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Thank you UNC!

It’s weird to think about writing this. You never really think about what the ending is going to feel like until you’re in it. Now that it’s time to move on from UNC, it’s a whole mix of emotions, but mostly, I am thankful.

  1. Thank you UNC for always holding special family significance throughout my life but becoming my own special place as I became a student. It’s an honor to be another member of my family that has continued the tradition!
  2. Thank you Allie Barnett for being an amazing roommate and friend! Not all roommate pairings work out, but you’re the best possible scenario. So glad we decided to keep living together past the days of Crusty Craige.
  3. Thank you to the Hussman School of Journalism and Media for helping me discover a passion and a future career trajectory with several unique opportunities and real-world experiences. I came into school as a pre-PT student, graduated with a PR degree and couldn’t be happier about it. Also, a big thank you to the Romance Languages Department for giving me the chance to go out of my comfort zone and study in Spain (or should I say gracias.)
  4. Thank you Kappa Kappa Gamma for making this huge campus a little bit smaller with the help of beautiful, strong women that I am so lucky to call my friends! I wasn’t sure what to expect from a sorority, but I can’t imagine the last few years without it.
  5. Thank you UNC basketball for a national championship my freshman year, many nights celebrating wins over Duke and jumping around in the Dean Dome. Though the past few years have been up and down, I do have unconditional love for you and all UNC sports.
  6. Thank you Newman Catholic Student Center for allowing me to strengthen my faith and meet people who are so centered in Jesus. The service trips, praise and worship, retreats and weekly dinners became essential to my college experience.
  7. Thank you Carolina Tap Ensemble for being the most wonderful way to continue my love of tap dancing in college! Learning from my fellow dancers and performing around campus are some of my favorite memories.
  8. Thank you to the incredible friends I’ve made. I’ve truly met the most interesting, funny, warm-hearted, good people here and I am so grateful. Thank you to the gang — you know who you are. You guys are the bomb.
  9. Thank you to my parents for not only making these four years possible, but also cheering me on along the way. Your constant love, advice and support built me up and helped me get as much out of college as possible!
  10. Thank you UNC for being the southern slice of Heaven. For being the most beautiful campus I’ve ever seen! For teaching me a lot about myself and allowing me to grow and change even when it wasn’t always easy. For putting a huge smile on my face that isn’t going away any time soon. For being everything I wanted out of college and so much more.

I could probably go on forever, but the message is clear: I love UNC with all of my heart and always will. It’s bittersweet to wrap up this chapter, but I will carry these four years with me forever and cheer on the Tar Heels for life. It’s always a #GDTBATH

Thank you UNC! I’m Cara Siliakus, and I’m a Tar Heel.

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UNC

Fall 2019 Semester in Review — God is SO Good!!

True to my typical posting schedule, I’m here almost at the end of January to talk about my wonderful fall semester! I do have a good excuse though  — I’ve been fulfilling my role as a student and as an intern 🙂 Here are the highlights of the first half of senior year:

  • Work has been SO much fun! I’ve worked games for a few different sports so far with UNC athletic communications and each one has been different and exciting in their own way. I’m looking forward to working at some of the spring sports this semester as well. At the Hurricanes, we’re halfway through a super exciting season! Everything about the job has been fun, especially the people I work with and being able to be a part of fans’ game day experiences.
  • Classes went well this semester, and I earned a spot on the Dean’s List again! My favorite class was “Public Relations Campaigns” where I got to work with three of my classmates to create a campaign for FOX Sports and MLB’s partnership. It was incredible to get some real-world campaign development experience, especially for a cool client (that’s sports-related, A.K.A. one of my biggest career interests). Our campaign got an honorable mention for its creativity!
  • In November 2018, I went on the Carolina Awakening retreat with my church at school, Newman, and this year I returned as a small group leader! The entire weekend was even better than the previous year (if that’s possible) and was full of so much love, prayer and worship. Weekends like these are when I am able to see God’s love most evidently in my life!
  • When I wasn’t in class or working, I spent free time with my wonderful pals 🙂 Not only did we make a bunch of fun memories on campus, but we also got to take a few little trips as well! We took a weekend trip to Topsail Island and a fall break trip to Beech Mountain, and both were awesome! Other fun moments this semester include Kappa social events and weekends in Chapel Hill.

As I’m writing this, I’m trying to soak up the last semester of undergrad at UNC. There’s so many more exciting things to come this semester and this year. More to come!

Cara

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UNC

Hi Senior Year!

After a wonderful summer that went by extremely fast, I have begun my senior year at Carolina! Yes, you read that right. Somehow this is my fourth and final year of undergrad and I have mixed feelings about it. Like everyone else in my boat, I’m excited for the future and what is to come after I graduate, but I’m not ready to say goodbye to UNC in May! I have my entire senior year ahead of me, though, and it has already gotten off to a great start. Here’s a little update on what I was up to this summer and what I’m involved with this semester!

  • This summer, I was a public relations intern at Koroberi, Inc., a B2B marketing agency in Raleigh! I learned SO much about working in PR and was able to improve my skills while having a lot of fun doing it. One of the best parts other than all of the real-world exposure was the office dogs! Every day, there would be at least one (usually two) dogs at the office that made workdays so much sweeter! The team at Koroberi taught me so much about media relations, PR, writing, communications, etc. and made me feel so welcomed and excited to come to work — I was so sad to leave at the end of the summer!

