By R.L. Bynum
How will the Carolina field hockey program maintain its high standard without transcendent star Erin Matson on the field next season?
By making her the head coach, as one legend replaces another.
UNC named the most decorated player in program history as the head coach to replace Karen Shelton, the winningest coach in the sport’s history, on Tuesday. Shelton retired after her 42nd season in Chapel Hill ended with her 10th national championship and a 21–0 record for her fifth undefeated season.
“This is a dream come true,” said Matson, who scored the game-winning goal with 1:19 left in Carolina’s 2–1 victory over Northwestern in the Nov. 20 national championship game. “This program means the world to me, and I will do whatever it takes to continue the excellence that is UNC field hockey.”
Matson, who begins her duties immediately, becomes the fifth head coach in the program’s history, and the second since the early 1980s. Shelton became the program’s head coach in 1981 at age 23 and built a dynasty that dominated national and won 25 ACC titles.
Matson, who turns 23 on St. Patrick’s Day, has no head coaching experience but that was also the case for Shelton when UNC hired her after one year as an assistant coach at Franklin & Marshall College.
Matson, who leads her first practice on Wednesday, said she is having team meetings to make sure everybody is on the same page and that she respects their opinions and feelings.
“It’s different. It’s the transition,” Matson said on ACC Network’s “ACC PM.” “Any time of change is going to come with a wide range of emotions.”
She promises the same sort of high-intensity passing team she was part of as a player during the past five seasons.
“It’s my job to convey my knowledge and everything I’ve learned and improve myself along the way,” Matson said. “But mainly help these girls discover it within themselves so that when they’re in control, they trust themselves and feel empowered.”
Matson won four NCAA titles and five ACC titles. She won the Honda Sport Award for Field Hockey three times, becoming just the second player — after Shelton — to win that honor three times.
“Erin is an outstanding leader who has a deep and thorough knowledge of the game, understands the balance it takes to be a successful student and athlete, and is determined to expand and propel the winning tradition of Carolina field hockey,” UNC athletics director Bubba Cunningham said.
“She knows how to inspire, listen, teach and win — all qualities that will translate well to the sidelines and make her a terrific head coach,” Cunningham said. “We all look forward to supporting her as she transitions and leads in this new role.”
Matson is the all-time scoring leader in ACC history and in NCAA tournament play. In 2021, the ACC Network named her one of the top 10 female athletes in conference history. Matson is a five-time ACC Offensive Player of the Year and the only five-time ACC Player of the Year in any sport. She started for three of the five undefeated teams in program history.
“They know my standards. They know my expectations,” Matson said of her former teammates who she will now coach. “It’s the same. It hasn’t changed in five years and it’s not going to. They know what to expect. And I think it’s going to be my responsibility to balance hard and soft with communication and motivating and setting standards, keeping high expectations.”
Matson has played for the U.S. National Team since she was 17 and played extensively on the international level. She was the top scorer at the 2022 Pan American Cup in Chile and has played for the U.S. worldwide, in countries including India, England, South Africa and New Zealand.
She took advantage of the NIL age by becoming an entrepreneur, founding a brand, “One,” that sells gear bearing her logo. Her company organized and ran summer clinics.
A three-time team captain as a Carolina player, Matson, who graduated in December, majored in advertising and public relations and minored in coaching education.
UNC is the host of the Final Four next season on Nov. 17 and 19 at Karen Shelton Stadium.
Photos courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications; illustration via @accnetwork