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Friday February 3rd

UNC field hockey's Erin Matson breaks ACC record for career points in 6-1 win over Syracuse

UNC senior forward Erin Matson (1) raises her hand towards the crowd during her introduction at the women's field hockey game against Syracuse on Oct. 14, 2022 at Karen Shelton Stadium. UNC beat Syracuse 6-1.
Buy Photos UNC senior forward Erin Matson (1) raises her hand towards the crowd during her introduction at the women's field hockey game against Syracuse on Oct. 14, 2022 at Karen Shelton Stadium. UNC beat Syracuse 6-1.

Following No. 1 UNC field hockey’s 6-1 win against No. 11 Syracuse on Friday, several teammates called out to senior forward Erin Matson during their postgame stretch, urging the fifth-year to turn around and “look at your poster!”

Crouched in a pigeon pose, Matson craned her neck towards the Karen Shelton Stadium scoreboard. A graphic on the screen placed Matson between two goats and displayed her historic achievement in all caps — "ACC CAREER POINTS LEADER". 


Matson was quick to laugh it off, and her teammates got a good kick out of it too.

“I wasn’t expecting a poster,” Matson said. “It’s really sweet. I wasn’t expecting flowers or anything… it was all just really surreal and memorable.”

On Friday, the four-time recipient of All-American and ACC Offensive Player of the Year honors — and arguably the sport’s most dominant collegiate player in the past decade — cemented her spot as the conference’s top offensive player of all time. Matson’s assist and goal against the Orange brought her to a total of 309 career points, surpassing Maryland's Katie O'Donnell, who scored 306 from 2007-10.

“She (Matson) was definitely a world-class player when we recruited her,” UNC head coach Karen Shelton said. “I identified that special talent from a very young age, so we expected her to be great, and she has not disappointed.”

In the second quarter, Matson controlled the ball on the left side of the shooting circle. With a defender on her back, she turned and delivered a searing shot that was deflected by first-year Ryleigh Heck into the goal.

There was perhaps no better way for Matson to deliver the point that propelled her to the top of ACC history. Aside from her signature reverse shot, Matson’s 307th career point came off of an assist.

Heck called it “symbolic”. When her parents were asked about the play, Erin’s father, Brian Matson, began to tear up and had to divert the question momentarily to Erin’s mother Jill.

“You hear about the scoring, and you kind of hear about the assists,” Brian said. “But the fact that that happened, she got the point and assist, especially to one of our incredible first-years, that makes it a little more special to me.”

However, Matson wasn’t satisfied with just one point. The veteran’s tenacity increased as Friday's game went on, adding two more points to her stats sheet with a breakaway goal in the third quarter. Even after this, the forward continued to compete in traffic to earn penalty corners and apply pressure to the Orange.

In the shadows of Matson’s historic game was Heck’s first career hat trick, a testament to the young talent surrounding Matson on this year's squad.

Before Matson’s assist to Heck to earn her 307th point, Heck deflected a ball launched from roughly 25 meters out by fellow first-year Sietske Brüning in a heads-up play that Shelton said "bodes well for the future".

Later, in the fourth quarter, Heck was able to calmly flip a ball into the back of the goal following an Orange defensive breakdown — securing her third goal of the day. 

When asked about earning her hat trick, Heck diverted the attention to her team. Reflecting on Matson’s assist in the second quarter, Heck pointed to practices in the previous few weeks in which the Tar Heels have been working on cohesion. Heck said she is happy it “finally started clicking” for the team tonight.

“I am extremely happy for Erin… just to be a part of it is phenomenal and a great feeling,” Heck said. 

While Matson said that “it’s great” that she broke the record, it isn’t something she’s been eyeing. She only found out she tied the ACC record in the previous game — a 3-0 defeat of No. 12 UConn on Sunday — when it was mentioned to her by a friend after the matchup.

“We’re just focused on winning…it’s obviously very rewarding and special but I wouldn’t say I was paying any close attention to it,” Matson said.

However, when she backtracked across the midfield line on Friday following her record-breaking play, Matson took a moment to recognize the cheers from the crowd. She formed a heart with her hands and held it up to the more than 40 former players that had returned to Chapel Hill for Alumni Weekend.

To Matson, becoming the ACC all-time leading scorer is a testament to the North Carolina field hockey program.

“My goal coming in as a freshman was, let’s maybe win one national championship, and if it happens and (if) I work hard enough I can earn a player of the year,” Matson said. “(UNC) is a place where you reach that and it’s like, ‘Ok, what’s next? What’s more?’ It invited that hunger and it allows you to thrive in this environment.”

And fortunately for the UNC field hockey team — a program looking to climb to the mountaintop once again following an uncharacteristic first-round loss in last year’s NCAA Tournament — Matson’s not finished just yet.

@shelbymswanson 

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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