By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — The final season of the Erin Matson Show is becoming wildly popular.
An overflow crowd estimated at 1,150, one of the largest in UNC program history, turned out for the latest episode on a sun-splashed Friday afternoon at Karen Shelton Stadium. Many fans were standing or sitting on the grass to watch a legend of Carolina’s storied field hockey program.
The four-time All-American forward didn’t disappoint as No. 2 North Carolina moved to 8–0 for the third time in five seasons with a 2–0 victory over No. 15 Wake Forest (5–3, 0–1 ACC). Matson personally outshot the Deacons 8–5 and scored both goals to end their five-game winning streak.
UNC (8–0, 2–0) got its fifth consecutive shutout, the longest streak since blanking six consecutive opponents in 2011.
“Yeah, it’s really special,” Matson said of the crowd while questioning the premise that she was a big reason many came. “I’ve never thought about it like that. The team’s had a lot of success over the years, so I’m going to say it’s because of that, and everybody you know loves watching girls have fun, watching girls who were really skilled scoring goals in a bunch of different ways.”
The only crowd approaching Friday’s turnout was for the May 2020 win over Michigan in the NCAA championship game. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, most of that crowd was outside the fencing. It was likely the most fans in the stands in the history of the stadium.
“Amazing crowd today,” Shelton said. “It was really nice to see it almost completely filled and that the fans were into it. They were paying attention, and they oohed and aahed when we had nice plays. And the interaction between the crowd and our bench was awesome, and that gives us energy, and it makes us play better. So credit to the crowd and the fans that came out today.”
After a scoreless first half, Matson spun by a defender and fired into the left side of the goal in the 35th minute. She took a beautiful crossing pass from Lisa Slinkert for her second goal in the 56th minute.
“It’s just not Erin Matson, but she does create problems for any team that we play,” Shelton said. “She’s a special player.”
Matson leads the team with nine goals and moved into a tie for fifth place on the all-time NCAA list with 118 career goals.
“It’s just in my blood to just not stop until the ball’s in the net,” Matson said. “Our job’s not done until we either get an outcome in the circle or there’s a turnover, and then it’s our job to get it back.”
Freshman Ashley Sessa isn’t surprised when she sees performances like that from Matson.
“I know she’s capable of it and I think they were great goals,” Sessa said. “She came in with perfect timing. She has great timing and I think she can see the field very well. She’s capable of those goals in every game.”
The Tar Heels (8–0, 2–0 ACC) are poised to become the top-ranked team when the next rankings come out Tuesday. No. 1 Northwestern lost 2–0 Friday to No. 5 Iowa, which UNC beat 3–2 in overtime on Aug. 28.
“We want to be No. 1 at the end,” Shelton said. “It doesn’t matter a whole lot whether we’re one, two, six or seven as long as we’re fighting for it at the end. I’m proud of this team. I think they’re mature. They’re hard-working, and they’re paying attention. Every day is a joy to come to practice. No drama and that’s been fun for me to coach.”
Matson says that it’s rewarding to have the chance to be the top-ranked team again, but she says that it’s hard to stay there.
“Our mindset is always, ‘Oh, that’s awesome; Let’s celebrate for five seconds and then back to just doing what we do,’ ” Matson said. “We don’t really harp on it. Regardless of our ranking, we have a target on our back, and we take pride in that. We like that other teams play their best games against us. Every game is just a statement for us to prove who we are in the country. We don’t really focus too much on who’s out there because it’s all about just playing to our strengths. We know the Carolina way and what that means.”
The shutout didn’t come easily as goalkeeper Abigail Taylor had to make a couple of nice saves on penalty corners in the second half, including a pad save on Anna Gwiazdzinski’s shot in the 54th minute with Carolina still clinging to a 1–0 edge. As with every game, Taylor and Kylie Walbert each played one half, but Walbert didn’t have to make a save.
“I think what’s good is we didn’t give them many opportunities, and then they got a couple of corners there at the end,” said Shelton, whose team outshot the Deacs 19–5. “But we didn’t give them many looks in the regular course supply. And I like that. So, I think it’s it’s a team effort, and everybody’s improving getting better.”
NOTES: After getting only one corner in their 3–0 win last Friday over Louisville, UNC had seven against Wake Forest. … Through eight games, UNC is outshooting opponents 146–44. … Wake Forest became the first opponent in four games to get off a first-half shot, with one each in the first and second quarters.
No. 2 UNC 2, No. 15 WF 0
|26||Friday||5–1||No. 8 Michigan||Winston-Salem||1–0|
|28||Sunday||3–2 (OT)||No. 3 Iowa||Winston-Salem||2–0|
|2||Friday||4–3||No. 9 Princeton||Home||3–0|
|16||Friday||3–0||No. 5 Louisville||Louisville, Ky.||7–0, |
|23||Friday||2–0||No. 17 Wake Forest||Home||8–0, |
|2||Sunday||1 p.m.||No. 14 Liberty||Lynchburg, Va.|
|7||Friday||4 p.m.||No. 16 Boston College||Newton, Mass.|
|9||Sunday||1 p.m.||No. 11 Connecticut||Storrs, Conn.||FloSports|
|14||Friday||3 p.m.||No. 13 Syracuse||Home||ACCNX|
|21||Friday||4 p.m.||No. 7 Virginia||Home||ACCNX|
|23||Sunday||2 p.m.||No. 10 Saint Joseph’s||Home||ACCN|
|29||Saturday||Noon||No. 20 Duke||Durham|
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications