College golf is just a few short weeks away. To get you ready, Asher Wildman is breaking down the top 60 men’s and women’s teams from last year’s Golfweek/Sagarin rankings. Today, it’s No. 13 on the board with the Duke men and North Carolina women.
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2010-11 final ranking: 12
Coach: Jamie Green (fourth year)
Top returnees: Brinson Paolini, Tim Gornik
Top newcomers: Freshman Michael Ricaurte of Columbus, Ohio, freshman Turner Southey-Gordon of Canada
Projected starting 5: Brinson Paolini (Jr.), Julian Suri (Jr.), Tim Gornik (Jr.), Austin Cody (So.), Yaroslav Merkulov (So.)
Key losses: Wes Roach
Key fall tournament: Rod Myers Invitational
2010-11 recap: Jamie Green continued to build Duke’s program in his second full season in Durham. The Blue Devils won two tournaments last season (Irish Creek Collegiate, NCAA East Regional). “It was a growing, building, improving process throughout the year,” Green said. “We really started playing well in the final rounds of tournaments.”
It wasn’t a surprise to see Duke in the postseason, but it was a bit surprising to see the Devils win a tough regional. Duke then backed it up by claiming the eighth and final match-play spot at the NCAA Championship. Duke looked like a Cinderella possibility after defeating UCLA in the quarterfinals, but fell to Georgia in the semis.
Player to watch: Julian Suri. Said Green: “If you talk about somebody who had a bump at the end of his freshman year, that was Julian. He is somebody who turned things around and has done the work to turn things around. I think he’ll have a real nice year for us.”
2011-12 preview: Duke again will be a team that plays well, lacks a superstar name and slides under the radar. Juniors Suri, Brinson Paolini and Tim Gornik are solid players who have progressed each year. All three were top-75 players last season in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, but for Duke to become a national contender, one of them needs to emerge as a top-20 player.
After last year’s improvement, Green thinks his team now knows what it is capable of. “When you feel like you almost had it with that championship in an arm’s reach, you want it more,” he said. “Last year was a good feeling, but it’s bittersweet to know this team was oh so close.” For the Devils to again make it to the Elite Eight and contend for a title, they will have to find a player to fill the shoes of recently graduated Wes Roach.
One player who could emerge this season is sophomore Austin Cody. Cody has had a year to adjust to the college lifestyle and Duke’s challenging academics, and this summer he won the Rice Planters Amateur. “Last year I consider a year of seasoning for him,” Green said. “I think this year he’s going to take that year of seasoning and really run with it.” Expected to round out the starting five will be sophomore Yaroslav Merkulov, who ended his freshman season ranked No. 175.
Bottom line: What Duke lacks in big-name stars, it makes up for with quality players who are consistent week to week. This is not a flashy team that will post low numbers every time out, but the Blue Devils know how to attack a course and put up five decent scores. Jamie Green has done a great job helping Duke climb the rankings, but it may be hard to match last season’s success. The Devils will make it to the NCAA finals again, but whether they can repeat their match-play appearance is debatable.
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NORTH CAROLINA WOMEN
2010-11 final ranking: 12
Coach: Jan Mann (third year)
Top returnees: Allie White, Catherine O’Donnell
Top newcomers: Freshman Maia Schechter of Takoma Park, Md.
Projected starting 5: Allie White (Sr.), Catherine O’Donnell (Sr.), Casey Grice (So.), Katherine Perry (So.), No. 5 spot TBA
Key losses: None
Key fall tournament: Lady Tar Heel Invitational
2010-11 recap: At times last season, the Tar Heels looked like a top-5 team; at others, they appeared to be just a quality top-20 team. UNC started the year with a victory at the Cougar Classic, but followed it up with a 14th-place finish at the Mason Rudolph. “We were a young team that was inconsistent but very talented,” coach Jan Mann said. “We had an up-and-down season but came on when we needed to.”
Down the stretch, though, North Carolina more resembled the top-5 team. The Tar Heels won the ACC Championship, then posted a runner-up finish at the NCAA East Regional. At the NCAA Championship, the Heels again played well, finishing eighth.
Player to watch: Casey Grice. Said Mann: “She’s a very hard worker who is very determined. I think that she wants it as much as anybody and will put in the necessary work to make it happen.”
2011-12 preview: UNC has all five of its starters back from a year ago, including sophomores Grice and Katherine Perry, who played important roles as freshmen last year. Grice finished the year as the team’s second-highest-ranked player at No. 52 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, and Perry was a respectable 120th. “This team will have a lot of maturity,” Mann said. “With everyone back, we are expecting them to work hard and accomplish several goals.”
The Tar Heels also have two seniors standouts who will want to go out strong: Catherine O’Donnell, who posted five top 10s last season and was ranked 34th, and Allie White, who closed out what had been a rather disappointing year with a strong postseason. White was runner-up at the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship before tying for 18th at NCAA regionals. She finished the year ranked No. 54, but she’s a better player than that.
For UNC to be a top-5 team this season, it also needs a recruit from the past to live up to her pre-college hype. Courtney Gunter came to Chapel Hill as a three-time North Carolina high school state champion and player of the year. In college, she has played inconsistently and has yet to win a tournament heading into her junior season. “I would like to see her come through for us,” Mann said of Gunter. “I think this year she realizes that she is talented, but will have to work very hard to meet the expectations I have for her.”
Bottom line: There is no doubt UNC is talented and has the players in place to be a national contender. Expect Mann’s squad to be favored to repeat as ACC champions and to be a mainstay in the top 10. If White and Gunter can take the next step with their games, they could do more than that.