UNC Field Hockey Coach Erin Matson Makes History

Courtesy of Main Line Today

In 2018, a standout player joined the University of North Carolina’s (UNC) field hockey team, but the contributions that she would make in the next five years were nothing anyone could expect.

Erin Matson, originally from Chadds Ford, PA, is known as one of the best field hockey players of all time. Before her time at UNC, she was selected for the U.S. women’s national field hockey team at the age of sixteen, being one of only two people to ever accomplish this incredible honor.  At UNC, Matson was a 4x NCAA national champion, 5x Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) champion, 5x ACC offensive player of the year, and 5x ACC player of the year. She collected essentially every award a collegiate field hockey player could earn; however, she was able to gain more when she was hired as the UNC field hockey head coach just after graduation. 

Matson’s hiring was an unusual occurrence. Normally, Division I NCAA head coaches are selected from a group of proven coaches with years of experience underneath their belts, which Matson did not have. 

At the beginning of Matson’s senior year in the fall of 2022, she talked with UNC’s Athletic Director, Bubba Cunningham, expressing her desire to coach the team after graduation. Entertaining her request, Cunningham told her to first win the upcoming national championship and then they would talk more. And win she did. After reigning victorious for the fourth consecutive time, Matson went back to Cunningham to discuss her previous request, and he made good on his word. Just a few months later, Matson was named head coach of UNC’s field hockey team, making her the youngest NCAA Division I head coach in history. 

When this news hit the press, there were mixed reactions. Some people were excited to see Matson in a new position, continuing her success at UNC, while others were skeptical about a coach leading her former teammates. It would be a challenging situation, for Matson would suddenly have to change her relationships with many women in the program. She had ample experience playing field hockey, but playing and coaching a sport are two very different things. Excelling at playing a sport does not guarantee success at coaching. 

The team was previously coached by Karen Shelton for 42 years, during which the Tar Heels were crowned ACC champions twenty-five times and NCAA champions ten times. At the end of Shelton’s career, the team had won the past six ACC championships and four out of the last six NCAA championships. Given the history of UNC’s success under Shelton, people were interested to see how Matson would affect the program. 

As last fall’s field hockey season came around, Matson made it clear that she was right for the job. Continuing UNC’s incredible success, Matson led the team to an overall record of 18-3. In tournament play, the Tar Heels won both the ACC championship and NCAA Division I championship, making Matson the youngest head coach ever to win a Division I NCAA championship. 

Field hockey fans are eager to see how Matson will do in future seasons coming off such a formidable rookie coaching year. On account of her mastery of the game with a stick as well as a clipboard, she is truly an inspiration to all, especially women in sports. She overcame the skeptics and furthered the dominant legacy of UNC field hockey despite her unorthodox start to coaching. Perhaps in this way, Erin Matson is truly the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) of college athletics, as she has showcased her skills in all contexts of the game, a feat few others can claim they have accomplished. 

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