One in an occasional series about how athletes view their college recruiting experience.
Even though the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a long history of field hockey success -- seven national titles since 1989 -- 2018 Unionville High School graduate Erin Matson said the determining factor in her decision to attend the school was the “feel” of the place.
“It comes down to where you’re most comfortable and where it feels like home,” said Matson, who in 2017 became just the second 16-year-old to be named to the U.S. women’s field hockey national team. Katie Bam was the first, in 2005.
"Taking away all the external factors of who you’re playing, where you are, the weather, all that stuff, it’s where it feels like home for you,” Matson said.
At Unionville, Matson made all-America and all-region teams, was the Ches-Mont League player of the year as a sophomore and made the all-state, all-area and all-league teams as a freshman and sophomore. Then, as the midfielder from Chadds Ford concentrated on playing for various national teams and her club team -- the Spring City-based WC Eagles -- she graduated early from high school.
At North Carolina, Matson said she can be herself both on and off the field. So far, both experiences, she said, have been great. En route to winning the NCAA championship as a freshman, she posted 59 points in 23 games -- all wins -- and qualified for the Atlantic Coast Conference academic honor roll. She was the ACC rookie of the year and offensive player of the year and a first-team all-American.
What should high school players ask when they are considering college offers?
“Where is going to make you the best player that you can be?" Matson said.
Many star high school athletes make their college commitments early. They excel in one sport, target their favorite school and commit sometimes by their sophomore year.
Episcopal Academy graduate Margaux Paolino did not do that. A senior at Duke University, the striker for the U.S. women’s national field hockey team tried two sports other than field hockey and waited until she was a junior in high school to commit to the Blue Devils.
“I was older, and I knew what I wanted at that time,” Paolino said of why she waited to make a serious college commitment. “School-wise, I was kind of all over the place, from state school to private school. But I eventually narrowed it down to Duke.”
Paolino said she didn’t even begin to look seriously at college field hockey opportunities until her sophomore year because of her investment in basketball and track. Across those three sports, she won five Pennsylvania high school state titles.
A Villanova native, Paolino said it was important for her that Duke embodied the values that her family had already instilled in her. That familiarity made it the place where she felt most at home.
Paolino certainly seems comfortable at Duke. Going into her final college season, she is a two-time all-American and two-time member of the ACC academic honor roll.
To future recruits, Paolino said it was important to keep the experience “fun.”