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Blue Devils tee off at regionals

At the 2004 NCAA regional tournament, Duke fell one stroke short of making the NCAA Championship field. This week in Nashville, Tenn., the Blue Devils will attempt to avenge that mistake.

“Any time you don’t make it from the regionals, it is a motivational factor, but especially when you miss [the NCAA Championship] by one lousy stroke,” ACC Coach of the Year Rod Myers said.

Duke, ranked 10th nationally, enters the tournament at The Golf Club of Tennessee as the fourth-seeded team in the East. The three-day event begins today in Nashville.

With the top 10 teams in each regional tournament advancing to the NCAA Championship, the Blue Devils are confident that the 2005 season will not end as it did in 2004.

“Our attitude is probably going to be to play to try to win this thing,” Myers said. “We’ve beaten all the teams in the field somewhere along the line this season. We’re not going to get caught up in being one of the 10 qualifiers. We need to set our goals a little higher.”

Only two of the team’s five competitors, juniors Ryan Blaum and Nathan Smith, teed off at last year’s disappointing NCAA regionals. Blaum, ranked sixth nationally, is coming off a dominant victory at the ACC Championship, where he won by eight strokes, the second-largest margin of victory in the tournament’s history. In 10 tournaments this year, Blaum has recorded five top-five finishes.

“I really think Ryan thrives in an atmosphere like this,” Myers said of Blaum’s play on the national stage. “He wants the ball at the end of the ball game, he wants to have the chance to help his team win.”

Smith, the 24th-ranked player in the nation, has had a successful year as well, notching seven top-10 finishes and earning All-ACC recognition. He also won the Azalea Amateur Invitational in March and finished in a fourth-place tie at the ACC Championships.

“Nate has been playing very well,” Myers said. “He’s been putting the ball well, and with his putter going, he can do a lot of damage.”

Even with two junior stars leading the team, the most impressive Blue Devil may be freshman Michael Quagliano. After showing some inconsistency early in the season, Quagliano has steadily improved during the spring.

The team as a whole has been playing solidly recently. Duke has recorded three victories in its last four events, losing only at the Augusta State Invitational, where gusty winds made the course extremely difficult to play.

“If we can play as well as we are capable of playing, we can compete for the National Championship,” Myers said. “I’d like to think we have a really good chance of being a top-five team. It is a lofty goal for us, but based on our spring, it would be silly to have any lower expectations.”

The NCAA Championship will be held June 1-4 in Mills, Md. at Caves Valley Golf Club.

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