After cruising its way to an ACC championship victory just last week, Duke is heading north to continue its campaign in hopes of punching a ticket to the NCAA championship yet again.
The top-seeded Blue Devils will compete Monday through Wednesday in the NCAA regional held in Madison, Wis., following a 27-stroke rout in Greensboro that gave the team its first win of the spring and saw senior Leona Maguire capture her third ACC individual title. The site is one of four regionals that will take place this week, with the others being contested in Austin, Texas, San Francisco and Tallahassee, Fla.
To earn its seventh consecutive national championship berth, Duke will have to pass the test at the par-72 University Ridge Golf Course, a track that head coach Dan Brooks described as an appropriate test for the penultimate postseason competition.
“I wouldn’t call it an extremely hard course, but it’s a really good, solid course and that’s what we need,” Brooks said. “We needed the course not to bring too many teams in, and it’s a good enough championship-level golf course to make you have to play shots. You have to be skilled, and that’s what you need in regionals: some place where the better players can demonstrate their skills.”
After capturing the individual ACC championship by way of a dramatic three-hole playoff, Leona Maguire—who averages a team-best 70.5 strokes per round—will look to lead Duke yet again as she prepares for the remainder of the postseason and her professional debut. The senior has three top-10 finishes in past NCAA regional appearances, highlighted by a 2015 victory in Notre Dame, Ind., and she will tee off in Madison on the heels of four consecutive top-10 finishes.
To move on to the NCAA championship held May 18-23 in Stillwater, Okla., the Blue Devils will need to place among the six best teams on the 6,313-yard course, where the team will be challenged by a field of 17 other teams including No. 5 Southern California, No. 11 Northwestern and No. 15 Arizona State. Virginia and Notre Dame will also compete in Madison to round out the ACC's showing.
Additionally, the three best individuals not on championship-qualifying teams will also earn spots to compete on college golf’s biggest stage.
Coming up just behind Maguire in the ACC tournament was freshman Jaravee Boonchant, who will make her regional debut also riding a streak of four straight top-10 results. Boonchant has had a stellar first season at Duke thus far, holding the team’s second-best scoring average at 71.3 strokes per round. The Bangkok native’s second-place, six-under-par finish at the ACC championship was her best of the season and one that Brooks said should help her moving forward.
“Jaravee is quite a competitor inside,” Brooks said. “I’m sure that it didn’t feel great for her to not win that, and if anything, that will just be motivation…. She’s just working hard on the same things she’s worked on. She’s in good shape. She’ll be ready to go.”
Occupying the Blue Devils’ third position in the lineup is Ana Belac, who turned in rounds of 70, 74 and 70 to tie for third in Greensboro—another one of the four Duke golfers finishing in the top five. The sophomore shined in her last regional appearance in Albuquerque, N.M., where she shot a two-under score to lead all Blue Devils in the team’s second-place finish.
Virginia Elena Carta will play in just her third event of the spring after an illness and a muscle strain in her left neck and chest area left her sidelined for the first two months of competition. Since her return, Carta tied for 28th at the Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic before shooting an even-par total in the ACC Championship for a season-best tie for fifth place.
Freshman Miranda Wang has still been suffering from the right knee injury that took her out of competition prior to the Liz Murphey event, leaving Lisa Maguire to fill her spot for the third consecutive tournament—an unfortunate setback for the Blue Devils this late in the year given Wang’s 73.3 scoring average compared to Maguire’s 76.1 strokes per round.
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The senior has carded just one under-par round this season and only forty seven percent of her scores have counted toward Duke’s team total while 78 percent of Wang’s scores have placed among the Blue Devils’ top four, giving the rest of the starters a little less room for error at a time when the stakes are the highest they have been all season.
Brooks, though, expressed high confidence in Maguire’s ability to perform as needed for the rest of the postseason.
“She’s been going through a swing change throughout her time at college and she very much has low scoring potential,” Brooks said. “In her case, you can’t really base her potential on prior performances because she’s been involved in things that are different than the typical player.
"So, what you’ve got to do is figure out where she is right now. And what she’s been doing—particularly on the Duke golf course—she’s been hitting a lot of great shots and playing a lot of great golf, so she’s a tough competitor. We’re looking forward to what she can do in these next few tournaments.”