Erin Matson is no stranger to Karen Shelton Stadium.
The senior forward holds the all-time scoring record for North Carolina field hockey and has spent countless hours practicing and competing on her home turf, where she helped lead UNC to NCAA titles in each of her first three seasons.
But things couldn’t have felt more surreal when Matson, alongside four other Tar Heels, walked onto the field to compete at the international level as members of the U.S. National Team last weekend.
“I just took a couple seconds and was like ‘Damn, we are lucky. I’m very lucky,’” Matson said.
Team USA played Team England in a pair of International Hockey Federation pro matches, dropping the first game, 3-1, and the second after a 3-1 shootout.
The past, present and future of UNC field hockey were on full display, as Matson, alum midfielder Lauren Moyer, incoming first-year striker Ashley Sessa, senior defender Cassie Sumfest and junior midfielder Paityn Wirth all saw in-game action.
Matson shined for Team USA, scoring the team’s lone goal on Saturday and being the only USA player to convert during Sunday’s penalty shootout.
“We’re so proud of our Tar Heels and how they’ve developed through the program and can move on to represent the USA team,” UNC head coach Karen Shelton said. “It’s an honor for us to host this event. This is big-time in the world of field hockey to host a pro league game.”
Matson, Sumfest and Wirth have extensive experience in the team's home stadium. But Moyer, who graduated in 2017, had never played there before.
The forward’s entire four-year collegiate career was spent at Francis E. Henry Stadium, which was demolished in 2017 to build the new venue. In her senior year, Moyer put together one of the top offensive seasons in program history, notching 24 goals and leading the Tar Heels to the NCAA championship game, where they fell to Delaware.
“I never thought I’d really have the opportunity to play on this field,” Moyer said. “To get the chance to play on KSS is really special.”
Moyer mentioned the “special connection” she shares with other Tar Heels on Team USA, adding that forming relationships with alumni was something she too experienced upon entering the professional ranks.
“I think that I gravitate towards any fellow Tar Heel,” she said. “I come back and I watch them a ton, and it’s kind of like an unspoken connection that you have when they come to the national team. There were so many girls that did that for me that were Tar Heels.”
Matson elaborated on the UNC pipeline to professional field hockey, noting that the bonds she formed with former Tar Heels influenced her decision to commit to North Carolina.
She also spoke about the differences between collegiate and professional play.
“It’s definitely a faster game,” Matson said. “It’s more physical. You just need to be quicker on your feet, but also quicker with decision making and quicker getting your shot off.”
As with all sports, transitioning to the next level demands more from athletes — more speed, physicality, grit and sharpness.
But in the presence of the nation’s best players — including those that have also been trained by the winningest coach in NCAA field hockey history — Matson enjoyed every second.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Matson said. “When you have people around you pushing you and playing faster, it’s easier to adapt and fit right in. I love it. It felt great again to be back out there.”
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