Grant Hughes

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Women’s Tennis: Keeping tabs on Tai

Tai Martin goes for the ball in a match. Photo by Chris Crews

On a cool and overcast Friday afternoon, junior Tai Martin once again found herself playing the game she loves in a home match against Davidson.

“Three dribbles before I serve and two leg slaps before I return,” Martin said about her favorite rituals. However, these gestures are more second nature than superstition for a player with her experience.

Martin has been playing the game since the youthful age of six when she begged her mom for months to take her to tennis lessons. Martin’s mother Tami was reluctant at first, for her young daughter was an inside child whose love of the game sprouted from Mario Tennis on the Nintendo 64. However, she took the chance that her daughter could swap a game controller for a racquet and turn an indoor activity to a healthy hobby. She signed Martin up for lessons and the rest is history.

Since then, her childhood passion has turned into a success story at the college level. Martin has been a consistent bright spot on the women’s team since stepping foot on campus her freshman year. She recorded seven and eight singles wins her freshman and sophomore years playing predominantly as the one seed. Martin is now building off her past success and rounding out her best season yet.

As well as being a star athlete, Martin is also an exemplary student. Named to numerous Dean’s and Chancellor’s Lists, she is finding a way to balance her academic and athletic lives.

“I have had to plan out my day better, made sure to study, and have spent many late nights working, but it has been worth it. I am a perfectionist,” Martin said.

Though It hasn’t always been easy, Martin has found a way to be a dually successful student-athlete. She is a perfectionist in the classroom and also back on the tennis courts, where she is setting lofty goals for the rest of her career.

“As a team, we definitely want to win conference, that is number one. I also would like to make it through the regional tournament in the fall and eventually into the NCAAs as an individual or playing doubles. Making it to the NCAAs is my number one goal,” Martin said.

These are high aspirations for any player, but never bet against an athlete who loves the game like Martin. While most collegiate athletes play for the perks of being a campus celebrity, Martin plays because she loves the game.

“I just love playing tennis. I am really competitive and hate to lose.” Martin said. “Even if I win and don’t play my greatest, I know I could have done better. I’m just a perfectionist in everything I do.”

Though her sole focus is playing at the top of her game, winning almost always comes as a result of her best performances. Complacency has ruined the careers of many gifted athletes, but not Martin as a team-first mentality lights a fire under her prior to every match.

“I love playing for my team. I push my hardest for my girls, and even in tough losses I feel it still brings us closer together.” Martin said.

She has the backs of her teammates and her teammates and coaches return the favor. The team does everything for each other and that is what gives each huddle a family-like atmosphere. Just like a real family, Martin says there are plenty of times where everyone cuts loose and has fun.

“All of the young players on the team have such great games. If they believe in themselves I have no fear that when I am gone they will take over and do great things.” Martin said.

She said as much when asked about her personality on the court versus out of Halton-Wagner Tennis Complex.

“On and off I am loud. I am really energetic, it’s just magnified when I am playing. My teammates will tell you I am very animated. I can usually control my mouth but my face stays very animated,” Martin said.

Her intensity was palpable if you watched her battle in her single’s match against Davidson. Hustling to every ball, Martin was able to sweep her opponent in two hard-fought sets. Her win helped propel her team to a crushing 4-2 victory that was never close. The victory snapped Davidson’s ten game win streak. When I mentioned this she couldn’t help but revel in the fact she also helped snap the Wildcat’s record 16-game home win streak the year before.

Beating a team whose riding a hot streak is no easy task and can only be done with an aggressive style of play. The 49ers came out with the win due to a blend of power and control which is a hallmark of Martin’s game.

From the fans to her teammates, coaches, and her mother who took a chance many years ago; Martin will continue to receive support from those around her. Through handwork, she has built a legacy at Charlotte. Tai Martin loves the game of tennis, and no one doubts she will continue to set new heights and reach the goals she sets out to accomplish on the tennis court and beyond.

