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With 5 returning, Duke takes aim at title

As Michael Schachner sank his final putt on the 18th hole to end the 2005 NCAA Championship, the Blue Devils were already looking forward to the 2005-2006 season. Their eighth-place finish was slightly disappointing, but several members of the team said they will build on that experience this season.

And with all five starters returning to a team that had one of the best seasons in Duke history, hopes appear to be very high for the fourth-ranked Blue Devils.

"I'm really excited to have all five guys back," head coach Rod Myers said. "The guys feel like they can beat anybody in the country."

Like last year, the team will be led by senior Ryan Blaum. Blaum, who won the ACC individual title last year, has been ranked as the tenth-best player in the country by Golfweek magazine. In his junior campaign, Blaum recorded two individual titles and seven top-10 finishes.

He was Duke's top finisher at the NCAA Championships, but felt that he could have performed better and helped the team to a higher finish.

"I said to Ryan, 'Eighth place just wasn't good enough, was it?', and he looked at me, shook his head, and said, 'No, no it wasn't,'" Myers said.

The rest of the team believes that it will improve upon the 2005 NCAA Championship performance. Senior Nate Smith, who Golfweek named one of the nation's 50-to-watch, called this year's squad the best he has ever played on.

"There's no doubt it helps to have all five of us back," Smith said. "We're really comfortable together and we know we should be winning these tournaments."

What will likely determine Duke's success will be the play of its younger members, who delivered the most encouraging performances at the NCAAs.

Schachner, now a sophomore, was the team's best scorer through the first three days and finished round three in a tie for fourteenth. Junior Jake Grodzinsky struggled early, but turned in one of the team's two under-par rounds on the final day.

"Jake and Michael are ready to have breakout seasons," Smith said. "I've been watching them work out all summer. I'm expecting unbelievable things from them this year."

During the summer, Smith said sophomore Michael Quagliano continued to earn his reputation for steady golf. Throughout last season, Myers often described Quagliano's play as solid and consistently near par.

The Blue Devils began their season Monday by teeing off at The Preview, the annual fall tournament at the golf course that will host the NCAA Championship. This year's field includes 12 of the teams that finished in the top 15 at last year's NCAAs.

"Having played here once in competition will help us in the long run," Blaum said. "But the NCAAs are still nine months away. This week, we're just going to try to go out there and win this golf tournament."

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