Coming off two straight ACC championship titles the past two seasons, Duke came into Greensboro, N.C., Thursday hoping to add to its collection of 21 conference title trophies. But after a dominating performance from an in-state opponent and a tournament schedule change, the Blue Devils left the Sedgefield Country Club empty-handed.
No. 3 Wake Forest outpaced the field throughout the tournament to claim the championship, storming out of the gates with an 8-under-par first round that gave it a commanding lead it never relinquished. The Demon Deacons finished 14-under-par for a total score of 850, well above the runner-up, Florida State, which carded a 6-under-par 858. After a relatively mediocre 4-over-par second round, No. 2 Duke rounded out the top three with a 4-over 868.
“Third is not what we came over here to achieve, so of course it’s disappointing,” Blue Devil head coach Dan Brooks said. “But we’ve got a lot of golf left in the season, and we’re going to get after it.”
Those second-round struggles came one day earlier than originally scheduled. The Friday leg of the three-day tournament was called off due to thunderstorms and inclement weather, moving the second round of the championship up to Thursday, immediately after the first round. As a result, all players had to play the full 18-hole course back-to-back, without much of a break in between.
Florida State took advantage with a 3-under 285 in that round to leap into second place, pushing the Blue Devils to fourth as Wake Forest extended its lead. Duke’s solid final round score of 287 was just enough for a third-place finish ahead of Virginia, but nothing more.
“When you play 36 [holes], you can’t finish up the 18 and go to work to try to make that middle round better. You’re rolling—20 minutes later you’re teeing off again,” Brooks said. “I would’ve loved to regroup after the first round but that’s not the way it was.”
Despite not leaving with a win, the Blue Devils had some excellent individual performances, with two players ending up in the top five. Junior Ana Belac’s third-place finish was tied for her highest all season, and she was one of just four individuals in the tournament to finish below par. The 36-hole pace on the first day did not faze her, as pars in Round One and Three were matched with a 4-under 68 in Round Two, highlighted by a 10th hole eagle.
“She’s one of those players that just keeps getting better—from the beginning of her freshman year to now has just been a constant improvement,” Brooks said. “This is not a lot different from what she’s been doing—it’s a good finish, but she’s been playing this level of golf for a little while now.”
Coming up right behind Belac in fourth was No. 9-ranked Jaravee Boonchant. After a double bogey in the first round and five bogeys in the second round resulted in cards of 72 and 74, the sophomore cleaned up her game by Saturday. Boonchant’s third round was bogey-free with five birdies for a team-best 5-under-par 68.
“What’s great about Jaravee is she didn’t feel that great on the driving range...and then she goes out and shoots 5-under,” Brooks said. “That’s what she’s capable of. She’s always had a great understanding that this is more of a mental game than anything else.”
Senior Virginia Elena Carta and sophomore Miranda Wang followed at 5-over-par and 9-over-par for 17th and 26th, respectively. Wang also notched an eagle on her fifth hole of the tournament, her first on the season and just the second of her career. Freshman Gina Kim didn’t fare as well, starting off with a 7-over 79 in Round One before carding 77 and 74 for 14-over and 47th place overall.
The next time the Blue Devils compete together will be at NCAA regionals May 6-8. Duke finds out its next opponent and which regional tournament it will take part in Wednesday evening in the NCAA selection show. There are four regional contests, hosted by Auburn University, University of Washington, University of Oklahoma and Michigan State University. Should the Blue Devils place in the top six in the 18-team field in their regional, they will move onto the NCAA national championships at the Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville, Ark.
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