North Carolina field hockey head coach Karen Shelton knows all too well how important a game’s final frame is. All season, she's emphasized the need to close out opponents.
“We want to be a fourth-quarter team," she said.
And her No. 7 Tar Heels got a prime opportunity to be just that against No. 15 Connecticut.
After entering the fourth quarter tied at 1, UNC scored twice in the last 15 minutes to take down the visiting Huskies, 3-1, at Karen Shelton Stadium.
Before the Connecticut matchup on Sunday, UNC faced No. 5 Boston College in its first conference game Friday.
“I told them going into it that this was a Final Four-type weekend for us, playing two ranked teams with the Friday-Sunday format," Shelton said. "I’m proud of our team. I thought this was a great one to win, having to come from behind and close it out in the fourth quarter.”
Leading the charge once again was senior forward Erin Matson. The all-time goals and points leader in UNC field hockey history added to her career totals with two goals and an assist Sunday.
But she doesn’t do it alone.
“We have a really good chemistry on this team where it’s all about helping each other out," Matson said. "Obviously, they want me on the ball and I want to be on the ball, but it’s all about doing this for each other. They push me, I push them, we challenge each other. It couldn’t be just me out there.”
Matson — a two-time captain and national player of the year — has been called the “Michael Jordan of field hockey,” and like the Tar Heel basketball legend, Matson sets high expectations for her teammates.
“She’s a very vocal leader, and she gets mad and frustrated, and she’s demanding,” Shelton said. “But you gotta love it, and no one works harder. She walks the walk, she commands respect and when it’s not going well, she’ll be the first to tell you. Not in a mean and dirty and nasty way, but in a firm and direct manner."
Matson assisted sophomore midfielder Katie Dixon to clinch the Tar Heels' last goal with under three minutes left. Dixon said she credited her teammates for the steal that got the ball started and working it through the midfield.
“I saw that the goalie was out and I hadn’t realized that until Erin got the ball," Dixon said. "We’ve been working a lot on ‘dirty balls,’ trying to redirect shots so the goalie can’t see them. Once I saw Erin do the backswing, I was going to try to get a touch on it, and I did.”
Two other seniors, midfielder Cassie Sumfest and forward Meredith Sholder, patrolled the middle of the field to clear the ball from offense to defense. Shelton couldn’t say enough about the two-way versatility and leadership her leaders provide.
“Cassie plays both ways. She’s on the offensive and the defensive corner, same with Meredith Sholder, and both players are doing an awful lot for us right now,” Shelton said. “They’re gaining more confidence and more maturity with every game, so it’s really fun to watch their development."
North Carolina improved to 3-0 at home with the win Sunday, but away games have been the Tar Heels’ kryptonite this season.
This weekend, the team will head north to face Syracuse and Albany. Not only will this trip give the Tar Heels a chance to fix their road woes, but also an opportunity to finish strong like they did against Connecticut.
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