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'That’s what we train for': Shelton sets all-time win record following 4-3 OT thriller

Junior forward Erin Matson (1) scored the second goal of the ACC Semifinal game against Syracuse. The Tar Heels won 4-3 in overtime on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020.

In a record-breaking win for head coach Karen Shelton, the North Carolina field hockey team was forced into overtime by a last minute goal for the second time this season on Friday night. The Tar Heels, however, managed to survive 4-3 in overtime against Syracuse allowing them to advance to the ACC championship game.

Watching Shelton on the UNC bench before overtime play began, it was impossible to tell that the Orange had just tied the game in dramatic fashion. The veteran head coach sported a smile that, to the average viewer, seemed more fitting for a large victory.

Yet Shelton knew her team and knew that countless hours had been spent on seven versus seven competitions in practice by the Tar Heels — part of their preparation strategy for overtime.  

Her relaxed demeanor certainly paid off when just five minutes into overtime, junior forward Erin Matson forced a stroke that led to senior forward Bryn Boylan’s second goal of the game and secured a North Carolina victory — breaking the NCAA record of most wins by a field hockey coach: 701.

It’s fitting that Shelton’s record-breaking win came in overtime because every player on the team spoke about how often they'd practice for seven versus seven situations. Despite their recent dominance in collegiate field hockey, Shelton has her players practice for the unexpected, ensuring they are never unprepared.

"Every time it is nerve wracking, but just having the confidence that our girls can get out there and do what they need to do and put the ball in the back of the cage takes a little bit off,” Boylan said. “It just gets exciting instead of nerve wracking.”

All the time put in during practice is what Shelton relies on when games become tight. Sitting on the sidelines she has to trust that the motivational talks and the preparation she puts her players through is enough to propel them to victory. 

“That’s what we train for," Shelton said. "It's dramatic, it’s fun but kids dream and love that kind of drama. You grow up practicing and training for moments when the game’s on the line and I think what I felt good about is we prepared very well for overtime. 

"I just know we put in that preparation.”

During her tenure in Chapel Hill, Shelton has focused on building a UNC field hockey family that can win together and encourage each other. For players, facing the pressure of overtime — especially after dropping a goal in the final seconds of the game — knowing that they have the unconditional support of the coaching staff and players is priceless for their confidence.

“(Coaches) come up to me and say ‘you’ve got this, you’re doing fine,’" senior goalkeeper Amanda Hendry said. "(Overtime) is hard but when you have people telling you to put it in the past and move forward and you're doing good it makes it a lot easier."

That family culture Shelton has created resulted in a record-setting 701 wins for the head coach, but it has also created lifelong relationships with her former athletes, who Shelton credits even more than her own coaching abilities for her new record. But now, she is just glad the pressure is off and she can get back to focusing on coaching the game she loves.

“It is a moment to pause and celebrate all the student-athletes that have participated in those wins," Shelton said. "I haven’t played a minute. There have been hundreds of amazing students athletes that have come through the program, that have earned those wins.

"It’s been fun to help them achieve those but for me it’s about the next thing, so now we are getting ready to play for a championship.”


@dthsports |

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