The UNC field hockey team recently elected seniors Erin Matson and Cassie Sumfest as captains for the upcoming season.
Head coach Karen Shelton said the two players possess leadership qualities and a growth mindset.
“Both (Matson and Sumfest) have earned day in and day out this level of respect from the rest of the team,” Shelton said. “So it was no surprise to me that they would be elected captains.”
Captains are anonymously voted on by fellow players on the team before the start of the season. To both Matson and Sumfest, it is a much-appreciated honor.
“It’s great that my team puts enough trust in me to vote me for a captain,” Sumfest said. “I have an unbelievable amount of love for them, for every single individual on the team and just that they put that much trust in me — I’m really grateful for it.”
Shelton, in her 41st year as head coach, values input from her seniors and the lessons they have learned during their time in college.
“We found that in all championship teams, the common denominator was outstanding senior leadership, that’s what all the coaches were saying,” Shelton said. “If your best players can be your best leaders, that's kind of the secret sauce to a good team.”
Over the past three years, the Tar Heels have won three consecutive national titles, in addition to going undefeated on their home turf. Yet despite enjoying an incredible level of success since their arrival, both Matson and Sumfest feel no pressure to live up to a past reputation.
“The team here is just really focused on our identity this year,” Matson said. “Obviously the last few years have been super successful, but we’ve done a good job of keeping each season separate and knowing what goals we have.”
With a shortened offseason and a relatively young team, it has been vital for the seniors to foster relationships between players and coaches while building up the team dynamic. The team will begin its season on the road, traveling outside of North Carolina for its first six games.
“Traveling the first three weekends will be really fun with the team just because away team trips are a great bonding experience,” Matson said. “And we kind of learn a little bit more about everyone being together 24/7.”
While bringing home a national championship is practically a tradition at UNC, Sumfest, Matson and Shelton prefer to have a step-by-step mentality, always prioritizing the next game instead of looking several games down the line.
“Obviously it’s always the same end goal every season, to win a national championship,” Sumfest said. “But, the only way we can get there is if we’re playing as a team and taking every game one by one.”
While a high winning percentage on the field is always appreciated, Shelton’s long-term goal is to have her captains help the rest of the team grow both as players and as people.
“We just wanna get better, and my goal every year going into a season is to try and become the best team that we can be,” Shelton said. “If we can take this group of individuals and get them to mesh and meld into a cohesive unit that works hard and has a good attitude, then that’s success in my book.”