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Shepherd and Boonchant propel No. 3 Duke women's golf to victory at Cavalier Match Play

Jaravee Boonchant and Erica Shepherd each won three match play contests during the Virginia Match Play.
Jaravee Boonchant and Erica Shepherd each won three match play contests during the Virginia Match Play.

If Phineas and Ferb were collegiate golfers in the NCAA, then they would’ve manifested themselves into Duke’s Jaravee Boonchant and Erica Shepherd. 

Like the cartoon pair, Boonchant and Shepherd have a unique bond, stemming from their shared roles of being the solid backbones and creative pacemakers for their team on every golf course. The lethal duo won’t be building a Platypult anytime soon; however, they are working on an ever-growing trophy collection, with their latest addition coming from their first-place victory at the Cavalier Match Play.  

To close out their regular season, the third-ranked Blue Devils traveled to Charlottesville, Va., from April 6-7 to compete against Richmond, No. 20 Maryland and No. 19 Virginia Tech, among others, at the 6,118-yard, par-71 Birdwood Golf Course. 

As the top seed, Duke breezed by eighth-seeded Richmond to begin play, with all Blue Devils finishing their match plays before reaching the 18th hole for a 5-0 round win. Then, when the going got tough against more difficult opponents, Boonchant and Shepherd were able to get going and lead the Blue Devils to narrow 3-2 victories against fourth-seeded Maryland and third-seeded Virginia Tech. 

"Match play tends to bring out the best golf, especially if you are the underdog," Duke head coach Dan Brooks said. “You just keep playing your game, keep believing in yourself and most of the time if you are the best player and you stay patient and believe in yourself, when 18 holes comes to an end you are going to be on top.”

Shepherd and Boonchant did indeed demonstrate the traits Brooks mentioned in their individual matchups against Virginia Tech and Maryland, respectively. 

Against Virginia Tech, Shepherd started out tied after the first hole, but trailed from the second hole onward. After fluctuating between being two swings behind to one swing ahead, Shepherd tied the score up on the 13th before edging ahead by a single swing on the 15th. 

She would hold onto this 1-UP lead until the 18th, ultimately winning by two swings for an overall 2-UP victory.

Many others may have broken under the pressure, but Shepherd remained calm and believed in her abilities, feeding on the competitive nature of match play to score four birdies in the back nine to secure the comeback.

“I love match play. I’ve always strived in the competitive atmospheres that it brings,” Shepherd said. “The [Virginia Tech] girl that I played, Emily [Mahar], she’s a really good ball striker so I knew that I had to pull a win based on her giving me shots. I just had to take it and run with it. I knew I had to make birdies to win, so that’s what I did.” 

Likewise, Boonchant displayed her sharp focus in a 21-hole overtime match with Maryland’s top player Virunpat Olankitkunchai, who is ranked No. 10 individually in the nation. Coming off of a 2&1 victory against Richmond, Boonchant was able to keep her momentum going, holding onto a 1-UP lead until Olankitkunchai tied it on the 16th.

The stalemate would force her to play three more holes, eventually ending with Boonchant winning by a single stroke. After taking down arguably her biggest threat in the tournament, the three-time Golfweek All-American went on to secure a 3&2 victory against Virginia Tech. 

But like Phineas and Ferb, Boonchant and Shepherd had help in their endeavors. In fact, each credited their individual successes to the support from their teammates along with the coaches. 

“Three of us, right before the [Cavalier Match Play] tournament came right from the Augusta, so we had a really quick turnaround. I think that the team that didn’t go to Augusta that was with us this week really provided us energy,” Shepherd said. “That’s what you need in match play so we really just felt good heading into it.”

When asked about the key factor to her success, Boonchant echoed a similar sentiment.

“I think having my assistant coach walk alongside of me [throughout the tournament] and having my teammates cheer for me really put me at ease,” Boonchant said.

With the regular season now finished and the Blue Devils entering the postseason on a first-place win, expect the momentum to carry over to the upcoming ACC Championships. 

“The Cavalier Match Play was a very good practice for our team in general. Given that we have won the Cavaliers Match Play, it will assure us that we could just repeat this kind of performance again at ACC,” Boonchant said. “I think it gives freshmen and sophomores a good practice for what's to come at Nationals as well. But we will keep grinding and focus on the ACC for now."

The postseason for the Blue Devils will be an interesting one, with the team aiming to defend its national title. But first, Duke will head to the ACC Championship April 15-18 at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C., with a statement to make.

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