“Our camp is typically a high school camp, but we accept younger kids that excel, as long as they come with a buddy,” Shelton said. “The ones that are confident enough to handle higher-level competition, we allow in.”
The bond continued to grow, but with Matson being one of the top players in the country for her class, Shelton knew she would have plenty of competition in landing her prized charge.
That’s why she was so surprised when Matson announced her intention. Seated in Shelton’s office with her parents next to her, the then high school sophomore announced a decision that produced tears from everyone in the room.
“I told her, and my parents started crying; I started crying,” Matson said. “It was the whole movie scene, and it’s definitely a moment that will always be special in my heart.”
Shelton similarly recalled the event, admitting it brought tears to her eyes just thinking about it.
Matson’s sophomore year ended on a high note, as she earned All-America honors. But she did not play for her high school squad her last two years.
Instead, she played at the international level. She earned a spot on the United States national team roster in the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup this past summer. She was joined by a future teammate, defender Ashley Hoffman. The experience helped her transition to the college game.
“I definitely came in ready to hit the ground running,” Matson said.
In her first collegiate game, she scored in a 5-1 win against Michigan. But the best part of the moment for her was celebrating with her teammates after the goal.
But perhaps her most special moment of her young career came a day later against Iowa in a 2-1 overtime win.
“Even though that wasn’t our best game,” Matson said, “The way we stuck out the game and came through with the win, even after so long of playing, I was really proud of the team and how we came through.”
Her strong start out of the gate might have surprised some, but not her coach.
“To have her come in and make an immediate impact, it’s not something we didn’t expect,” Shelton said. "She’s just doing what she does, and I think she’s getting better each day.”
Matson’s opening weekend resulted in two goals, two assists and her first selection as ACC Offensive Player of the Week.
Now just a little more than a month later, UNC stands as the No. 1 team in the country with an 11-0 record.
A big reason for the team’s success is Matson, who leads the Tar Heels with 10 goals, seven assists and 27 points. Her 10 goals also rank first in the ACC.
But the numbers would not be possible if Matson hadn't made the choice to come to UNC as a sophomore.
“We always pride ourselves on the ability to attract the very best, and Erin was by far the best in her class,” Shelton said. “So it’s a great compliment to our program, and it’s a responsibility to continue to help her develop both as a hockey player and as a young woman.”
North Carolina has just six games left in the regular season. With Matson joining a team that made the Final Four last season, the Tar Heels have every reason to believe they will make it back to a national semifinal.
But Matson is not allowing herself to think that far ahead, instead enjoying the moment with her team.
“We have a goal in mind, and I’m not here to jinx anything,” Matson said. “But, like I said, take it one game at a time and that’s definitely one of the headlines for our team this year…It will be exciting to see where we go.”
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