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7TH HEAVEN: Duke women's golf brings home 7th NCAA championship

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Gina Kim played a key role in getting Duke to the championship match.

For the first time since 2015, a Duke team is a national champion.

Four years after the Blue Devils' men's basketball squad cut down the nets in Indianapolis, it's now the women's golf team's time to return to glory.

Second-seeded Duke secured the NCAA championship title Wednesday evening 3-2, taking down No. 5 seed Wake Forest in the final round of match play at the Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville, Ark. The Blue Devils had defeated No. 7 seed Stanford Tuesday and No. 6 seed Arizona earlier Wednesday in the quarterfinal and semifinal, respectively, to earn the chance to bring home the championship.

"Yeah, I got a little choked up," Duke head coach Dan Brooks said. "You know, I've been doing this a long time, and plus, we're running on very low sleep. Ask Virginia [Elena Carta], it's easy to get emotional when you're running on fumes. That being said, how can you not get emotional? This great place, tremendous people and they are passionate. Wow, that's awesome. It's great."

With the match tied at two, the national championship came down to Hole 20 between Duke redshirt sophomore Miranda Wang and Demon Deacon freshman Letizia Bagnoli. After Bagnoli—who was up two after 12 holes—put her second shot in the water, it was Wang's match point to lose. 

And after Bagnoli conceded the final hole, it was all celebrations for the Blue Devils. 

The first point of the evening went to Duke, with Ana Belac taking care of business against Wake Forest's Vanessa Knecht. While Belac cruised to her point, the other four matchups were deadlocked with a national championship on the line.

Duke freshman Gina Kim could not keep up the NCAA tournament magic against the Demon Deacons' top-ranked golfer and former ACC Freshman of the Year, No. 4 Emilia Migliaccio. Kim found herself in the bunker in Hole 18, and Migliaccio won the hole in order to even the score at one.

After falling in her first two matchups of the tournament, Jaravee Boonchant came through for the Blue Devils, and her par putt on the 19th hole sent Duke up 2-1. Even more impressive for the seventh-ranked golfer was who she defeated: No. 6 Jennifer Kupcho, who won last month's inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur.

Match One took 20 holes to determine a winner, with the Blue Devils' Virginia Elena Carta and Wake Forest's Siyun Liu battling back and forth throughout the day, before Liu ultimately prevailed on the 20th hole. Carta nearly fell to Liu after her drive on the 19th hole went in the rough, but the 5-foot-5 senior recovered to force a second playoff. 

Duke thrived thanks to a balanced effort in match play. Each Blue Devil secured at least one point Wednesday.

"The cool thing about this team is, you know, we went into all of our tournaments with the idea that any one of them individually could win, win the individual trophy, and that's the kind of team that is a lot of fun," Brooks said. "You're going to get contribution. It makes the pairing party a  lot easier, because, you know, we really don't have to sweat much on who plays who. And that's what it felt like, all season."

Kim played a pivotal role throughout the Blue Devils' NCAA tournament run. Against the Cardinal, the 36th-ranked golfer secured Duke's first point of the match, beating No. 3 Albane Valenzuela with a birdie putt on the 18th hole.

The Chapel Hill native similarly dazzled against the Wildcats, and another birdie putt on the final hole powered Kim past her opponent, who was No. 14 Bianca Pagdanganan in this instance. This time around, Kim did not just earn a point for Duke, but rather punched the Blue Devils' ticket to the title match with Duke's third point of the contest.

"Gina Kim hitting that shot on 18, that's, quote, unquote, an old shot," Brooks said. "I mean, you do that, doesn't matter what age you are, you're the kind of person that can go in a bunker and hit that shot and I think our game is like that. You know, you see freshmen do incredible things."

With the victory, the Blue Devils are now seven-time national champions, and remain the winningest program in Duke history. All seven titles came under head coach Dan Brooks' watch, and this is the Blue Devils' first championship since 2014.

Editor's note: A previous version of this victory stated that the 2015 men's basketball final took place in Minneapolis. The Chronicle regrets the error.

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