 

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  • The other half of my time this summer was devoted to the Carolina Hurricanes, where I started as a promotions and fan development intern! I spent the summer working in the office and at events around the Triangle to promote the Canes — and I even got to help out at their kids’ summer hockey camp! Getting to work in sports and promotions has been an interest of mine for a while, and the awesome people in my department have made it so much fun so far! I’m super excited that I get to continue my internship through the 2019-2020 season and continue promoting the team and enjoying hockey. Go Canes!!

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  • Other than work, I made some time to relax this summer as well! In June, I went to Lake James for a much needed weekend of sun and family time! I also was able to take a day trip to Wrightsville Beach with my friend Allie, which made me so happy (especially because I squeezed in a stop at my favorite ice cream place, Boombalatti’s).

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  • This semester is shaping up to be a busy, but fun one! I’m one of the student ministers for marketing at the Newman Catholic Student Center (follow us on Instagram at @unc_newman, shameless promo) and I’m already enjoying another year as a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma. I’m also the PR Chair for Carolina Tap Ensemble (our Instagram is @carolinatapensemble, more shameless promo). This year, I also have the wonderful opportunity to work as a student assistant in the UNC athletic communications office, which I’m so excited about! Lots of things going on at once, but I prefer to be busy — especially when it’s a schedule full of things that I’m passionate about!

I’m absolutely thrilled to be back with my friends for another year of happy memories — this year has been nothing but fun and positive so far 🙂 It’s hard not to be content when you’re in Chapel Hill! This place has brought so many amazing people and opportunities into my life, and I can’t wait to make my senior year the best one yet!

Talk soon!

Cara

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UNC

Junior Year in Review

Somehow it’s already that time again…another amazing year at UNC has come and gone and I’m feeling quite sentimental about it! Three years done at the best university in the world (an unbiased opinion, of course). This was undoubtedly the best year yet — here are the highlights!

AUGUST

I moved into my house for the year, A.K.A. my first time living off-campus in college! It was so great living with two of my friends and being able to cook, study, do laundry, sleep and hang out all under one roof! Also, I began interning at Shannon Media (Chapel Hill Mag, Durham Mag and Chatham Mag) where I took on editorial responsibilities. Newman festivities kicked off, as well as sorority recruitment and classes!

SEPTEMBER

Sorority recruitment continued, and we welcomed a wonderful new pledge class on a “New Years” themed bid day! I also began leading a small faith group at Newman with my friend Emily (which quickly became a highlight of each week). CTAP hit the ground running with a new semester full of dance, and I continued running the social media for the group. My friends and I went to a Hornets vs. Celtics game hosted at the Dean Dome, and my parents came up for Family Weekend, where we celebrated with a cookout! Kappa also hosted its annual Q for the Cause philanthropy event (benefitting Earlier.org) with BYX Fraternity, which was a big success!

OCTOBER

Kappa had its annual sisterhood retreat, which was at Camp Weaver in Greensboro this year — we got to do several bonding and team building activities, including a ropes course (that I surprisingly got through). I went to the first-ever Sports and Entertainment Summit (hosted by the Sports Business Club) and learned so much from UNC alums about the sports industry! I came home for a much needed fall break in Waxhaw, and then finished out the month with Halloween on Franklin Street — my friends and I dressed up as the aliens from Toy Story, with my friend Grayson as Buzz Lightyear.

NOVEMBER

I went to the Fall Clef Hangers concert (always a good time) and got to see renowned tap group Dorrance Dance perform on campus in their show “Myelination”. The best part of the month was definitely Newman’s Carolina Awakening retreat, which was a life-changing weekend that left me with a strengthened sense of faith and several new friends in my church community at school! I also celebrated Thanksgiving with my family in Winston Salem, something I always look forward to (not just because of the mashed potatoes and chocolate cake, though).

DECEMBER

Exams! (Gross) I wrapped up the semester with finals and projects and even got to see some snow in Chapel Hill before I went home for the year! I was so excited for my winter break at home, spending time with catching up with family and friends and watching silly Christmas movies on Netflix and Hallmark.

JANUARY

Spring semester begins! I turned 21 on the first day of class (woohoo) and celebrated with friends that day and the following weekend, where my friend Grayson and I had a joint party (he turned 21 two weeks after me.) It made me SO happy to have all of my friends in one place and that people came to celebrate with us! I also celebrated a few friends’ birthdays throughout the month (yay January birthdays!) and started choreography for my first-ever routine for Carolina Tap Ensemble to “Feel It Still” by Portugal. The Man! Definitely was a daunting experience to try this for the first time, but it was so much fun from the start. I also continued my internship from the fall with Shannon Media, which was a privilege to get to work with them for another semester!

FEBRUARY

I went to the Arise College Summit with Newman for the weekend, which was a great way to get away from school for a few days and focus on faith! Basketball season was in full swing (the best time of the year) and I got to go to a few games, as well as rush Franklin Street when we BEAT DUKE at Cameron Indoor!! Never gets old, let me tell ya. I also spent two days at CLEAN agency in Raleigh for a bootcamp, where we learned all about agency life and what it entails! I also got an exciting opportunity to begin working with Carolina Athletics as a Marketing and Promotions Intern, which meant volunteering at baseball, lacrosse and softball games to help run game day promotions and fan engagements (right up my alley). Kappa also hosted its annual Heartbreakers social event, where we got to dress up in ’80s rock outfits!

