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Wednesday February 1st

Karen Shelton ties all-time field hockey win record at 700 after ACC Quarterfinals win

UNC head coach Karen Shelton talks to her players during warmups before UNC plays Boston College in Karen Shelton Stadium Nov. 5, 2020. The Tar Heels beat the Eagles 4-0 in the first round of the ACC playoffs, securing Shelton’s 700th win.
Buy Photos UNC head coach Karen Shelton talks to her players during warmups before UNC plays Boston College in Karen Shelton Stadium Nov. 5, 2020. The Tar Heels beat the Eagles 4-0 in the first round of the ACC playoffs, securing Shelton’s 700th win.

UNC head coach Karen Shelton entered the 2020 season only eight wins away from tying Nancy Stevens at 700 for the most career wins in collegiate field hockey. She needed North Carolina (8-1, 3-1 ACC) to pull out the win against Boston College (0-3, 0-2 ACC) in the ACC Championship Quarterfinals. 

And that’s just what the Tar Heels did. 

Shelton was supposed to be crowned as field hockey’s winningest coach midway through a pandemic-free regular season. She had a team full of returning talent, led by one of the nation's premiere players with Erin Matson, riding a 47-game win streak. 

But a dramatically shortened season and an unexpected defeat gave the 62-year-old head coach a chance to reach the milestone win in the stadium named after her, in a high-stakes conference tournament. 

“I told the team that I haven’t played one second of any of those 700, so it was not me that won those games,” Shelton said. “It was all the student athletes that have represented Carolina.”

An already wild season threw another obstacle at the Tar Heels as they faced a Boston College team that had only played two games coming into Thursday's matchup. This made it more difficult for UNC to plan for the game. 

“The film this morning was funny because we’ve only had two games to get film on them, so for pregame it was like, ‘We don’t really know what we’re going to do, so let’s just focus on ourselves,’ Matson said. “Luckily, we’re a team that focuses more on what we can do and what our strengths are.

The Eagles were voted by ACC coaches to finish third in the conference coming into the season, but a positive COVID-19 test forced the program to cancel five games, including their Oct. 25 match against North Carolina.

This was nearly the same team that, just one year ago, faced UNC in both the ACC Championship Title game and the NCAA Tournament Semifinals last year, so the Tar Heels were prepared for the fight Boston College gave them. 

“They played very well today,” Shelton said. “I thought they fought hard, they threw things at us, they played fast and tough and they gave us all kinds of fits so that was good. It made us better.”

North Carolina started the game strong, forcing four early corners. The constant pressure eventually gave sophomore Paityn Wirth a chance at goal that she capitalized on to give her team an early lead. 

The Eagles responded by generating several scoring opportunities, but they could not get the ball past senior goalie Amanda Hendry. The Tar Heels regained control after Wirth tallied her second goal of the game, knocking in a deflected ball.

North Carolina used its strong first half play to cruise the rest of the way to earn Shelton’s historic victory. 

The team extended its lead to three when sophomore Madison Orobono notched her first career goal. Matson capped off the game, firing the ball high into the net, for her team-leading 10th goal of the year. When the whistle blew, the team celebrated, knowing what its coach had just achieved.  

“Going into the game we all knew about the win,” Matson said. “Obviously she didn’t bring it up because she’s humble and everything. But we were really excited to get that for her.”

While Shelton refused to acknowledge it, focusing on the next match, her players made sure to cheer her on in the post-game huddle. 

“She’s one of the best field hockey coaches in the country, if not the best, so I’m really happy for her,” Hendry said.

Shelton now looks to stand alone at the top of the all-time wins leaderboard in Friday’s semifinal match.

“When you have a milestone like this it means I’ve been here a long time,” Shelton said. "But it also gives me an opportunity to thank all the student-athletes that participated in those wins.” 

@ryanheller23

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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