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UNC wins NCAA field hockey title behind 23-year-old coach Erin Matson

Erin Matson celebrates North Carolina's 2023 NCAA Championship in her first season as head coach. (Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Erin Matson has led the No. 1 UNC field hockey team to its 11th NCAA championship in program history.

She is 23 years old. And she’s the youngest head coach in Division I sports — and the youngest to win a national title.

Just last year, Matson was on the field with many of the players she’s coaching, winning the same championship. Matson also won four ACC championships as a player with the Tar Heels, and she’s already won one as a coach after defeating Duke in the ACC tournament final on Nov. 3.

Maybe her age is an advantage. Matson has been encouraging her teammates since she was on the pitch herself, and she has been able to carry that into her first season as head coach.

“We have that foundation of a relationship,” Matson told Sports Illustrated in August. “So, then it’s, ‘O.K., I’m not taking time to check in on how you’re doing because I don’t know. I’m taking time to check in on how you’re doing because I know who you are as a person, and I can read the situation and I’m here for you.’ It’s a different relationship.

“I know they have my back, and they know I have theirs. I think their attitude every day⁠—how much they want to succeed themselves but also do it together⁠—is really empowering.”

Another key to Matson’s success as a coach is her history as a player. Not only is she a four-time ACC champ, Matson also has been awarded player of the year honors three times and she is UNC’s all-time leading scorer. She also is one of the only coaches in the D-I sports who has navigated NIL regulations as a player, giving her precious insight into the minds of those she coaches off the field and on it.

In Sunday’s NCAA tournament final, the No. 1 Tar Heels beat the No. 2 Northwestern Wildcats by a score of 3-2 on penalty strokes to secure Matson’s first national title as a coach. And judging by her career so far, it probably won’t be her last.