Same song, different setup: Duke women win 7th national title
Virginia Elena Carta (right) (Shane Bevel/NCAA Photos)
Virginia Elena Carta (right) (Shane Bevel/NCAA Photos)

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Virginia Elena Carta is tired of being the trivia question that all Duke freshmen get wrong. Each fall when a new crop of Blue Devils show up, their orientation materials include this riddle: Which Duke team has won more national championships than the men’s basketball team?

“We are the fun fact of the year every year and people never get it right,” said Carta.

On Wednesday evening, men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski's name came up in the post-championship press conference. The Duke senior raised a hand. She would like to clarify that with their latest national title, the Duke women now top the basketball team by two trophies. This is Duke’s seventh in women’s golf, but its first since match play was introduced in 2015.

This is Carta, a fresh graduate with a degree in environmental sciences and policy. She is the kind of player who doesn’t wait for you to come to her. She goes to meet you.

Duke senior Alex Smalley is a classmate of Carta’s on the men’s team. He just took a little longer to come out of his shell in Durham, N.C., than she did. She’s very social and always fun to be around, Smalley says, and that carries over to the course.

“Virginia is very feisty,” Smalley said. “She never backs down from a fight.”

Duke head coach Dan Brooks uses her for comic relief. Carta is the one who keeps new players from retreating to a quiet corner and withdrawing from the team. She’s a walking icebreaker.

All week in match play at Blessings Golf Club, Brooks liked the idea of Carta leading the troops. He put her out first in all three match-play rounds, and got two out of three points from her. Carta went 24 holes in the quarterfinals before getting the clinching point against Stanford. In Wednesday afternoon’s final, she went 20 holes before falling to Wake Forest junior Siyun Liu.

“If Virginia is able to take care of business, she's a great cheerleader,” Brooks said of setting his lineup. “…I had the idea in my mind that everyone is following Virginia. You know, like she's getting us started.”

Carta embodies all the things that make this particular Duke squad one that can not only win a national title, but do it in the match-play era. She is exceptionally bright, having been a Rhodes scholar finalist and most recently, gaining entrance to Cambridge for post-graduate work. She also spear-headed a pediatric fundraiser on Duke’s campus called Birdies for Babies. The men’s team joined the effort.

“She does more than I could ever imagine,” Smalley said.

Carta has put quite an unusual bookend on her Duke career. She won the NCAA individual title in 2016 as a freshman. Injury and illness plagued her next two and a half years, and Carta didn’t win again until this fall at the Landfall Tradition.

“Definitely, it's a big win after a dry period,” she said. “But it couldn't get any more special than a win with the whole team and knowing that we really had each other's back until the very end.”

Carta is a bit of an old soul, but so is Gina Kim – at least in golf terms, which is how Brooks looks at things. During the semifinals, the freshman pulled off a miracle shot from a front bunker on No. 18 that trickled down a slope and nestled next to the pin. It set up the birdie that sent Duke to the championship match.

“That’s – quote unquote – an old shot,” Brooks said. “…I think our game is like that. You see freshmen do incredible things. We have a team of mature golfers where they can handle things that come their way, on the golf course … and in their lives.”

Kim also fell in the afternoon after taking Emilia Migliaccio, Wake Forest’s hottest player this week, to the 18th hole.

On the course, Jaravee Boonchant was the Duke hero this week. She took down Jennifer Kupcho (of Augusta National Women’s Amateur fame) in 19 holes on Wednesday. It was Duke’s second point, coming between Ana Belac’s early 5-and-3 defeat of Vanessa Knecht and Miranda Wang’s down-to-the-wire defeat of Letizia Bagnoli, the deciding match.

The ACC used to be about Duke … and all those other teams. That this year’s national championship featured an all-ACC final shows considerable growth in this pocket of women’s college golf. The last four NCAA women's titles have gone to a Pac-12 school. Duke last won in 2014.

Wake Forest’s Migliaccio, in fact, grew up in Cary, N.C., which is practically in Duke’s zip code. She had a Duke pillow in her room as a kid, but Wake Forest won her over. Expect Migliaccio, who went 3-0 in match play this week, to fill the leadership role vacated by Kupcho.

“It’s tough that we lost but we did everything that we could,” Migliaccio said after the final.

Women’s college golf is always growing and evolving, and the ACC’s depth is just a part of that. So is the adoption of match play in the national championship, which was a decision made five years ago. It forces changes and evokes different feelings. On Wednesday, it left Brooks out of breath.

“I don't remember running around during stroke play,” Brooks said. “It's definitely more intense out there. There's no question.”

Some things never change, though. So let this be a lesson to the class of 2023: Duke women’s golf wins national titles.

Results: NCAA Division I Women's Championship
1MexicoMaria FassiMexico150072-71-68=211
2FLSierra BrooksSorrento, FL100075-67-73=215
3PhilippinesBianca PagdangananPhilippines70069-74-74=217
4TXHailee CooperMontgomery, TX70080-69-69=218
5VAAmanda HollandsworthFloyd, VA70075-72-72=219

View full results for NCAA Division I Women's Championship

ABOUT THE NCAA Division I Women's Championship

30 teams and 6 individuals not on a qualifying team make up the field for the championship of NCAA Division I women's golf.

After 72 holes of stroke play, the individual champion is crowned, and the low 8 teams advance to match play to determine the team champion.

View Complete Tournament Information

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