Crystal Dunn just won an NCAA championship with the University of North Carolina. But as Maura Gladys writes, the young Tar Heel is just getting started on her promising career.
December 05, 2012
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It didn’t hit junior Crystal Dunn until the bus pulled in to the parking lot in Chapel Hill. As she saw the people holding posters and signs hanging from the gates it sunk in that she and her Tar Heel teammates had won University of North Carolina’s 21st women’s soccer championship.
“It wasn’t until we got back to UNC that we were like, ‘Wow, we really just won a national championship,’” said Dunn.
While winning a national championship is an impressive accomplishment, it’s just one checkmark on Dunn’s staggering list of achievements in 2012. She also was part of the team that won the U-20 Women’s World Cup in September and was nominated for U.S. Soccer’s Young Female Athlete of the Year award.
“I’m so blessed,” Dunn, a two-time All American said. “This year has been really in my favor. It’s been such a long journey.”
Dunn helped the Tar Heels beat Penn State 4-1 in the College Cup final on Sunday, scoring a goal and playing an instrumental role in the midfield. Her influence reached back much further than Sunday’s match though. She scored five goals in the team’s first four games of the tournament, including an overtime winner against BYU in the quarterfinals, and set up teammate Keallia Ohai for the winning goal in the semifinals against defending champ Stanford. Not a bad performance for someone who missed the first month of UNC’s season due to her national team commitments and hadn’t found the back of the net until the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“It was so hard leaving my college team for a month, then returning to them and mentally regrouping,” Dunn, said. “That was probably the hardest thing. Knowing that I was physically still drained from the World Cup, but I still wanted to be there for my team.”
While Dunn struggled to be away from the Tar Heels, she gained valuable experience with the youth national level. She has almost 40 caps to her name, making her a veteran on the squad and her experience helped lead the team to the title. “Just being the World Cup, representing your country is an amazing feeling,” Dunn said. “The U.S. at the U-20 level is the No. 1 team in the world and that’s a great accomplishment that I don’t think anything can really match.”
Having Tar Heel teammate Ohai with her at the World Cup also helped Dunn cope with the time away from her college squad. It also strengthened their chemistry on the field. “Being with K the whole time has definitely made it so much easier,” she said. “I know for a couple girls on the team who were the only ones representing their college, and they didn’t have anyone who knew what they were going through back at school. ”
Dunn set up the winning goal in the final against Germany when she found Ohai in the 44th minute for the game-winner. “We’ve been training for the U-20 World Cup for pretty much two years, so on top of that, we play college soccer together, and then we go to these camps and we play together so basically just getting in a better relationship with K has made us more successful this year.”
Dunn is equipped with speed, quickness, strong vision, and most of all, versatility. She often plays defense at the national level, but moves up to a dribbling central midfielder at UNC, and can also play forward.
“We have all these issues in the back, so we dropped her right in the middle of the defense, and of course she corrected them immediately,” North Carolina head coach Anson Dorrance said after UNC’s win over BYU, of Dunn’s defensive play earlier in the season. “But as you can see, at a collegiate level, we waste her in the back. Why would you ever have a player with this extraordinary dribbling ability as your center back? What I like about playing her there is she can take the game over. She’s not a classic playmaking midfielder. She is a dribbling midfielder.”
Dunn has not yet received a senior national team call up, but with Tom Sermanni’s penchant for youth, she stands a good chance to do so soon. For now, however, she's going to enjoy her national championship, then get back to work, with an eye on professional soccer in a few years. “Soccer is really never ending for me,” she said. “I’m going to take a couple weeks off and then get right back to it and try to develop my skills because I can always improve. Whatever happens after hat is out of my hands.”
Based on the success of the yet-to-be-named women’s domestic soccer league in the U.S., Dunn may have to choose between staying in the U.S. or playing in Europe, but she says it’s too early to decide: “I’d really like to stay here, but I also just really want to go pro, and I don’t see myself not going overseas. Whatever option I think suits me best at the moment is what I’ll do, but right now it’s too early to decide.”