Anson Dorrance had always seen something special. Now, 54 games in, the North Carolina women’s soccer head coach hopes Emily Fox realizes her potential, too.
In the 28th minute of UNC’s 5-0 win Friday over Belmont in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Fox dribbled a ball from just past the center of the pitch to right outside the goalkeeper’s box. The junior defender split two Bruins and juked another before she drilled the Tar Heels’ third goal of the match into the left corner of the net.
Fox’s strike put a little extra cushioning on UNC’s advantage before halftime, but more significantly, it marked the first goal of her collegiate career.
“She’s not a good player — she’s a phenomenal one,” Dorrance said after the match. “And what’s interesting is sometimes great players don’t really realize how good they can be. And that was an example of how good she can be.”
For the past three seasons, Fox has impacted her team in ways that haven’t always shown up in the box score. The 5-foot-5, Ashburn, Virginia, native's defensive presence is a big reason why the Tar Heels haven’t conceded a goal on their home pitch this season. And against Belmont, UNC didn't allow a single shot.
Fox also leads UNC in assists with nine, after totaling just four in each of her last two years. But even with her fingerprints all over the team’s 20-1-1 record, goal-scoring was previously uncharted territory.
She and Dorrance agree that a newfound self-belief is the reason she was able to check off the career milestone Friday night.
While the Tar Heels broke a program record for most shots in an NCAA Tournament game with 44 (19 on goal), Fox needed just one.
“I think as the season goes on, you get more confident, you get more in your zone,” Fox said. “So, I think that’s kinda what’s happening right now.”
Aside from scoring herself, Fox helped the Tar Heels put points on the board in other ways, too. In the 23rd minute of the contest, she sent a perfectly-placed ball into the penalty box that connected with senior forward Bridgette Andrzejewski’s head before finding the back of the net for UNC’s second goal.
Then, nine minutes into the second half, Fox found junior forward Alessia Russo, who used a spin move to break free from her defender before nailing a left-footed goal right past the Bruins’ goalkeeper.
If there was any doubt about Fox’s confidence level before, her performance against Belmont put it to rest.
“If anything, it shows on the field, her confidence (being) high, because she’s making some huge plays for us and is key in the attack, as well as in the defense,” Russo said. “Right now, no one can stop her.”
Though Dorrance said he wishes Fox would play as aggressively every game on offense as she did Friday night, because “that’s who she is,” Fox said she doesn’t place an emphasis on scoring. She’d rather do whatever she needs to help her team win.
“I’m so happy that I scored, but at the end of the day, whoever scores on our team, I’ll be happy for," Fox said. "And that is what it’s all about.”
What Dorrance saw from Fox’s one-goal, two-assist outing versus Belmont was shades of Crystal Dunn, the Tar Heels’ 2012 Hermann Trophy winner.
Now, he wants Fox to see it in herself, too.
“Every single piece is there,” Dorrance said. “The pace is there. The skill set is there. The decision-making is there. The unselfishness is there. I mean, so many great pieces are in her game.
“I hope she saw a glimpse of what she can be today.”
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