WINSTON-SALEM — Erin Matson has perfected the art of namedropping. Her Friday news conference, after North Carolina beat Boston College to advance to the NCAA championship, said as much.
Asked about her offensive success against the Eagles, the forward credited the teammates that assisted her. Asked about how she’s expanded her game as a sophomore, she brought up Robbert Schenk, the team’s newest assistant coach.
Even in describing the previous regular-season game she missed against Boston College — she was in India with the U.S. National Team — Matson shouted out Chris Fry, the performance analyst who promptly uploaded the game film so she could watch the win from a good 8,000 miles away.
Case in point: if you stumbled into the interview room having not watched UNC’s 6-3 win, you’d be hard pressed to discern Matson’s masterful performance.
She scored four goals on six shots — including two crucial ones in the second period — to tie an NCAA record for a semifinal and send the 22-0 Tar Heels to Sunday’s title game against Princeton.
Matson also moved into second place on UNC’s single-season goal list; her 31 in 2019 are second only to Cindy Werley’s 36 in 1997. And, by virtue of doing it in just 19 games, Matson now sits atop the NCAA’s goals per game leaderboard (1.63).
“Insane,” senior Megan DuVernois said of her teammate. “Just insanely good. There’s some things where I'm like, ‘How do you even do that?’”
The sophomore scored in a variety of ways at Kentner Stadium: off a penalty corner set-up in the 19th minute; on a heads-up tip-in that involved a last-second body contortion in the 26th; and on two late-game strikes to the left and right post in the 38th and 56th, respectively.
The one similarity among her goals? The decisiveness that set them up. UNC’s offense remained in constant motion on all six of its scores, making long runs toward the goal and passing with precision in tight quarters. Two of Matson’s goals came off simple crosses. All of the team’s goals were assisted.
“I think a big thing this year has been working on those connections, moving off each other in the circle, giving the first pass we see,” the sophomore forward said. “Not making anything too fancy.”
In a game that head coach Karen Shelton said she “never felt comfortable” in, Matson was an anchor in more ways than one. Marissa Creatore, a redshirt senior who had a goal and assist of her own Friday, has watched her teammate flourish as a leader over the last two seasons.
It’s in the little things, she said. How Matson carries herself. Her increased comfort in being vocal. The fact that she sent the team a “really great” good luck text message before the three late regular-season games she missed.
“Even as a sophomore you see everyone — seniors, freshmen — looking up to her on the field and now off the field,” Creatore said. “It’s incredible to see her competitive spirit inspiring everyone around her.”
UNC, winners of an unfathomable 45 straight games, will go for its eighth NCAA title on Sunday. If the team returns to Chapel Hill with the trophy, Matson, their offensive star, will undoubtedly be a huge part of it.
Not that she’d tell you that.
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