Wake Forest’s bid for its first national championship in women’s golf came up short as Duke won 3-2 in the final match at the Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville, Ark.
The Blue Devils won their seventh national championship under Coach Dan Brooks, but it wasn’t easy.
The Deacons’ best finish in the NCAA was in 1995 as they finished third when it was a stroke-play event. Since 2015, the national championship has been decided in match play.
The Blue Devils got the first point of the match when Ana Belac beat Vanessa Knecht 5 & 3.
The Deacons tied the match at 1 when Emilia Migliaccio beat Gina Kim 1 up after stuffing her approach to the 18th hole to within a foot. Kim conceded the match after Migliaccio’s outstanding approach to the par-4.
Migliaccio said by telephone after the match it was a long day, but the togetherness helped the Deacons get through it.
“Of course we’re disappointed in the outcome. They made just one more putt and won, but the way we carried ourselves and continued to keep playing is something I’ll always remember,” Migliaccio said. “It was a great experience even if we did come up short.”
Soon after Migliaccio’s point for the Deacons, Jaravee Boonchant beat top-ranked Jennifer Kupcho in extra holes to give the Blue Devils a 2-1 lead. Boonchant two-putted on the first extra hole by nailing a four-footer.
The Deacons tied the match at 2 when junior Siyun Liu beat Virginia Elena Carta 1 up on the 20th hole. Liu made a four-footer to win the match with a birdie.
The final point of the match came down to freshman Letizia Bagnoli of the Deacons and sophomore Miranda Wang of the Blue Devils. On the 20th hole with the match tied, they played the hole with the championship in the balance.
On the par-5, Bagnoli pulled her second shot into the water and never recovered. Wang’s second shot settled over the green, but it was in much better shape than Bagnoli’s.
Wang chipped onto the green to about 25 feet. After her birdie putt came within a foot, her par putt was conceded and the Blue Devils had the title.
Coach Kim Lewellen of the Deacons said she was proud of how her team responded on such a big stage.
“I knew this team was special the first time I went into this office, not knowing any of these young ladies,” Lewellen said. “We wanted to be on this stage and compete, and it was an outstanding match. I’m really proud of these young ladies.”
The Deacons got to the final match by beating Auburn in the semifinals 4-0-1 in the morning.
Lewellen, who completed her first season after replacing legendary coach Dianne Dailey, said her team played very well to get to the championship match.
Lewellen, the ACC coach of the year, got wins from Kupcho, Migliaccio and Bagnoli to clinch their semifinal victory. Knecht, who was leading at the time that the Deacons clinched the match, also earned a win while Liu had her match end in a tie.
“They all went out and played very well this morning,” Lewellen said of the semifinal win before the championship match started later in the afternoon.
The Deacons took a quick 2-0 lead with a pair of dominating victories by their first-team All-Americans. Kupcho who beat Kaleigh Telfer 6 & 4. Migliaccio followed that with a 7 & 5 win over Brooke Sansom, the largest margin of victory in the five-year history of match play at the NCAA Championship.
Bagnoli sealed the Deacons’ win with her 1 up victory over Elena Hualde. She was down two holes with four to go but battled back to get the point. Bagnoli won the final hole with a par to win her match and clinch the Deacs’ victory.
The Deacons were trying to win the school’s fourth national championship in golf. The men’s program won national titles in 1974, ’75 and ’86.
Kupcho, a senior who graduated on Monday, leaves as the best player in school history with nine career wins. She completed her amateur career and will make her pro debut at the U.S. Women’s Open later this month.
Lewellen said losing one senior in Kupcho and getting a taste of being the NCAA runner-up will only create a better atmosphere in the program.
“We definitely want to get back here, and I’m very encouraged with where we are headed,” she said. “I can’t say enough about what a great spring we had and, like I said before, I’m very proud of how they responded.”