Charlotte 49ers women’s tennis drops match

Caroline Price (left) stands alongside head women’s tennis coach Michaela Gorman (right). Photo by Benjamin Robson

The Charlotte 49ers (5-10) hosted the East Carolina Pirates (12-6) on Monday, March 26. A match that could have gone either way ended up in the hands of the Pirates due to a poor performance in singles.

Of the top six seeds in action, only one Charlotte 49er came up victorious in their singles match. Charlotte’s lone victory came when fourth seed Rocio Safront defeated Sarah Sarjoo in two sets (6-4, 6-2). Second seed Alexandra Lee could have picked up a victory over ECU’s Lisa Hofbauer (6-3, 2-6, 2-3 DNF), but the match was called when ECU had mathematically won.

Charlotte almost tightened the score when sixth seed Immie Cowper went into a tiebreaking set with Ho-Chiao Hsia. Cowper went on to lose that final set 6-2, but she and the rest of the team could hang their hats on their doubles performance.

In doubles, Charlotte swept all three matches in thrilling fashion. The top-seeded doubles team of Alexandra Lee and Tai Martin would defeat ECU’s combination of Diercksen and Ruiz 7-5.

Before losing a close battle in singles, Cowper and her partner Safont claimed a victory as the second-seeded doubles against the Pirates’ duo of Hsia and Rettich (6-4). The third-seeded team of Gabriela Gonzalez and Pierina Imparato would help Charlotte remain undefeated in doubles with a 7-5 victory over Hofbauer and Sarjoo.

Charlotte will look to rebound on Friday, March 30 when they travel to Wilmington to take on UNCW at 11 a.m. Doing so, they look to snap their five-match losing streak and three-match losing streak against in-state teams.

3 takeaways from the 49ers upset over Oregon State

Anthony Vanhook goes for the ball against Oregon State. Photo by Ben Coon
Anthony Vanhook goes for the ball against Oregon State. Photo by Ben Coon

Charlotte picked up a win against the visiting Oregon State Beavers, bringing their record to 6-2 overall. Though the margin of victory was a slim three points (69-66), the 49ers dominated three key categories in their route to a win.

Solid defense

One of the highlights of Charlotte’s performance lied in their defense. The 49ers forced 18 turnovers while surrendering a mere eight.

Not only did they force the Beavers into making mistakes, but Charlotte also capitalized on them. Charlotte turned those 18 turnovers into 25 points on the other end while Oregon State was only able to piece together eight points off of turnovers. It was a well balanced defensive effort as three players collected two steals in Jon Davis, Andrien White and Anthony Vanhook.

Though the defense predicated itself on big plays, it was perhaps its steady play overall that led to the win. The 49ers held the Beavers to 41.8% shooting, well below their season average of 46.3 percent.

Fast breaks

The 49ers also capitalized in scoring on and defending the fast break.

Charlotte got up the court quickly and put in fourteen points in transition. Where their offense put the ball in the bucket, their transition defense did more than hold their own. Oregon State did not manage to find a single bucket on the fast break, and Charlotte’s fourteen point advantage in that category clearly changed the outlook of the game overall.

Though Oregon State relies more on their ability to score in the paint rather than their ability to get out and run; it was encouraging to see Charlotte hold the Beavers to a modest 30 points in the paint. This stat becomes even more impressive when you consider Oregon State scored a whopping 54 points in that area during their previous game, a win against Southern Oregon.

The ability to convert free throws

A noteworthy achievement coach Mark Price will love to see is the number of free throws the 49ers attempted, and their ability to knock them down as well. Charlotte attempted a season-high 30 foul shots and knocked down 23 of them.

Sophomore Jon Davis’ 12-13 shooting from behind the charity stripe was a rare sight as the 92.3% conversion rate was well above his season average of 82.2%. In total, he led the 49ers to match their season free throw average of 76.7% despite the season high in attempts.

Look for the Charlotte 49ers to continue these positive trends in a big time away matchup against Wake Forest on Tuesday, December 6th. The 6-2 Deacons from the ACC will pose a tough test as their only home loss of the season came against the defending NCAA Champions Villanova.

