Leechburg's Barto, other returning golfers seeking championship glory
Matt Barto lines up his shot and concentrates on the little white ball.
He hits it and watches it land and bounce across the green surface.
Maybe later, he'll go outside and play some golf. For now, this ping- pong match is getting heated.
The incoming Leechburg senior doesn't just revel in taking down the top golfers in the state. He also enjoys beating his coach in another form of small ball.
“I don't do anything fancy,” Barto said. “I just hit it hard. I don't try to spin it or anything. He's won eight games, and I have five. But I won the last two.”
It's all part of the competitive and detail-oriented makeup of the defending WPIAL Class AA golf champion.
Coach Heath Shimer would prefer to play his star player at table tennis. Golf could present its problems.
“I can beat him at ping-pong,” Shimer said. “Golf, probably not any more.”
Barto also hits it hard on the course, but very few opponents have been able to go back-and-forth with him.
The favorite to repeat, he also carded his best finish at the PIAA tournament, taking second behind Fairfield's Isaiah Logue, who returns to defend his title.
“He's an animal,” Barto said. “He'll be tough to beat.”
But so will Barto, who has had a productive summer. He won the International Junior Golf Tour's Philly Challenge in Malvern and took second at the Western Pa. Major at Nemacolin Woodlands' Mystic Rock.
Barto has shown steady improvement each fall. He was seventh in the WPIAL (Division II) as a freshman and third as a sophomore.
“My game is looking good right now and my swing is as good as it's been,” Barto said. “I don't see how things can be any different. Each year, I have gotten better each stage of the way. Why shouldn't I go out and win sectionals, WPIALs, regionals and states?”
His rise has garnered attention from Rutgers, Delaware and Akron, the latter being his favorite — if only a scholarship offer would follow.
“I am really interested in Akron,” he said. “They have an amazing engineering reputation. It feels like such a nice, quaint setting.
“I will put in all the energy and focus and do whatever I can to (play Division I golf). I thought recruiting would be more frantic for me at this point, but it's not.”
Shimer doesn't want to think about next fall without Barto.
“If I can figure a way to keep him another year, I'll do it,” he joked.
On the girls side, WPIAL Class AA champion Gillian Alexander from Jefferson-Morgan returns, along with Central Valley's Macky Fouse (Seton Hall recruit), Maddy McDaniel and Marissa Sudar. In Class AAA, WPIAL runner-up Lauren Waller from Canon-McMillan returns as one of the top contenders.
In the Class AAA boys division, WPIAL champ Brent Rodgers from Central Catholic could be challenged by Indiana's Matt Holuta and Upper St. Clair's Thomas Steve, among others.
It's only the first week of the season and Barto already is thinking about the state finals, which take place in late October in York.
“I want to win the WPIAL again,” he said. “I know Owen Miller of Burgettstown will be around at the end. You can't underestimate anyone in the WPIAL, though.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.