By R.L. Bynum
Fittingly, one of the greatest athletes in ACC history goes out as a national champion and gets sweet revenge in the process.
Fifth-year forward Erin Matson, named in 2021 by ACC Network as one of the top 10 female athletes in league history, won her fourth national championship Sunday to put a bow on her decorated college career.
Matson, the tournament most outstanding player, scored the game-winning goal with 1:19 left as No. 1 North Carolina finished an unbeaten season with a 2–1 victory over No. 3 Northwestern on a chilly afternoon in Storrs, Conn. The Tar Heels (21–0) avenged a 2–0 first-round loss to the Wildcats (20–5) in last season’s NCAA tournament to cap the third unbeaten season of Matson’s career (also 23–0 in 2019 and 2018).
“To go undefeated again? My class, the seniors, started undefeated national champions,” Matson said. “That’s how we’re ending it. So, it means a lot. It never gets old.”
It was UNC’s record 10th national title but first since 2020, surpassing Old Dominion’s total of nine. It was the fifth unbeaten season in program history (also 24–0 in 2007 and 1995). The Heels also won titles in 1989, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2007, 2009, 2018, 2019 and
2020, all under legendary Coach Karen Shelton.
“I’m absolutely thrilled for our team, and I want to congratulate Northwestern,” Shelton said. “They’re not called the Cardiac ‘Cats for nothing — they made it real interesting at the end, but throughout the entire game they were such a threat.
“I’m proud of our group for defending as well as we did as a complete unit — I thought we defended the entire game, every player,” Shelton said. “We had a plan and while we turned the ball over a little bit and they had opportunities, I thought we did what we wanted to do.”
Ryleigh Heck gave UNC the lead in the 17th minute on a goal off an assist from Sietsky Bruning.
That goal held up until Northwestern’s Bente Baekers scored on a corner off of assists from Kayla Blas and Alia Marshall in the 59th minute in the Wildcats’ first shot of the day. But Carolina quickly retook the lead 39 seconds later on a Matson’s goal off a Paityn Wirth assist.
Romea Riccardo’s pass set up the play. She fed it to Wirth, who carried the ball into the circle and sent it toward the cage, where Matson got her stick on it to tip it in for the lead.
“It was opportunistic — Romea threw a beautiful pass and Paityn did a nice job with it and Erin in front of the goal is always a threat,” Shelton said.
Carolina was the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in five seasons and played in the championship game for a record 21st time.
“I’m just so proud of the entire team,” Shelton said. “Every player contributed, even the ones that didn’t step on the field today because all season long they made us better at practice and they worked hard every day. It was just an outstanding season for all of us.”
Of the 1,264 minutes during the season, the Tar Heels trailed for 55 minutes.
No. 1 UNC 2, No. 2 Northwestern 1
|26||Friday||5–1||No. 4 Michigan||Winston-Salem||1–0|
|28||Sunday||3–2 (OT)||No. 11 Iowa||Winston-Salem||2–0|
|2||Friday||4–3||No. 7 Princeton||Home||3–0|
|16||Friday||3–0||No. 12 Louisville||Louisville, Ky.||7–0, |
|23||Friday||2–0||No. 10 Wake Forest||Home||8–0, |
|2||Sunday||6–3||No. 13 Liberty||Lynchburg, Va.||9–0|
|7||Friday||4–3||No. 20 Boston College||Newton, Mass.||10–0, |
|9||Sunday||3–0||No. 15 Connecticut||Storrs, Conn.||11–0|
|14||Friday||6–1||No. 8 Syracuse||Home||12–0, |
|21||Friday||3–1||No. 5 Virginia||Home||13–0, |
|23||Sunday||6–0||No. 9 Saint Joseph’s||Home||14–0, |
|29||Saturday||2–0||No. 25 Duke||Durham||15–0, |
|2||Wednesday||3–1||Semifinal: No. 8 Syracuse||Durham||16–0|
|4||Friday||3–2||Final: No. 5 Virginia||Durham||17–0|
|11||Friday||5–1||First round vs. |
|13||Sunday||5–1||Second round vs. |
No. 9 St. Joseph’s
|18||Friday||3–0||National semifinal vs. |
No. 6 Penn State
|20||Sunday||2–1||Championship vs. |
No. 2 Northwestern
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications