Born & Bred: First Person - Inspired to Excel

This story first appeared in the 26th issue of Born & Bred on the 50 Years of Carolina Women's Athletics.

By Erin Matson, April 21, 2022

You can think it’s the sips from the Old Well. Or that we wake up with Carolina blue skies and God already on our side. Whatever your argument, I can’t pinpoint why the atmosphere and culture around UNC women’s sports continues to attract and produce the best in everything.

But I can share what four priceless years at Carolina have revealed to me.

My journey as a female athlete has always been grounded in a simple infinitive: “to inspire.” Nine-year-old Erin didn’t forget the first time Karen Shelton saw her play; she wanted to learn from her and be part of the dynasty she created. Fifteen-year-old Erin didn’t only care about scores of UNC Field Hockey games; she loved watching the girls play hard, smart, and together, promising herself she would do whatever it took to be out there one day.

Twenty-one-year-old Erin cares about winning championships, but she also cares about crowds of younger players and fans waiting for autographs after games, or having to respond to consistent streams of DMs from kids asking how to become a Tar Heel someday.

I believe what separates Carolina women’s athletics from every other university isn’t just the state-of-the-art facilities, the unwavering support from the Rams Club and our community, the treasure trove of conference and national championship trophies, or everyone’s undeniable desire to be a champion.

It’s the Carolina family who has that unforgettable impact on so many young women, who lights the fire within us to run towards challenges when others run away, and who greatly inspires us to believe in ourselves and teammates, always.

Each team’s atmosphere is built and upheld by remarkable coaches, undoubtedly influenced by the greats who came before them. They understand their job is to not only mentor on the playing field, but more importantly, in life.

And while every coach has different ways of cultivating this, every female athlete knows she’s part of something much bigger than herself. She owns the fact that she represents her program, but also her university.

She understands that whatever she does would not be possible without those that came before her and those that stand beside her. She takes pride in being an inspiration to the next generations, setting and breaking records while hoping other 9-year-olds dream of doing the same.

The mindset isn’t one that everyone shares, and it’s one that must be preserved. That’s what’s so special about each female athlete here. And what, in turn, invites only the best of the best.

At the highest level, the atmosphere at UNC has always fostered student-athletes to leave Carolina better than when they arrived and to make those around them better.

And you don’t dream of being a Tar Heel if you don’t also dare to be a champion. The two go hand-in-hand. Winning is a tradition here, and it’s what motivates each of us – athlete, coach, fan, everyone.

We play to win, but our sustained success is a byproduct of the culture the Carolina family nurtures year after year.

Karen Shelton has left her mark on 41 of the 50 years of UNC women’s athletics. She’s ingrained in her players that we are “beautiful, strong, powerful women” in everything we do.

She’s told us countless times to never forget this, and looking back, it seems in my heart Carolina has been reminding me of the same for years. It’s something we, as female athletes, will take with us for the rest of our lives.

So, keep telling 9-year-old girls they too can become legends, champions, and leaders. All they need is a little inspiration.