MARCH

My friends and I danced the night away at the first-ever Newman Mardi Gras Formal, which was a blast! Any excuse to dress up with pals and break out some dance moves is a win in my book. I got to take an amazing trip to Kentucky for my alternative spring break with Newman (which you can read about here). Somehow, I won a lottery ticket to the home Duke Dook game at the Dean Dome, which was a once-in-a-lifetime experience watching UNC beat the Blue Devils in person!! (Sorry Zion) By the time we got to Franklin Street to celebrate, nobody was there, but I was fine with that in exchange for watching the game surrounded by thousands of my classmates and listening to senior speeches from Luke Maye, Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams.

APRIL

This month I was busier than ever! I went to Kappa’s formal at the Carolina Inn with one of my best friends, Colin, and the rest of my Kappa pals, which was one of the highlights of my year, for sure! Again, I always love dancing with my friends (especially when it involves a DJ and the silliest of dance moves). I celebrated Easter at home for the weekend and then in Winston Salem, and it was so nice to see family after a super busy few weeks of school. CTAP had its annual showcase, and my friends and family came out to support! I was so excited to perform my own choreography for the first time — definitely an accomplishment after months of hard work (shout out to the hardworking girls in my routine) and plenty of nerves. The last day of classes fell at the end of the month, which was properly celebrated with friends as well.

MAY

Exams again! (Still gross.) I put in a lot of time studying and preparing to finish off the semester well, and also had to accept that my friends who are seniors would be graduating! It wasn’t easy to say goodbye to them, but I’m so proud of them for everything they’ve accomplished and I can’t wait to see what they’ll do next! I wrapped up my junior year hanging out with my friends before we all went our separate ways for the summer.

As for me, I’m super excited for my summer plans! I am working as a public relations intern at Koroberi, Inc., a Raleigh marketing agency, as well as a promotions and fan engagement intern with the Carolina Hurricanes! I am so thankful and excited to learn and grow this summer!

With the end of my junior year, the realization hit me that in August, I will begin my final year at Carolina — a sentence that is incredibly weird to write. My time at UNC has truly been the most rewarding and memorable three years of my life so far, but it has gone so fast! I am incredibly grateful for another amazing year at the southern slice of Heaven (trademarked) and I think some thank yous are definitely in order:

THANK YOU to:

  • My parents and family for supporting me through everything this year (as always) and always being a phone call or text away! I am so grateful to be loved by you and love sharing my life with you guys!
  • My friends for being my cheerleaders, advice givers, shoulders to cry on and people to laugh with. There is no one I would rather do college with than you guys!
  • Newman for becoming my home away from home this year — my faith has been transformed this year because I have invested in the fellowship of this campus community, and for that I am so grateful! I have forever friendships to show for it.
  • God for always leading me down the right path. I may not know His plans ahead of time, but I can always trust that He will get me where I am supposed to be!
  • The Media and Journalism school for making my classes so interesting and fun. It is so exciting to begin each new semester looking forward to what I’ll learn in my MEJO courses, and this year was no different.
  • UNC, for being the priceless gem that you are. And UNC Basketball, for making me feel so connected to this school (and almost making me cry several times).

I’m already looking forward to my senior year, but first, it’s summer time! It’s always a GDTBATH 🙂

Cara

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An Alternative Spring Break

You may have seen the title of this blog post and thought to yourself, “Cara, spring break was ages ago. Why are you just now writing about it?” And to that I would answer, spring semester was crazy busy! So now is the time!

This year, instead of the usual spring break beach trip, I felt pulled to give my time elsewhere in the form of an alternative spring break trip to Kentucky with my church at school, the UNC Newman Catholic Student Center. I spent four days working to repair a house in the hollows of Martin with Christian Appalachian Project (CAP) and I’m so glad I did — here’s a recap!

Our group left early Sunday morning and drove five and a half hours to the Christian Appalachian Project Mission Center in Paintsville, Kentucky. CAP’s mission is “building hope, transforming lives, and sharing Christ’s love through service in Appalachia.”

UNC was one of a handful of schools there to volunteer with CAP for the week. We were split up into different worksites with people from the other schools, so I got to know people from Pennsylvania, Indiana and Iowa!

We slept, ate and prayed at the mission center and we were well taken care of! A fabulous team of women called the “kitchen ladies” made the most amazing food that we looked forward to after a long day at work.

Wakeup time was 6:00 every day, followed by breakfast, devotion/prayer time and a pep talk that got us warmed up for the day. Then it was off to each of our worksites!

My team was supervised by our fearless leaders Tony and Myron, who were extremely experienced, skilled and patient with us as we learned how to use power tools (a big highlight of the week). We got to work with Angie at her house, who was the sweetest soul! She represented the love of Christ so beautifully and it was so worthwhile getting to know her and help her repair different parts of her house.

We had a lot to take on during our four days of work, and I think we accomplished a lot! During our time at Angie’s house, we hung three doors, replaced her kitchen counter, put new flooring in two rooms, leveled the foundation and flooring in her bedroom and built her new stairs off of her porch! The work was hard, but so much fun. I got to use several fun tools (a couple of saws, drills, etc.) that made me feel pretty badass (that’s the best way I can describe it, sorry!)

