The Student News Site of Hudson High School

The Explorer

The Student News Site of Hudson High School

The Explorer

The Student News Site of Hudson High School

The Explorer

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The story of the youngest coach in the NCAA

Matson+and+her+Tar+Heels+cheering+after+their+victory+against+Northwestern+University+in+the+National+Championship+game.+Used+with+permission%2FGetty+Images.
Matson and her Tar Heels cheering after their victory against Northwestern University in the National Championship game. Used with permission/Getty Images.

There have been many college athletes who have left a legacy for future athletes to play for as the years continue, and Erin Matson is one of them. Matson is a former field hockey player at the University of North Carolina and now coaches for the Tar Heels field hockey team at the age of 23, making her the youngest head coach in NCAA Division I athletics. This season, she managed to top Northwestern for the national title on November 19. This was her first season being a coach. 

Before any of this, Matson graduated Unionville High School, earning All-America and All-Region Honors just as a sophomore. At 16 -years-old, she became the youngest player to join the U.S. national team. Starting all 23 games during her freshman year at UNC, she scored 20 goals and 19 assists. In 2019, she carried the Tar Heels to their second-consecutive undefeated season. In her fourth season playing for UNC, she scored the game-winning score in their 1-0 championship victory against the University of Virginia. 

There is no doubt that the former Tar Heel and three-time captain at UNC has made an impact on players all over the country by becoming the face of field hockey. During her five seasons playing in college, Matson played on four NCAA Championship teams and five ACC Championship teams. Matson has also been a member of the U.S. National Team since the age of 17, representing the United States all over the world while playing in India, England, South Africa, New Zealand and Chile. She is unquestionably one of the most decorated players in the NCAA sport. In 2021, she was named by the ACC Network as one of the top 10 female athletes in conference history. Additionally, the four-time National Champion is a five-time ACC Offensive Player of the Year and the only student-athlete in any sport to earn ACC Player of the Year recognition five times.

Karen Shelton, UNC’s former field hockey coach, served before Matson from 1981 to her retirement in 2022. UNC’s field hockey stadium is named after Shelton in honor of her service there for more than four decades. After receiving a job offer to follow Shelton’s footsteps as head coach from athletic director Bubba Cunningham, Matson knew that she wouldn’t be taking over just any program in the NCAA. She would be taking over one of the most dominant field hockey programs in the country. She would be replacing Shelton, the former coach who led the Tar Heels to 10 national championships, four including Matson as a player. When Matson made it to the final round of the hiring process, the decision-makers knew that her familiar face would overthrow the other possible contenders.

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One of the reasons why Matson makes UNC’s field hockey program successful is that she’s authentic and true to her goals and decisions. Her players say that Taylor Swift is always playing from the speakers at practice. Instead of calling her “Coach Matson,” her players just call her “Erin.” “It would be weird if my former roommate was calling me ‘Coach,’” Matson said in a ROS interview. Although these new aspects seem different, this doesn’t mean that people don’t view her as a mature leader who is ready to lead a program of her own.  

This past season, Matson guided UNC field hockey to win their 11th national title on November 19, claiming their victory in sudden death after penalty shootouts in Karen Shelton Stadium. They beat Northwestern 2-1, with sophomore Ryleigh Heck taking the winning shot. The game was sold out, crowds were surrounding the perimeter of the stadium, cheering for the players. There were 3,200 people in attendance, making it the largest crowd in program history. 

This is just the beginning of Matson’s career, and she plans to lead the Tar Heels as far as they can in the future seasons. Without Matson, UNC field hockey would not be where they are today. There is no other woman in college sports that has made such an impact as Matson. Her effect on college sports would leave a legacy that no one will beat and will continue to inspire future generations. 

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About the Contributor
Catherine Naples, Reporter
Catherine Naples is a sophomore at Hudson High School. This is her first year writing for The Explorer. In her free time she likes to spend time with friends, listen to music and go shopping. Catherine participates in activities outside of school, such as playing for the Hudson field hockey and track team. She also belongs to the Outdoor Society club at HHS. Catherine is excited about writing for The Explorer this year and all of the different kinds of topics she will write about this semester.
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