Munerlyn back from injury, scores first goal

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Freshman forward Amber Munerlyn goes after the ball in a Thursday night win against N.C. State.

Amber Munerlyn charged into the Fetzer Field box with a reckless abandon — the kind of aggression you wouldn’t normally see out of a person who had her teeth knocked in a couple of weeks ago, who still had a splint holding her jaw together, who dentists strongly suggested shouldn’t even be on a soccer field.

There were six minutes left in North Carolina’s Thursday-night 3-0 win against N.C. State, and there Munerlyn was, amid a crowd of Wolfpack defenders, taking a ball that knicked off of Kealia Ohai and punching it past the goalkeeper.

It was her first career goal. Earlier in the contest, in the 59th minute, the freshman forward tallied her first career assist.

Munerlyn was all over the field in her second game back from injury — after she took an elbow in the face in the first 30 seconds of UNC’s Sept. 15 match against Notre Dame. She’ll need to wear her splint for at least another month.

All the while, UNC coach Anson Dorrance looked on from the sidelines, amazed at her effort.

“Her jaw could fall out, her upper mandible could fall out, and this is a contact sport,” Dorrance said. “She could’ve taken another elbow, could’ve hit someone’s head, the ball could’ve popped up and hit her in the jaw. She plays with a wonderful sort of fearlessness.”

After the game, Munerlyn showed a drastically different side of her personality, a timidity that never shows on the soccer field.

It was another first for her — her first interview.

She was nervous.

“It felt good, yeah,” she said, grinning with her makeshift jaw as she recalled her goal. “It was about time.”

A native of Corona, Calif., Munerlyn was the No. 6 2013 recruit in the country by Top Drawer Soccer and a member of the U20 National Team. Dorrance said she’s surprisingly coachable for being a high school “superstar.” He said that she’s unselfish with the ball, that players love playing with her, and he raved about her ability to play defense. Senior Crystal Dunn, who Munerlyn assisted on a goal Thursday, said she has an engine on her that she loves to see out of the forwards in front of her.

“She’s a fighter,” Dunn said. “She’s a hard worker. She fits in well with this system. It’s embedded in us — just pressure, pressure, pressure, and she never stops running.”

Munerlyn, evidently uncomfortable with cameras and reporters surrounding her, was quick to deflect praise after the game.

“Especially as a freshman, I just have to prove myself and show them that I really want to be here,” she said.

Dorrance had a different view.

“She’s a really sweet, humble kid,” Dorrance said. “She doesn’t have to be. She was one of the top recruits in America last year, and she’s got a wonderful sense of herself and humility, and I think she’s going to be a whale of a Tar Heel.”

On Thursday, Munerlyn showed why.

sports@dailytarheel.com

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