One of the best parts of the whole week was that the whole experience was centered around prayer. We began and ended our days at the mission center with prayer, started our work day at the site praying with Angie and finished up work each day praying before we left. That made such a big difference! To interweave God through this project allowed it to take on a deeper meaning for us — our team got closer with each other and with Angie, especially because of the conversations we had about our faith throughout the week.

I also grew closer with my UNC friends on the trip through our free time that we spent together playing games, eating authentic Kentucky barbeque and trying to win a stuffed animal from multiple claw machines (sometimes successful, sometimes not).

By the end of the week, I was exhausted — but in the best way! I’m so happy I decided to participate in this alternative spring break trip this year. It exceeded my expectations and connected me with people that I would have never met otherwise.

I am so grateful for CAP and the amazing work they do, UNC Newman for providing me the opportunity to go on this trip with my awesome friends and to God for putting me in the right place at the right time to do this!

So yes, my spring break story was slow to hit the blog — but I promise you, I’ve thought about the trip almost every day since I left Kentucky.

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Erin Matson: A Phenom on the Pitch

Freshman First Team All-American. National Champion. Member of the U.S. National Field Hockey Team. Featured on SportsCenter with a Top 10 play. ACC Rookie of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year. The list goes on.

Erin Matson is only 19 years old and she has more field hockey accolades than you can fit in a trophy case. You would think with that kind of experience under her belt, her ego would match her status. But Matson is as humble as she is talented, learning from an early age to keep her ego in check.

“I kind of don’t like…like, this makes me uncomfortable, talking about myself,” Matson said with a laugh. “I guess it was learned from [my parents], they never would like really boast me up or anything. I guess I kind of learned from them to kind of keep a level head and not really be too cocky.”

She was born in Delaware but grew up in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, with her brother Sean and parents Jill and Brian. Her mother, a former field hockey player for Yale, introduced her to the sport when she was six.

“I was best friends with this girl in my grade and we went to this camp together when we were six,” Matson said. “I just sort of fell in love with it.”

That love grew into a passion for Matson, who continued playing on prestigious WC Eagles club team through her childhood and into adolescence. It was then that UNC field hockey coach Karen Shelton first watched her play by a stroke of luck. She was visiting her brother, and they went to watch Laura, her niece who played for the WC Eagles, at one of her games.

“My brother’s like saying, ‘You’ve got to see this other kid,” Shelton said. “She was in like fourth grade, and she was so good.”

From there, Shelton kept her eye on Matson as a potential recruit, keeping in touch with her and inviting her to the UNC summer field hockey camp with her niece.

“We got Erin interested in North Carolina from a very early age,” Shelton said. “We didn’t bring her here, but we offered her to come to camp, so she came to camp like in the sixth grade. She loved Carolina the moment she stepped on campus.”

Matson remembers the camp to be like any other kids’ summer camp with popsicles and slip ‘n slides, but also very field hockey-focused. She and Shelton’s niece were the youngest girls there by far, but their skill level classified them as elite players and qualified them to play among the older girls that the camp was originally marketed for.

Four years later, Matson committed to UNC in the tenth grade. The college recruitment process formally begins when a prospective athlete enters ninth grade, which means coaches cannot contact them, but athletes can contact coaches.

Matson knew that UNC was the right choice to prepare her for the rest of her career.

“I realized UNC was the place for me, because they could get me there, they could prepare me to be that player, [Coach Shelton] knows where I want to be, and I think it’s important to have people like that in your corner so they can push you and make you that player,” she said.

Before she got to UNC, though, she had the rest of high school to finish. After playing on her high school team for two years, she tried out for the indoor national team as a first stepping stone towards her dream of being an Olympic player.

Next, she participated in a program called Futures, which was training for a tournament of the same name. She finished out her time with Futures by making the U17 team, the next step to getting noticed, making the U19 and U21 teams and advancing to the women’s national team.

“So for me, I made U19 first, and then U21,” Matson said. “[Dutch gold medalist] Janneke Schopman was the U21 coach for me. So when the women’s team coach retired, she became the coach and kind of took our core group of U21s up with her.”

Matson still remembers the moment she found out she had made the national team like it was yesterday. She was training at the Olympic training center in Chula Vista, California, when she received a call from Schopman.

“I think I was sitting on the dock or something, relaxing, and Janneke called me and asked if I wanted to come to New Zealand with them to play in a tournament over there,” she said. “That would be my first break with the national team – so I was like, ‘Of course, like oh my gosh.’ I called my parents right away, I remember crying.”

Since then, Matson has traveled with Team USA to South America, Europe and Africa, to name a few. After a successful first two years with the national team, it was time to play for UNC. During her freshman year season, she made a successful first impression, helping lead the team to its first national championship in nine years.

“I remember the last 10 seconds,” Matson said. “Everyone always tells you, like, ‘The game’s not over, until it’s over.’ And then the horn blew, and I threw my stick down, and I just ran to whoever was closest to me and gave them a big hug — I couldn’t even tell you who it was. And I’m a crier, so I cry at happy things. So I was crying, people were hugging. I don’t think we dogpiled — like, fell down — but I think we all just kind of clustered.”

