A year ago to the day, Duke's season ended in disappointment. Even with a second-place finish by then-junior Leona Maguire, the Blue Devils wound up in 18th place, missing out on match play by a wide margin.
This weekend in Stillwater, Okla., they made sure that history would not repeat itself.
Despite a challenging course and windy conditions during the event's first two rounds, Duke responded with a pair of five-under-par rounds on Sunday and Monday to finish strong and snag the No. 6 seed in the match play portion of the NCAA championship at Karsten Creek Golf Club. The Blue Devils will turn around quickly as they are slated to tee off against third-seeded Southern California at 8 a.m. Tuesday in the quarterfinals.
The winner of that contest—which will be played in a best-of-five format with all matches counting—will play the victor of No. 2 seed Alabama and seventh-seeded Kent State Tuesday afternoon.
For Maguire, who dropped to 30th place after Saturday's second round, the latter rounds of stroke play provided an opportunity to pick up some big-time steam headed into match play. The senior posted a two-under-par 70 on Monday to finish in a tie for 13th, and had it not been for back-to-back bogeys on holes 17 and 18, she may have finished in the top 10.
"[Match play] is where we wanted to be. Coming into today it was tight and it was tight all the way to the end," Maguire told GoDuke.com. "I think this is a good team for match play—we all played it growing up and whoever we get, we're going to give it our very best shot."
The Cavan, Ireland, native was not the only one, however, to turn in a stellar fourth round to ensure that Duke would advance. Sophomore Ana Belac entered the day at seven-over-par for the tournament but got in a groove early with two birdies in her first four holes en route to a 70 of her own.
Belac knocked home a relatively comfortable birdie on the ninth hole to give herself some momentum at the turn. The Slovenian made just one error in her last 13 holes, bogeying only No. 16 with birdies on Nos. 12 and 15 to finish stroke play at five-over-par with a score of 293.
Maguire and Belac will take the leadoff and anchor roles, respectively, as they'll battle against USC's Jennifer Chang and Amelia Garvey Tuesday morning.
"It was a really good day. I was struggling finding the fairway off the tee, but then it worked out because I ran some of my approaches really precisely so I could get some up-and-downs," Belac told GoDuke.com. "Of course, my putting was great so I could hole all those 10- and 20-footers that were clutch. That kept the momentum going the entire round."
Unfortunately, Monday was not nearly as kind to freshman Jaravee Boonchant. The Blue Devils' standout rookie turned in even-par rounds of 72 on both Saturday and Sunday to put herself in position for a top-15 finish, but could not close out nearly as well as her teammates.
Boonchant made the turn with one birdie and eight pars, yet the Bangkok native could not manage a single birdie in the final nine holes. With a double-bogey six on No. 16 and a bogey five on the following hole, Boonchant dropped all the way a 27th-place tie along with Belac.
And it was a weekend to forget for both junior Virginia Elena Carta and senior Lisa Maguire. Carta, who was the individual champion as a freshman in 2016, posted scores of 78 and 80 on Friday and Monday, respectively. Both of those scored were dropped as well as Maguire's seven-over and and 11-over-par rounds on the weekend.
Carta wound up tied for 69th and Maguire finished in a 79th-place tie.
Regardless, all success and struggles will be wiped clean come Tuesday morning. With Duke on a quest for its seventh national title, all five members will be crucial if the Blue Devils have any hope of emerging from a path that could potentially see them match up against three of the nation's top six teams—USC, Alabama and UCLA.
"I'm really excited [for match play,]" Belac said. "I have some experience in match play [and] my mental game is pretty strong. I can keep calm when things are going well.... I'm looking forward to tomorrow."
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A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."