At this time last year, Craig Ronne was preparing to defend his Class 4A golf title as a senior at Union High School in Klamath Falls.

Needless to say, it was a different feeling to be sitting near the top of the leaderboard at the midpoint of the Pac-12 Golf Championships at Eugene Country Club.

“This is what you dream of growing up as a junior golfer, trying to win a tournament like this on your home turf,” said Ronne, an Oregon freshman.

Ronne leads the Ducks at 2-under par through 36 holes, which puts him in a tie for eighth place overall. He trails reigning champion Justin Suh of USC and co-leader Kyler Dunkle of Utah by six strokes.

After shooting even-par 71 in the opening round, Ronne had birdie chances on his first three holes of the second round but couldn’t get a putt to drop. A quick chat with coach Casey Martin helped him stay focused and rattle off four birdies in his next five holes.

“I started off that second round hitting it to like 10 feet on 10 and 11 but I didn’t make a birdie,” Ronne said. “Casey was like, ‘Just stay patient.’ I eventually got in a great stretch.”

Ronne slipped a bit with three bogeys on the back nine. He lost a stroke on No. 17 when his approach shot sailed over the green, but a par save on No. 18 kept him in the top 10 entering Tuesday’s third round.

“I just really wanted to contribute to the team, put up some solid scores to help our chances to do well team-wise,” Ronne said. “Individually, I played pretty well the last tournaments, so I just wanted to build off the momentum.”

With Ronne leading the way, the Ducks finished the day tied for sixth at 7-over, 12 strokes behind co-leaders Stanford and UCLA. Oregon State is in 11th as a team with Spencer Tibbits tied for 12th at even par.

Oregon sophomore Donald Kay also finished the day at even par, and freshman Yin Ho Yue shot 72-72 to go 2-over, one stroke ahead of freshman Tom Gueant.

With seniors Ryan Gronlund and Edwin Yi shooting 4-over and 6-over, respectively, the Ducks continued a recent trend of relying on their underclassmen to take the lead. Kay said the Ducks’ young players are ready to handle that responsibility.

“They definitely are, and I think this would be the best tournament for them to take the next step,” he said. “The goal that we set as a team was to just commit to every shot, and if we did that, we knew we would be in contention.”

No one came up bigger than Ronne, whose freshman year has featured a significant jump in competition.

Ronne excelled on the Oregon junior golf circuit and was third at the Oregon men’s stroke play championship last year. He also had a top-30 finish at the Sahalee Players Championship, a tournament that draws some of the top amateur golfers in the Pacific Northwest.

Though he was used to competitive golf, Ronne’s introduction to the Pac-12 was an eye-opener.

“Absolutely, way different,” Ronne said. “The level of competition has sky-rocketed since high school golf. There’s been a learning curve, but I absolutely love it.”

This is a different kind of pressure than Ronne faced as a two-time state champion at Klamath Falls, but he’s figured out how to keep his composure and rise to the challenge.

“I had to learn how to handle my emotions the last couple tournaments,” he said. “I think that’s why I’m starting to trend in a better direction — knowing there’s going to be adversity in the round and doing what you can to fight to have a good round, regardless of what’s thrown at you.”