Matson said the biggest focus for the team this year was to avoid settling. She cites their cohesiveness and constant striving to do better each day as keys to their success.

“I think for us the recognition of not becoming complacent, like it’s okay if we’re not generating a lot of attack, that doesn’t mean that we don’t know how to handle it, that kind of mindset allowed us to keep a forward look instead of plateauing,” she said.

The national championship wasn’t the only bright spot during the season for Matson, who was featured as a SportsCenter Top 10 clip for her play against Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament final. She had a second chance to score after she went for the goal, the ball went back to her and she shot it in for a backhanded goal. She remembers it as being surreal, receiving a text from her father that she was on TV.

“It just kind of happened – it was a great corner call and a great play,” Matson said. “I just reacted and then next thing I know, my dad texted me that I was on SportsCenter, so that was cool.”

There’s been one person besides Matson’s parents that has been there to see all of her field hockey milestones – current UNC teammate, Romea Riccardo, who has known Matson since they were ten years old.

“We ended up playing on the same club team together, and then our high schools play in the same conferences, and we just know each other from that and playing club together,” Riccardo said. “So and then we ended up committing to the same school, and we’ve been friends since.”

Riccardo enjoys being able to help her friend improve as a player, citing her ability to make Matson uncomfortable on the field because she has known her for so long. She loves being able to connect with her on a deeper level than just field hockey – she said they support each other through everything.

“We were ecstatic [to be playing on the same team in college] – being able to play with a friend that I’ve played with since I was younger, reconnecting, was just an awesome experience and moment,” she said.

Matson feels the same way, looking back on their younger years together fondly and now enjoying playing with Riccardo at UNC.

“We were close then and then we kind of separated for a couple years. And now obviously we’re like this close [intertwines fingers]. She’s great,” Matson said. “We help each other out and do favors. She’s supportive. I think it’s important to just kind of have your person and know who it is so you can vent and relax and do whatever with them.”

Knowing Matson for almost ten years has allowed Riccardo to see her development as a player and a person, and Riccardo praises her for her passion, drive and friendship.

“When she plays she cares so much about the game and making sure you’re getting better and the team’s getting better,” Riccardo said. “She’s very like, serious [on the field] and off the field she’s like a totally different person, being friendly and more laid back than [in] the game of field hockey, I guess.”

Matson is looking forward to the next season at UNC, but in the meantime, in between practices and workouts, she’ll relax by going to the beach, listening to music, spending time with family or watching her boyfriend’s [UNC baseball player Tom Caufield] games at Boshamer Stadium.

One of Shelton’s concerns, though, is that after a fabulous freshman season, Matson will fall into a sophomore slump.

“She can be one of our best players ever, she’s that good,” Shelton said. “I don’t want her to have a sophomore slump – you gotta stay hungry and humble and hardworking.”

But Shelton isn’t too worried. She knows Matson has a good head on her shoulders and always has. She can’t say enough good things about her, both as a player and a person, calling her well-respected, a game-changer and uncannily skilled.

“She’s very diligent about her workouts, her schoolwork, her nutrition, sleep. And being with the national team, they insist upon it, so she’s had the ability to grow into her body but to mature intellectually, from a field hockey IQ point of view,” she said. “She’s really smart, she’s really fast, physically strong, and technically outstanding. She’s got it all.”

So after a whirlwind freshman year, what’s next for Matson? Of course, her next three seasons at UNC await, but she hasn’t put her Olympic dreams on hold. One thing is for sure, though: her career won’t end after college.

“[The U.S. national team is] hopefully going to qualify for Tokyo in 2020, and then we have another World Cup in 2022,” she said. “And after that, I’ll be graduated for Paris 2024, so that’s the next couple steps.”

Through it all, Matson will keep her head steady and composed, which she attributes to her parents and her coaches. She said her parents have always kept her grounded and thinking about the next step in her playing career.

“I think I’ve always had good role models – my parents, my coaches, I mean, Coach Shelton holds me accountable. Also, I’ve never really felt the need to be cocky or showy,” she said.

In fact, Matson has a three-part plan for excellence as a player: humility, making your teammates look good, and sacrifice.

“I genuinely believe that you cannot become great— I mean, you have to have a certain level of confidence, but there is a limit, and I think knowing that you’re still one player on that whole field with a ton of other girls is a big part of it,” she said. “I also think people underestimate the power to make your teammates look better instead of just yourself. And going back to sacrifices, it’s what you do when people aren’t watching, and I think a lot of people don’t realize the time you have to put in if you want to be great, outside of practice, outside of lifts – and I think all three of those are just a little bit of what you need.”

 

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Features Sports UNC

From the NCAA to the NWSL: Getting to Know Alex Kimball

“AK, are you ready to be a Royal?”

When Alex Kimball received that phone call that was years in the making, it was the easiest question for her to answer. The UNC veteran midfielder was recently drafted to the Utah Royals, a National Women’s Soccer League team. She is no stranger to royalty, however, after earning the nickname “Inca Warrior Princess” from her coach, Anson Dorrance. Though Kimball struggled with a hip injury that sat her out for her junior year season, she never lost her warrior mentality that has set her apart from other players since the beginning. Like she has always been, Kimball is ready for another challenge.

