It’s been a wet summer in North Carolina, but drought conditions have plagued the UNC women’s soccer team anyway – on the scoreboard.
It took Amber Munerlyn’s breakaway strike off a long ball by Joanna Boyles to end the offensive dry spell, with the goal at the 102:07 mark of double overtime lifting No. 14 North Carolina to a 1-0 victory over No. 7 Penn State in the opening match Friday night at the Duke Nike Classic at Koskinen Stadium.
No. 19 Duke (2-2) played No. 18 Arkansas (3-0-1) in the late game. They also met last year in the third round of the NCAA tournament, with host Duke advancing on penalty kicks. Duke won their only other meeting, in 1994.
UNC and Penn State (3-1) also staged an NCAA tournament rematch, of the 2012 championship final won by the Tar Heels 4-1. They had to work a lot harder for this one to improve to 6-1 against the Nittany Lions all-time.
“Obviously we’re thrilled to score a goal,” UNC coach Anson Dorrance said. “That’s cause for celebration these days. And Penn State is legit, a top-10 team. For us to beat a team like that is wonderful.”
UNC (2-2-1) saw its scoring drought reach 319 minutes and 41 seconds over parts of four games, a program record that exceeded the previous high set in 2012 by more than 100 minutes. In fact, they scored only one goal in their first four matches, at the 72:34 mark of the 1-0 victory over Ohio State on Aug. 22. On the plus side, the Tar Heels have allowed only two goals despite a rebuilt defense against a killer schedule that will feature five nationally ranked teams by the time they play Arkansas on Sunday in the tournament’s second round.
Boyles, a sophomore midfielder from Raleigh’s Sanderson High, maintained that the team was handling the offensive frustration well.
“It was tough, but this team is so resilient,” she said. “We knew we were going to have a breakthrough game at some point. We felt this could be that game. Stanford was a tough, tough team, and we dominated that game. We didn’t want another double overtime loss. We really dug deep.”
Munerlyn, a sophomore forward, agreed with Boyles’ assessment. “I didn’t think it was wearing on us,” she said. “It was frustrating. We already knew coming in it was something we needed to work on. Finishing in the last third is what we’re not good at now.”
Boyles started the game-winning play by serving a long ball toward Munerlyn. “I looked up and saw Amber cutting across on the back line,” Boyles said, “and with her speed, if I can get it anywhere near here, she can find it.”
“They play a pretty high line,” Munerlyn said of the Nittany Lions. “It was a perfectly placed ball over the top. I was able to run on to it and finish it.”
Dorrance said UNC has improved on offense, despite the lack of goals. “We’re getting more shots,” he said, referencing a scoreless trip to the West Coast that resulted in a 0-0 tie with No. 1 UCLA and a 1-0 loss to No. 17 Pepperdine. “I’m pleased we got back in the groove. We’re the Tar Heels. This is a team known for never giving up, for fighting.
UNC outshot Penn State 23-15 and forced goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom to make 10 saves. UNC’s goalkeeper tandem of Bryane Heaberlin and Lindsey Harris had four saves, all by Harris, who played the second half and overtime.
Dorrance also credited UNC’s depth with turning the tide. He utilized 18 field players, four more than Penn State, which may have worn down the Lions.
“That’s always been our policy,” he said. “We always play a deep roster. We’re very liberal in giving our kids a chance to play. It benefits us, especially in an overtime game.”