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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC Putters Key to ACCs, NCAAs

This weekend at the conference championships in Clemmons, North Carolina hopes to cast a shadow of its own.

"We are capable of winning the ACC," said UNC junior Meghan Adams. "A big part of being able to beat Duke is to believe that we can do it.

"If we can all believe it and trust ourselves enough to shoot what we know we can, then we have a good shot at giving Duke a run."

For the Tar Heels, the key to bringing down this seeming Goliath will not be swinging a slingshot and hitting a Duke golfer between the eyes with a rock. Rather, it will be their ability to leave the greens as quickly as possible.

North Carolina has had little trouble getting onto the greens; UNC coach Sally Austin said the team is averaging 56 percent of greens in regulation. But Austin also said that each player is averaging 32.6 putts per round, a number that will have to drop considerably for UNC to secure the title.

To putt well enough to beat Duke, Austin has devised a multitude of putting games, which attempt to simulate the pressure and mental strain the players face in actual competition.

One such game is called "Sinks," in which the objective is to be the first to "sink" five different putts. The players said the games foster friendly competition among the team and add a little color to the monotony of the practice green.

"Games like 'Sinks' help you visualize making a lot of putts and work on making putts without worrying about your stroke," said sophomore Ashley Prange. "Seeing putts go in the hole helps you to know that you can make putts from all types of lengths or breaks."

Prange is one of five Tar Heels who will represent the team in the tournament, along with Adams, seniors Beth Lever and Shelley McKevitt and junior Abby Spector.

Although the team is concentrating on this weekend's challenge, it's also preparing for the rapidly approaching NCAA regionals, which begin May 9.

After last year's disappointing finish at regionals -- the Tar Heels ended up tied for 15th place -- the team expects to return to national competition for the first time since 1998.

The team will require a great deal of guidance from its older members, especially those juniors and seniors who have previous experience in regional and national competition.

McKevitt is the only player on the team that has been to an NCAA championship, and this year will be Lever's last year to compete.

Lever, who tied for 17th at last year's ACCs, has competed in regional competition the past three years and is hungry for her first shot at NCAA championship competition.

But to qualify for national competition, the Tar Heels will need to present a unified front at Louisiana State, the likely site for the East regionals.

Team unity has been a central theme this season for the Tar Heels, especially after the team's trip to Australia over winter break.

"We've definitely bonded and become closer since our trip to Australia," Spector said. "We've been working hard, and our games are starting to come together at the same time now."

While the team might lack actual NCAA experience, all five players have played in other national tournaments.

And they've got the optimism of their coach driving them to succeed.

"If we play like we're capable of playing we can go," Austin said. "Our biggest obstacle is ourselves. We've got to believe in ourselves first. I know they can do it, but they've got to know they can do it."

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The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.