Kimball has called Chapel Hill home since 2001, playing for her school soccer team at Chapel Hill High School and at the club level with Raleigh CASL. But she got her start earlier than that as a two-year-old in the 4 and up league in Salt Lake City, where she was born. She played until middle school, when she decided she needed a break.

“I got really burnt out when I was about 12 or 13,” Kimball said. “Because competitive soccer is a lot…and as a little kid I was like, ‘I’m so sick of this.’”

Her hiatus didn’t last long. After playing softball for a year, she was itching to get back to soccer. Once she entered high school, she got serious about playing on the collegiate level. Her coach, Cindy Parlor, a former Tar Heel and Olympic gold medalist, made her feel like her dream could be a reality.

“She told me the year after [my break] that if you’re serious about this, you can play for Carolina,” she said. “So then I kicked it into gear a little bit. That’s when I was like, ‘I want to play college soccer.’”

When she moved to Chapel Hill, Tar Heel footballer Jessica Maxwell was her neighbor and babysitter, which inspired her dream of one day following in Maxwell’s footsteps and playing at Carolina. Fast forward to the varsity soccer team at CHHS, and Dorrance was coming to watch her play. He immediately noticed her go-getter attitude and her promise as a player.

“When you run into Alex Kimball, basically you get hurt,” he said. “You do not screw around with the ball if Kimball is bearing down on you.”

She agrees, emphasizing her work ethic as one of the strongest aspects of her playing style.

“Coming into Carolina, there’s always going to be girls who are better than you, who are faster than you, who are stronger than you,” she said. “But for me, my mentality was like, ‘You’re never going to outwork me. Whatever drill you get put up against me in, I’m going to make your life hell.”

Kimball was aggressively recruited by Wake Forest, but in the end Carolina was impossible to say no to.

“It’s almost like an unsaid – it’s something you can’t explain until you experience it, but for me it was always a dream to come here,” she said. “Not only are we number one, but I knew the kind of family environment that I was going to get from Carolina. The connections and your development as a human is so much better here.”

While she knows she could have played more minutes at another school, she wanted to choose a school that made her the most successful player, and Carolina was it. Kimball heard a quote with the concept of “getting comfortable with being uncomfortable” and realized that Carolina was going to put her under pressure, make her uncomfortable and develop her into the most dynamic player she could be.

Arriving at Carolina, she quickly became known as “AK 47,” a play on her youth soccer club nickname and new jersey number. That wasn’t her only nickname, however, with Dorrance calling her a “brick and an aggressive savage.” He also calls her his “Inca Warrior Princess” because he believes that nothing can ever hurt her. Her teammates began to recognize her as an unstoppable defensive presence and an intimidating force to opponents.

As she began her collegiate career, she played intermittently her first two years, but her injury prevented her from continuing to develop as a player. Her left hip was weakened from a torn labrum her junior year of high school, and its condition worsened as the intensity of collegiate soccer continued.

By the end of her sophomore year, her hip was worsening, and she went into surgery to repair her torn labrum. Doctors weren’t optimistic about the future of her soccer career. Wake Forest orthopedic surgeon Dr. Allston Stubbs basically told her to hang up her cleats. But that wasn’t the final word for Kimball – she ended up getting her surgery with Raleigh Orthopedics and vowed to return to the field.

“He was like, ‘you should just stop playing – your hip is gonna be like this forever,’” she said. “And I’m just like, ‘whatever man, new doctor.’”

She got back on the field in 2016, but complications from her surgery soon followed and led her to redshirt her junior year – a devastating reality she had to live with while her teammates continued playing.

“After [the 2016 Final Four run] my hip was just torn to shreds…so I redshirted the next season. Gave my hip time to heal, and I was rehabbing really hard.” Kimball said. “It made me so upset and sad, just watching training and knowing I am not able to play to my full capacity was hard.”

Despite her setbacks, Kimball’s spark never died out. She never once doubted that she would return to the field, though her family was concerned. They wanted her to be healthy down the road, not just for her college career. Her high pain tolerance and stubbornness pushed her through the pain with her family supporting her no matter what.

“They just wanted me to be happy at the end of the day,” Kimball said. “But they were definitely looking way more long term that I was. I was just focused on my college career and finishing that out strong.”

Her time to shine came later as tragedy struck, when star player Alessia Russo broke her leg during a game vs. Wake Forest. Kimball subbed into the game for Russo “pissed off” and ready to play.

“I’m already very protective of my teammates,” she said. “You can bang me up, you can mess me up all you want. But when you touch one of my teammates, it’s like a whole different level.”

With Kimball stepping into big shoes, she was determined to give her team everything she had in Russo’s honor.

“I’m like, ‘listen, I’m not Alessia Russo, but I’m Alex Kimball and I’ll give you everything Alex Kimball has,’” she said.

Though Kimball was happy to be getting playing time, she couldn’t help but feel heartbroken for Russo. One night, she received a text from Russo, who offered her some words of encouragement.

“I think I figured out why I got hurt. I think it’s because you deserve the biggest opportunity of your time here,” Russo said. “I know you have the potential to kill it in the NWSL – you really deserve to be seen and prep for the draft in January.”

Fully backed by her team and Russo, she contributed heavily to the success of the team for the rest of the season. Whenever she stepped on the field, she kept Russo in her heart and mind.

So when Kimball received the call in January from Utah Royals coach Laura Harvey, she partially had Russo to thank for the opportunity to be drafted. She cited her senior year playing time as her best opportunity to prove herself as a player.

