake up,” Kirkwood said. “It’s just a tribute to him.”
The number Cioffi gives when asked how many balls he’s hit in his life is staggering.
“I’d say it’s about five million,” Cioffi said. “I would play at Castle Hills driving range. I’d hit golf balls and play every night until it got dark.”
Both golfers were influenced by their grandfathers.
“I found out about golf from my grandpa (Nick Carone) when I was about 12 or 13,” Carone said. “He used to play, and my dad used to caddy for him. That made me decide to get clubs and start playing.”
Carone has also leaned on his coach for guidance.
“My coach has been a huge help for me over the summer and through my career,” Carone said. “Over the summer, I’d play with him all the time. He pretty much taught me everything I know.”
Cioffi’s grandfather, Al Germani, introduced golf to him at an earlier age.
“I was probably three at Riley’s Fun Spot, which features a miniature golf course, in New Castle,” Cioffi said. “I was there every day at 11 a.m. after kindergarten for three or fours hours with my grandpa.”
Cioffi says this routine continued until he was about eight or nine.
As seniors, the boys find themselves in valuable leadership roles on their respective teams.
“Kids on the golf team look up to him,” Dado said of Carone. “He’s been a great player to have on the team and a great individual to have off the course.”
Cioffi loves the fact that he is a senior, but remains humble about any influence he has had on his teammates.
“I don’t really like to talk about myself,” Cioffi said. “Coach Kirkwood’s daughter (freshman teammate Marissa Kirkwood) looks up to me pretty well. Mike Maciarello and I are the captains, so we take a part in that.”
Being great leaders is something that isn’t required as much in a sport like golf. The boys do it anyway. However, what the boys love most about the sport is just the opposite, the individualism.
“I love the competition — the competition of being an individual and playing against other people,” Carone said.
Cioffi was quick to compare the structure of the game to more team-based sports.
“It’s not like baseball where there is nine guys,” Cioffi said. “You control the outcome. It’s all a mind game. I like it like that.”
Whatever the outcome today, this final event should mark the last of their high school careers. Both players participated in the WPIAL Class AA Team Championships on Thursday at Cedarbrook Gold Golf Course in Belle Vernon. Neshannock placed third with a score of 430. Shenango finished in a tie for fourth with Freeport at 447.
Carone and Cioffi both wish to continue their playing careers.
“I’d like to still play golf,” Carone said. “I really don’t know what I want to do for a living, though.”
The sentiment was echoed by Cioffi.
“I’d like to play in college,” Cioffi said. “I’m just like everyone else trying to make it. I was thinking about going into golf management.”
Practice rounds for the western regional began yesterday. The top 20 golfers from today’s competition qualify for the finals to take place at Heritage Hills Golf Resort and Conference Center in York on Oct. 24-25.