‘Like I hit the Lottery’
BY KURT DUSTERBERG
When Erin Matson led UNC–Chapel Hill to the NCAA field hockey national championship last November, it was the finishing touch on one of the sport’s most remarkable careers ever. The Tar Heels’ national title was the fourth for Matson, a three-time recipient of the Honda Sports Award as national player of the year.
But instead of taking her public relations and marketing degree out into the working world, the fifth-year senior was presented with an unlikely opportunity. Head coach Karen Shelton stepped down after 42 years and 10 national championships, so Matson applied for the job. She was introduced by UNC Athletic Director Lawrence “Bubba” Cunningham as the new coach on January 31.
At age 23, Matson is the youngest collegiate coach in the country, a high-risk situation in the world of college athletics. “That’s part of the reason that I was hired, that I am so young,” Matson says. “I’m so relatable. I know exactly what the kids want because I think the same way.”
Field hockey programs don’t make or break athletic departments, but the eyes of the sport are on Chapel Hill, where UNC has won the most championships since the NCAA sanctioned the sport in 1981. So Matson had to make the transition from player to coach quickly.
“I’m still myself. I’m not changing,” she says. “Bubba doesn’t want me to change, but at the same time, I have the responsibility of a program and other young women to empower and manage. When we’re in the office, let’s flip the switch. I always have to have the coaching hat on.”
Matson has come a long way since her mother, a former field hockey goalie at Yale University, signed her up for a clinic when she was 6 years old. As the years passed, Matson was always the youngest kid at camps—the petite girl issued the extra-small jersey with No. 1 on the back, the same number she wore at Chapel Hill. “I just fell in love,” she says. “I couldn’t get enough of it once I picked up a stick.”