She wasn’t sure she would be drafted to Utah, though, despite that being her top choice after training there last summer. Coach Dorrance failed to mention her when he responded to an inquiry from Utah’s assistant coach about potential players from Carolina. That was upsetting, she said, but only made her want to work harder.

Her hard work paid off. Now, it’s back to Utah for Kimball, who will work with the team during preseason and hopes to be officially signed as a player. Dorrance said that if they sign her, and he thinks they will, they’ll never let her go.

She gets to go home, surrounded by her family, who lives there.

“I’m excited, but my family is probably 100 times more excited than I am,” she said. “It’s definitely hit me a little later that wow, I get to go home.”

But more than anything else right now, she finally feels like she has come into herself.

“As a soccer player, as a person, there’s so many elements that you get here at Carolina,” Kimball said. “I just realized that I’m in an emotionally, physically, spiritually stable place. My body’s actually working for me right now and it feels good – everything has been clicking into place. I’m just really happy.”

Learn more about Alex Kimball here.

 

 

 

Categories
Sports UNC

Killen the Competition

A fun story I just wrote for my Creative Sports Writing class — we went bowling during class and conducted press conferences in order to write up the game for a story! Enjoy 🙂

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17 students. 10 pins. 1 goal: to be the best bowler of the day. The pressure was high and The Mardi Gras Bowling Center in Chapel Hill was virtually empty when the students walked in on Monday afternoon. Everyone thought bowling veteran Darryl Brunson would win, but it was dark horse and former soccer player Ryan Killen that stunned everyone with the victory.

It was a scene out of a late 80s’ movie – retro decorations, lots of neon and old-timey lanes and equipment made up the bowling center at the end of a strip mall on Farrington Road. The students laced up the worn-out bowling shoes they were given and tested out the different weights and sizes of the balls to find the perfect fit. Names were inputted into the system, and everyone waited to begin. Each student was hungry for the competition, to prove themselves as the superior bowler of the day and bask in glory for years to come – and all they had was one game to do it in. After a brief pep talk from the class’ fearless leader, Tim Crothers, the lanes came to life with action.

In the beginning it was anyone’s game. Only two of the 17 students, Nicole Booth and Cara Siliakus, scored a spare during the first frame, and there were no strikes. Trevor Marks started the first five frames with seven consecutive gutter balls (yes, it can be done.) Over on the sixth lane, Killen bowled a strike on his second turn, and then his third. Everyone else was also trying their best with mixed results, several gutter balls, a few expletives and a broken nail. Brian Gallagher was busy on lane two perfecting his underhand throw approach, one he swore by and inspired his lane-mates to try as well. Before the students knew it, five frames had passed. Time to size up the competition.

Brunson brought his own shoes and ball, but unfortunately didn’t bring his A-game. Growing up as the son of an AMF bowling alley manager, though, he had big expectations. After five frames, he was trailing behind four students, but not lacking in confidence. He attributed his performance to the conditions in The Mardi Gras Bowling Center.

“The lanes are dry,” he said. “A professional like myself is suffering at a disadvantage.”

Next up was an unlikely leader, Booth– or “I,” as she was known on the lane. A complete accident when inputting her name had turned into a possible alter-ego, she thought.  She stood at 5 feet 1 inch, surprised that her performance in the first half of the game was enough to put her at the top of the leaderboard. She cited walking up slowly when she bowled, throwing the ball down the middle, and above all, believing in herself.

“I didn’t expect this,” Booth said. “But now I’m trying to win.”

Gallagher, the underhanded bowler, scored in the top three after half of the game. He considered his “granny style” throw “efficient,” and felt ready to continue the strategy that was working for him for the remainder of the game.

“I woke up feeling dangerous,” he said. “I just gotta keep hitting, keep getting pins.”

Last but certainly not least was the most inexperienced of the leading bunch. Ryan Killen had only bowled a few times in his life, and certainly not within the last three years. So what was working for him? He thought it was his strategy to switch up the way he threw the ball. After an unsuccessful first frame where he only knocked down one pin, he adopted a two-handed toss coming from the right side, and it seemed to work. Three strikes later, he was confident about the rest of the game.

“I got a strike in my fifth frame,” Killen said. “I don’t know how scoring works, but I think I have an edge…I think I have a 42% chance of winning.”

Then the final five frames began, and the four leaders brought a strong finish. Killen bowled three strikes in a row, Gallagher two in a row, with Brunson and Booth scoring spares. They were all confident, but noticeably tense going into the tenth frame.

Only one player reigned supreme at the end of the game – Ryan Killen. With a final score of 162, Killen surged ahead for the win. Gallagher and Brunson tied for second with scores of 129, while Booth scored a 125. He was sure it was the highest score he had ever received while bowling, but at the end of the day, he was already thinking about dinner.

“You know what, sometimes the best bowler doesn’t always win,” Killen said. “Now I’m going to eat pizza at Lenoir [Dining Hall] and watch hockey.”

