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Erin Matson – Field Hockey’s Newest Icon

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Erin Matson, UNC Field Hockey player turned coach. (Photo Courtesy of the Charlotte Observer)

One year ago, only high-level field hockey players knew the name Erin Matson. Now, she’s a global superstar who has led UNC to the program’s 11th national win.  

In five years of playing for UNC, Matson led the team to win five ACC championships and four NCAA D1 Championships. Following her fourth season of eligibility, her coach, Karen Shelton announced that she would retire after the next season.  

After this announcement, Erin Matson asked to be considered for the position and was told by the athletic director, Bubba Cunningham, to come back and discuss this as an option after she won another ACC championship. So, that’s exactly what she did.  

Bubba Cunningham and Karen Shelton knew that it was time for change, but a 23-year-old overtaking a dynasty – that just sounds crazy. Stepping up after Shelton meant that there were HUGE cleats to fill. After all, Shelton led the program for 42 seasons (from 1981 to 2022) and is the winningest coach in field hockey history. But Matson, well she was the perfect candidate – who’s better than the winningest coach? Well, how about the most decorated player? 

Freshly graduated Erin Matson (right) next to her coach Karen Shelton (left). (Photo Courtesy of The Tar Heel Times)

In addition to her ACC and NCAA wins, Matson’s resumé is shining with other accomplishments. She was a three-time recipient of the Honda Sport Award for Field Hockey, becoming just the second athlete ever to achieve this honor 3-peat.  The first you may wonder? Her former coach, Karen Shelton.  

Matson was named as one of the top 10 female athletes in conference history in 2021, a three-year captain of the UNC team, the second UNC player to be named first-team All-America after her freshman season (which she also earned in her four other seasons), and a five-time ACC offensive player of the year – and is the only student-athlete in any sport to achieve this.  

Her qualifications are out of this world!! (Photo courtesy of X.com)

Plus, when she finished playing collegiately, she was the all-time scoring leader in both ACC history and NCAA Tournament play. She also has an extensive experience of playing internationally as she has been a member of the U.S. national team since she was 16. In 2022, she even became the top scorer at the Pan American Cup. 

Bubba Cunnigham describes Erin as “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.” He adds, “She knows how to inspire, listen, teach and win – all qualities that that will translate well to the sidelines and make her a terrific head coach.” And she is already shaking up the game in new bold ways. She’s added more in-practice competitions, more situational drills, and has adapted strategies to reflect the modern game. 

But here’s what Erin has to say about her new role: “To say I’m excited and honored to be the head coach of the UNC field hockey program is an understatement – this is a dream come true. This program means the world to me, and I will do whatever it takes to continue the excellence that is UNC Field Hockey.”  

But how did her Tar Heel teammates feel about this change? After having served as captain for three seasons, they were already accustomed to her leadership, and she was transparent with them about wanting this position from the moment it became available. So, although it is abnormal for a player to immediately transition into a coach for the same team, it was as seamless of a transition as it could be. 

Erin and her teammates after she scored. (Photo Courtesy of the Tar Heel Blog)

Former teammate Kaitlyn Schmidt said, “It was January 2023 during an emergency team meeting [that Erin] crossed the threshold of the UNC field hockey film room. Instead of taking her usual seat in one of the plush navy chairs — where she had previously spent the last five years studying her craft — she remained in the front of the room.”   

Because Erin Matson has become a generational icon to field hockey players and fans, her name wields a lot of power for recruiting purposes. If you play field hockey at a high level, you know who she is, and you want to either work with her or beat her. Her position change is a win for women in sports around the globe, and the country is watching to see what she does next. 

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About the Contributor
Julianna Mullen, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Julianna Mullen is a senior and a third-year journalism student. Aside from her role as one of the Co-Editors-in-Chief, she is an involved member of the FHS community: she runs for the school's track and cross-country teams, is the leader of Voices of Equity and German Club, does Morning Announcements, and is an avid member of Green School Club, Envirothon, Academic Team, and the Fallston Drama Company. Julianna plans to continue pursuing her passions as an Environmental Sustainability major, International relations minor, and collegiate runner. In her free time, she enjoys reading, hiking, and traveling to new places. She loves to write news-like feature stories and is excited for the successful year ahead for The Print Staff. 
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