Under the glow of the Friday night lights, head coach Erin Matson and the North Carolina field hockey team walked out onto the field of Karen Shelton Stadium for the first game of the season.
It was a different kind of season kickoff.
Behind them, an overflowing crowd stacked from the field-level first row to the top of the stadium spilled into the fields on either side.
Over 1,700 people — the largest crowd in facility history — packed into the stadium to witness the beginning of a new era. A new chapter in the program’s history books. The passing of the whistle from coaching legend Karen Shelton to an on-the-field legend, Matson.
The No. 1 Tar Heels took down No. 4 Michigan, 3-2, on Friday but fell to No. 7 Iowa in overtime, 2-3, two days later. The weekend marked the first time since 1981 that the Tar Heels started the season with a new head coach.
“The atmosphere here tonight [against Michigan] with the fans, under the lights and the energy of the team, it was just incredible,” Matson said after Friday's win. “It reminds me of the national championship back here. You're not going to find this [anywhere else] in America.”
In the hours leading up to the first game this weekend, Matson said she had to busy herself with miscellaneous tasks. She wiped down the tables on the balcony, visited with her family and tried to remain calm as possible to counteract her nerves. She said it wasn’t any different than the pregame jitters she would have as a player in the locker room.
“I'm passionate,” she said. “Everybody knows that. They know how bad I want it for them. They want it just as much. They respond to my voice. They've heard it for five years on the field, so it's no different than coming from the sidelines.”
Against the Wolverines, the young North Carolina offense did not start executing until the second quarter, when the Tar Heels scored all three of their goals.