Amber Munerlyn wasn’t supposed to be in the starting lineup. Paige Nielsen was. But both players made their presence known.
Munerlyn scored her third goal of the season, Nielsen got her fifth, and sixth-ranked North Carolina made them stand up as the Tar Heels cruised past South Dakota State 2-0 on Friday in the first round of the NCAA women’s soccer tournament at frigid Fetzer Field.
Second-seeded UNC (13-3-2) will host Colorado or BYU (who play Saturday) in the second round, either Thursday or Friday.
“I was not particularly proud of the way we played (in the second half),” said UNC coach Anson Dorrance, who was without three starters because of illness or injury. “But at this juncture advancement is the priority. I want to credit South Dakota State. In the second half they dug in. To their credit, we could not get any more separation from them.”
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Summit League champion South Dakota State (10-8-2) was making its second NCAA appearance in the program’s 15-year history and was facing its highest-ranked opponent ever in the Tar Heels, who own 21 NCAA titles and have played in all 33 NCAA tournaments.
“We were a little bit nervous, a little bit anxious coming in,” Jackrabbits coach Lang Wedemeyer said. “It took us a little time to settle down coming into the game.”
Munerlyn took advantage by getting the Tar Heels on the scoreboard early. Senior defender Satara Murray played a long ball to sophomore forward Emily Bruder, who touched it out of a crowd ahead to Munerlyn. She beat two defenders off the dribble and then fired past South Dakota State goalkeeper Nicole Inskeep from eight yards at the 15:35 mark.
“I went to the back line, saw where the keeper was and finished it,” Munerlyn said.
Nielsen scored 12 minutes after entering the game in the 33rd minute.
“I forgot we had sent Paige Nielsen off to a meeting in New York with JP Morgan,” Dorrance said of the reason for the lineup change. “She wasn’t here for the pregame, but she arrived before the game began.”
Nielsen said she left at 4:30 a.m Thursday to interview for an internship. “I was supposed to get in at 3 (Friday), but my flight was delayed an hour, so I missed pregame,” Nielsen said. “That’s how I live my life, go, go, go.”
Two other substitutes helped set up Nielsen’s goal. Amanda Rooney, in her fourth game of the season, played a ball into the right corner for Maya Worth, another seldom-used reserve. Worth’s cross was poked in from close range at 41:28 by Nielsen for her fifth goal of the season, tying her for the team lead with Bruder.
The assists marked the first career points for sophomores Worth and Rooney, and the goal was the 16th scored by a non-starter of the 30 UNC has tallied this year.
Nielsen said the bench players look for scoring opportunities.
“You kind of have an advantage after the starters go out,” she said. “We play high presure all the time. The other team is tired after 30 minutes. That’s when we have to exploit them, when we have fresh legs and the other team is tired.”
There wasn’t much exploitation in the second half, despite UNC’s commanding 19-2 shot advantage. The Tar Heels missed at least three open looks at the net, including one by Munerlyn in the 51st minute off a perfect cross from Bruder to 10 yards.
The Jackrabbits also stepped up their effort in the second half, when Lindsey Harris made the only save for UNC in the 64th minute off a corner kick. Bryane Heaberlin, who played the first half in goal for UNC, did not see a shot at all. Inskeep finished with seven saves.
Wedemeyer was upbeat despite the loss, though. “We can leave with a little bit of dignity, I think,” he said.