By Eric Weir
It’s September 17, as fans flood into Dorrance Field.
Hundreds of students line up an hour early and are comfortably packed into the student section.
Some students purchase standing tickets, a few wait for security to look away so they can disappear into the stands. Other fans peer through fences, climb on top of walls, set up on dorm balconies, and any other way so they could get a view of the UNC vs. Duke women’s soccer game.
Emily Murphy, a freshman, had a seating problem of her own. Her seats were great as they were right next to the sideline, but she hated being an observer.
Murphy sat on the sideline wishing her ankle wasn’t as swollen as an elephant’s and that she could kick her walking boot to Hooker Fields.
If Murphy had a choice, she would be playing, even if that meant running around with the walking boot.
Instead, she was an injured observer with VIP seats to UNC’s first ever loss at Dorrance Field.
“I was gutted. That was the biggest game we’d had all year,” said Murphy.
A Key Piece in Solving the Puzzle
Prior to her injury, Emily Murphy had been emerging as a key piece in Head coach Anson Dorrance’s puzzle.
Murphy became a top scoring option on a team that had made it to the NCAA Tournament Semifinals earlier this Spring. Murphy and the Tar Heels started the season with a perfect 7-0-0 record before she missed three straight games with her ankle injury. In the brief span since her injury, the Tar Heels have gone 1-1-1.
When Murphy was in primary school back in Windsor, England, her parents would ask how she ruined her shoes and how she got those scrapes on her knees. Murphy said it was because she was playing soccer on the concrete with all the boys.
Every couple of weeks she would get a new pair of shoes and every couple of weeks she would ruin them. Several ruined pairs of shoes later, her parents learned to only buy her cheap school shoes instead of trying to keep her from the playground soccer pitch.
In November 2019, Murphy exited the Chelsea locker room at Kingsmeadow Stadium for Chelsea’s match against Tottenham. Her nerves were greeted with the biting, autumn English air and the flags flapping against the wind.
In the sixtieth minute of the match, with around two thousand fans in attendance, Murphy jogged onto the field and officially became a pro.
“That was one of the most surreal moments of my career, […] that was probably the first time I was like, yeah, this is definitely what I want to do,” said Murphy.
Despite some success with Chelsea and later Birmingham City, Murphy was not going to get consistent playing time at her age and needed to find a better opportunity.
Murphy began watching the NCAA women’s soccer tournament and found herself rooting for the Tar Heels. She began to do some research on Anson Dorrance and found herself asking her coaches and friends about UNC.
Her coaches had nothing but good things to say about UNC’s entire soccer program and encouraged her to apply.
“I came to UNC to compete. I was totally focused throughout the summer and my plan was to come in and make an impact,” said Murphy.
In August, Emily Murphy dropped off her final bag in her dorm room. She sat down and wiped the sweat from her brow; the unfamiliar North Carolina heat had beat her down as she moved in.
A New Kid on the Block
As she entered her first meeting with the team, Murphy’s nerves ran up her back. She was the new kid, the British player, and she barely knew anyone.
Those nerves dissipated as her teammates began introducing themselves and began a team scavenger hunt.
“You must be Emily.”
“Hi Emily it’s nice to meet you.”
Eventually, one of the taller girls made her way over to Murphy. Murphy already knew her name, years of watching UNC had exposed her to this girl’s greatness in front of the net.
“Hi, I’m Claudia Dickey.”
The senior goalkeeper had led the Tar Heels to two national title games and was named to the First Team All-ACC. She also had a reputation of being reserved.
“As much as Claudia denies it because she pretends she’s emotionless and hasn’t got a soft sport for anyone. I know she’s got a soft spot for me,” said Murphy.
Despite Dickey’s denial, her and Murphy began to form a sisterly bond. Many early weekends were spent getting dinner together with Dickey’s family and many late nights were spent laughing together in someone’s dorm room.
On the soccer field, Dickey’s influence on Murphy was immeasurable. Dickey would relay her experiences to Murphy and give her some tough love when she needed it.
During a preseason match against High Point University, Murphy was subbed out in the middle of the second half.
Making an Opening
Murphy jogged off the field, but inside she was screaming at herself. She couldn’t figure out how to break through High Point’s defense.
She made her way to the water cooler, but Dickey cut her off. Dickey, who was resting, began telling Murphy different ways she could break down High Point’s defense and what she learned from past UNC greats like Alessia Russo.
Murphy tried to move around Dickey, but she got cut off again. For the next several minutes, Dickey offered different strategies for Murphy to consider.
After her dry, ten-minute break, Murphy head back onto the field with new determination. Within minutes, Murphy broke through the defense and scored.
As she walked off the field as the game ended. Dickey smiled as she approached Murphy.
“You could have got at least another one. Why did you only get one?” said Dickey
Murphy says her relationship with Dickey has been great because it’s fun and playful, but they’re also constructive of each other.
In Murphy’s first match back from her ankle injury, Claudia scanned the field trying to find someone to get the ball to. She spotted Murphy’s white jersey scurry into view among the wave of defenders. She flung the ball just to the right of Murphy. Murphy tried to turn upfield, but was cut off by the only defender between her and the goalie. Murphy dribbled the ball towards the sideline. She tried pushing herself to go faster to get around the defender, but she lost control of the ball and rolled out of bounds.
“I’m sorry about messing up that throw,” said Murphy as they walked off the field.
“There’s nothing to apologize for,” said Dickey, “just do it better next time.”
Murphy says her game has changed a lot since coming to UNC. She has learned to have faith in her teammates and how to be a more selfless player.
“I feel like every game we’re improving, every game we’re finding something new and we’re building more relationships,” said Murphy.
This time next year, Murphy wants to have made a name for herself at UNC. She wants other teams to point her out when they’re watching film and she wants to be the player opposing teams center their game plan around to stopping her.
She wants to be a player opponents fear.
Edited by Jake Jeffries