 

Categories
UNC

Semester in Review

Hello! This is looooong overdue — you would think that a three week-long winter break would mean that I would have plenty of time to write, but alas, here we are. Wednesday, I began the spring semester of my junior year, and I’m so excited! But we’ll get to that later. First, I want to recap five of my favorite parts of my awesome fall semester:

  • Awakening and Newman
    • I’ve been going to the Newman Catholic Student Center since I was a freshman at Carolina, but it wasn’t until this past semester that I really got involved in Newman’s campus ministry. This year, I’m leading a small faith group with my lovely pal, Emily, and we meet once a week to discuss the upcoming Gospel and life in general! It has quickly become one of my favorite parts of the week. In November, I went on Newman’s annual retreat, Awakening, and it was life-changing! The weekend was full of meeting amazing people from UNC and discussing how God works in our lives and it was easily my favorite part of my semester for sure! Newman has quickly become a place to hang out, study and pray with a great group of people that have already helped me grow in my faith.
  • Kappa events
    • Kappa is always a highlight of the semester without fail! We had a great philanthropy event in September called Q for the Cause, which raised money for Earlier.org, an organization that supports earlier breast cancer detection. There were several social events that I really enjoyed as well — it’s always fun to embarrassingly dance with your friends!! Kappa continues to be a source of light in my life.
  • Public Relations classes
    • This past semester, I finally started taking classes specific to my major (public relations) and I’ve already learned so much! Public Relations Writing taught me the basics for all of the communications pieces and media kits that I may need to produce in a future job.  In Case Studies in Public Relations, we analyzed PR situations that landed companies in hot water and how they handled them. I also learned a few graphic design and video production skills this semester in a digital programming class. I’m so excited about what I’ve already learned and what else there is to learn during the rest of my undergraduate career!
  • My Internship
    • This fall, I was very lucky to be an editorial intern at Chapel Hill Magazine and Durham Magazine! I gained experience writing, editing and seeing how a magazine works behind the scenes and it was so much fun. The people there were incredibly welcoming and helpful as I learned the ropes, and I’m excited to come back for the spring semester and continue to contribute to the magazine. If you’re ever curious, sometimes I write posts on the websites about what’s happening around town for the weekend. (www.chapelhillmagazine.com and www.durhammag.com)
  • Friends
    • The only thing better than going to school in the southern slice of Heaven is sharing it with so many wonderful people. Making new friends and keeping up with old friends is always one of my favorite parts of the semester, whether it’s playing Wii Tennis over and over again, playing basketball at two in the morning, sharing a meal on Franklin or just chatting, I am so grateful for the people I have met at Carolina.

Well, there you have it, about a month late. I’m really looking forward to everything this upcoming semester has in store, with four new classes, continuing my internship and whatever else God has planned — I will be sure to keep everyone updated (in a more timely manner, hopefully.) Go Heels!

 

 

Categories
UNC

A New School Year Begins

 

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It’s that time of year again, everybody: a new school year has started!! I’ve always been excited for back to school because it means that I have the excuse to buy new school supplies (fact about me: I am obsessed with all things school supplies, especially pens and notebooks) and it’s always so good to reunite with my friends that I’ve missed over the summer. Of course, this also means that the workload begins again, but there are so many positive things that outweigh the papers and tests that are coming my way.

This year is my THIRD/junior year at Carolina (I’m as surprised as you are) which is wild because I feel like I was a freshman yesterday. But as the cliché goes, time flies, and here we are! I have big plans for this year and several things I want to accomplish, so here’s a little life update and list of goals for my school year!

UPDATES:

  • I am serving as the Public Relations Chair for Carolina Tap Ensemble once again and I’m looking forward to expanding our presence on campus through social media and posting/curating lots of fun content for our social media accounts! This combines my love of tap dance with my major and it’s gonna be great. If you want, follow us on Instagram @carolinatapensemble or like us on Facebook! (shameless plug)
  • I’m co-leading a small faith group this year at Newman, the Catholic student center on campus. Each week, we’ll read the gospel for that Sunday and discuss how it can apply to our lives and I’m so excited! It’s an awesome opportunity to meet new people, talk about the gospel in another setting other than Mass and work on living a Christ-centered life as a college student.
  • I recently started an exciting internship! This fall, I am working as an editorial intern at Chapel Hill, Durham and Chatham Magazines. I’m doing several different things like copyediting, writing blog posts and updating their websites, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to develop skills this semester that will help me in the future in my career!

GOALS:

  • I want to continue to meet even more people and connect with more students on campus. The more people I’ve met at UNC, the more I’ve realized how many incredible people are my peers at school and I would love to keep making new friends who I can learn from and enjoy Carolina with!
  • I want to get closer to figuring out what exactly I want to do after college using my major and minor. My classes in the Media and Journalism school are helping to hone my abilities as a future Public Relations practitioner and now I just have to find out how to use them! This also includes figuring out internships to apply to for Summer 2019 in order to gain more experience.
  • I want to document even more of my school year this year, meaning more pictures, more videos and more blog posts about exciting things that are happening!
  • I want to grow in my existing friendships, grow in my faith and continue to grow into my true self. College is the best time to figure out who you are and I want to do just that with self-discovery and continuing to work on being the best version of myself that I can be. I want this year to be the BEST year yet! Academically, socially, spiritually and emotionally. I have so many exciting things to look forward to as this year progresses and I have such a good feeling about my junior year at Carolina.

 

It is so, so good to be back at the Southern piece of Heaven, the priceless gem, Chapel Hill. I can’t wait to document my year! GO HEELS!

Cara