Laia Raventos surveys the Rice defense. Photo credit: Pooja Pasupula

It’s finally October.

Football may be in full swing, but college basketball is finally here as well. The Charlotte 49ers women’s team, as well as other schools across the country, opened their first official practices to the media a few weeks ago, and Charlotte coach Cara Consuegra has her team primed and ready for action.

“It’s awesome to be back. I think every year, there’s always excitement this time of year,” Consuegra said after the team’s first practice. “I think this year is a little bit different, just with us having so many newcomers. Just the excitement of figuring that all out, and what people’s roles are gonna be… getting the chemistry of this team together, I think, makes it even more exciting.”

That upbeat positivity will be key for Charlotte as they will look to build on last year’s impressive 21-10 finish. The Niners finished 12-6 in conference play and posted a 10-4 record at home, as well as a 10-3 record on the road and went 1-3 at neutral sites. Though they lost four players in the offseason, the coaching staff recruited six new players, and they will lean on the upperclassmen as the season goes along.

Familiar Faces

Consuegra welcomes back seven returners from last year’s squad, including redshirt senior forward Nyilah Jamison-Myers and junior guard Laia Raventos. Myers, who was named to the 2017 All-Conference USA Defensive team, will be the team’s anchor in the post. Myers averaged 11.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks last season, and she converted 49.3 percent of her field goals. The conference took note of her play, and she was recently named to the 2017-18 Preseason All-C-USA Team.

Meanwhile, Raventos returns to the squad after posting averages of 8.0 points, 4.6 dimes and 3.6 assist per contest as a sophomore. The Spaniard also played for her native country in the U20 European Championships this summer, and Spain won the gold medal after Spain rolled through the tournament with a 7-0 record. The extra competition will certainly pay dividends for Raventos, as she will be counted on to score a bit more this year given the younger roster.

Joining these two are seniors Amaya Ransom and Jada Martin, redshirt sophomores Jaida Robinson and Dara Pearson, and sophomore Lauren Harley. Ransom mostly came off the bench as a junior, and she averaged 5.0 points and 4.1 boards. She led the team in rebounding in four games, and is one of the team’s best defenders. Martin, a former walk-on who earned a scholarship in the spring semester, played in 10 games and scored her first points against UTSA.

Robinson, a talented stretch-four who has range, also returns for the Niners. She led the team in rebounding three times last season and will be counted on to space the floor. Pearson, a forward, also emerged as a solid rebounder, and Harley is an athletic guard who thrives on getting to the basket. All of the returners will be needed to continue Charlotte’s tradition of a fast-paced, high scoring offense. As long as these players contribute, Charlotte will be in good hands.

The Newcomers

Charlotte welcomed six new players, including three true freshmen during the offseason. The freshmen include guards Mariah Linney and Octavia Wilson and forward Lyrissa Deans. Linney, a highly-touted prospect from Goose Creek, SC, comes to Charlotte after winning the Miss Basketball for South Carolina Award. Linney averaged 16.2 points, 5.3 boards, 4.9 steals and 4.4 dimes in her final year at Goose Creek, and she was also named the Class 5A Player of the Year by the SC Basketball Coaches Association.

Meanwhile, Wilson is an established winner with a knack for scoring. The guard averaged 18 points as a senior, 23 points as a junior and won state titles as a sophomore and freshman. In addition, she was a nominee for the McDonald’s All-American Game. Deans, a forward, averaged 15.7 points, 6.7 boards and 2.1 during her junior year and will be a key post player for the Niners.

Consuegra also brought three transfers aboard. Ka’Neeshia Brown, a junior forward from Daytona State Junior College, averaged 10.7 points and 13.5 rebounds last season and will be eligible to play this season. Meanwhile, Christian Hithe (Central Florida) and Jade Phillips (Syracuse) will have to sit out this year to abide by NCAA rules.

Lastly, the coaching staff welcomed three new additions. Sarah Smoak, who comes from the University of Miami, will serve as the head of program development, and Chris Ekwueme is the new strength and conditioning coach. Tanishia Wright, a 12-year WNBA veteran, joins as an assistant coach.

Save The Date

The Niners will play 13 non-conference games this season, and will play an exhibition contest against Coker on November 4. Some of the opponents include Wisconsin (who recruited Linney) and Rutgers, and the team will also play Iowa and South Dakota State in the Puetro Rico Classico Tournament in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Six teams in the non-conference portion of the schedule participated in postseason play last year.

The Niners open Conference play on January 4 at home versus Southern Miss, and the conference tournament opens March 7 in Frisco, TX. The team will look to get hot in the tournament, as they lost in the quarterfinals to Lousiana Tech last season. While the team can’t get ahead of themselves, they know that winning a conference title is a realistic goal within their range. The team opens their season officially on November 10 against the Duquesne Dukes. While the team is focusing on improving day by day, they know that the path to the postseason starts now.

Zach Timmons, better known as ZT, is a junior at UNC Charlotte. He is an English major and is also minoring in journalism. In his free time, ZT enjoys writing spoken word poetry, drawing, and making beats.