The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday December 5th

Column: Covering Erin Matson, the greatest of all time

<p>UNC senior forward, Erin Matson (1), hits the ball during the game against No. 3 Northwestern on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. UNC won 2-1.&nbsp;</p>
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UNC senior forward, Erin Matson (1), hits the ball during the game against No. 3 Northwestern on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. UNC won 2-1. 

It’s hard to cover Erin Matson.

Her reverse shots and eyes-in-the-back-of-her-head vision have proved nearly unstoppable for five years now. Matson has accrued five consecutive ACC Offensive Player of the Year accolades and four NCAA titles. As of Sunday, she’s scored the game-winning goal in her last two national championship games.

As a beat writer for UNC this season, I sympathize with the struggles of field hockey defenses across the nation.

I, too, can’t cover Erin Matson. 

I’ve sought out countless colleagues for advice on accurately portraying a player of her caliber, but to no avail. As the ACC’s all-time career leader in goals and points, there’s very little you can write about Matson that isn’t redundant. The accolades and record-breaking performances speak for themselves.

Time after time, I had an article about the Tar Heels’ defense or a breakout performance from a bench player typed up on my laptop. Then, Matson scores a hat trick (she’s had 13 in her career), and I have to shift my focus to yet another one of her stunning offensive displays.

Possibly the most difficult part of my job is getting Matson to brag about herself. She simply won’t do it. Matson consistently attributes her success to her team. She says the UNC coaching staff takes care of the “little things” so the awards “take care of themselves.” 

This season, I covered several record-breaking performances by Matson. Each time, I was reluctant to ask her about her most recent feat because I knew the answer would be the same — she didn’t care. She doesn’t look at that stuff.

This laser focus on her program’s success could be seen following her team’s 5-2 win in the NCAA Quarterfinals. Sitting in the Karen Shelton Stadium theater room, Matson barely batted an eye when she was informed she moved to third in all-time Division I career goals.

She told me she “didn’t know that was a thing” before offering up a sarcastic “Woohoo!”

“I’m happy with what I’ve done and everything,” Matson said. “We’re not finished yet. So I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. So is the rest of the team, and that record is awesome and great, but unless we’re holding the trophy at the end of the year, I don’t think any of us will be satisfied. So we’ll see.”

Seated beside the NCAA media room following the NCAA Championship, Matson seemed a bit more relaxed. Posed with a cigar in her mouth and holding the NCAA trophy, she recreated Michael Jordan’s iconic photo with the Chicago Bulls. Instead of a three, though, she held up a four.

Still, even as Matson cemented herself in history in Friday’s semifinal as the all-time leading scorer in NCAA Tournament play, many online trolls have tried to discredit her dominance. They say that all of this is due to her extra year of COVID eligibility. There are Twitter replies and Instagram comments full of doubters who wish to put an asterisk beside Matson’s many records. 

When asked about this on Nov. 4 after securing her fifth ACC Championship, Matson acknowledged that “she doesn’t get too wrapped up in it,” but she finds the remarks “comical.”

“You see tweets and stuff like that, and you see people clapping back like, ‘Oh yea, it’s only because of the COVID rule,’” she said. “Well, ok fine, we have four years now of people who can do it. Let’s see how many people can do it, because it’s still rare.”

After struggling to cover Matson all season long, Sunday’s national championship and Matson’s Most Outstanding Player performance in her last NCAA tournament make one thing easier than ever to write: she’s the greatest of all time.

No asterisk needed.

@shelbymswanson

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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