Charlotte blows lead, falls to USC Upstate

Jon Davis' last second shot would be blocked by Upstate, sending the game to overtime.
Jon Davis’ last second shot would be blocked by Upstate, sending the game to overtime.

The Charlotte men’s basketball team was dealt their first loss of the season after facing USC Upstate.  The 49ers (3-1) held the lead for the majority of the game, however a second-half surge from the Spartans (3-2) lead the game to overtime and eventually an Upstate victory.

After a strong start that saw Charlotte build an early fourteen point lead, Upstate would continue to chip away and eventually grab their first lead with two and a half minutes left in regulation. A late three by the Spartan’s Malik Moore would tie the ball game and eventually send the game into overtime. The extra time would be hard fought and eventually fall in Upstate’s favor for a 108-103 victory.

A look at the box score would lend to a head scratch, as the Niners had four players in double figures, including a game-high 30 points from senior Braxton Ogbueze. In fact, the output was there on offense as Charlotte shot a modest 46.7% from the field and a blistering 55.6% from behind the arc.

While the offense was clicking, the defense was searching for answers. The Spartans scored a season-high in points and won the rebounding battle 47-35. Coach Price highlighted his team’s “step back” in performance and overall defense while stating “we put ourselves in a position to win, but just didn’t close it.”

The Niners will look to get back in the win column after the break in an away match against Davidson. Charlotte will look to hand Davidson their first loss of the season in Belk Arena The action takes place on November 26 at 4:00 p.m..

Great hitting and five aces leads Charlotte to a 3-0 sweep over FIU

Charlotte 49ers volleyball team coming together after a point during their match against FIU. Photo by Austin Chaney.
Charlotte 49ers volleyball team coming together after a point during their match against FIU. Photo by Austin Chaney.

Led by Janell Sparks, the Charlotte women’s volleyball team snapped a nine-game losing streak and brought home their first conference win of the season. The junior was responsible for thirteen kills, three aces and two blocks.

Each set was hard fought, the first being no different. It was a constant back and forth battle with a six-point streak for Charlotte countered by a subsequent five-point surge for FIU. Ultimately a hitting error on FIU gave Charlotte the hard fought first set, 25-22.

A back and forth second set started to separate when Sparks served two straight aces and put the score at 11-5. The set never got much closer as a kill from freshman Molly Shaw gave Charlotte a six-point victory in the second set.

After going down quick, 4-1, to start the third set, Charlotte came roaring back to reach an 11-7 then 21-16 lead. A late push by FIU brought the score within one at 22-21. Charlotte reevaluated during a late timeout to win three-straight points and seal both set and match at 25-21.

Following the 49ers victory, Sparks said, “I was trying to find their open areas as hitting to the middle of the court really worked out… I was being aggressive every time I went up. We really needed this win to instill some confidence in us. Tonight we really clicked and it was nice to have Mackenzie back. That was a huge part of our win.”

Charlotte will look to keep their weekend perfect in a another home tilt, this time against Conference USA rival Middle Tennessee. Come out to support the volleyball team at 1 p.m. Sunday in Halton Arena.

Grant Hughes

Charlotte 49ers Football: Reason For Optimism

Kalif Phillips dodges Monarch defender on his way to the end zone. Photo by Chris Crews.
Kalif Phillips dodges Monarch defender on his way to the end zone. Photo by Chris Crews.

Despite a 1-4 start to the season, there are plenty of reasons to still save hope in the 49ers. Through four games, they have faced one of the best teams in the nation in Louisville, as well as Elon, Eastern Michigan, Temple and Old Dominion.

None of their five opponents have losing records and possess a combined record of 14-7, a pretty tough schedule to begin their season.

The rest of their schedule, however, contains just two teams with winning records in Southern Mississippi and Middle Tennessee and the seven teams they have yet to play in the regular season have a combed record of 12-21.

This all equates to a strength of schedule that ranks 119 of 128 FBS teams for the rest of the season. The room for improvement is there and maybe a few wins as well, but none of this can be achieved without several key players.

Through the first four games quarterback Kevin Olsen is stands at tenth in Conference USA in terms of passing, with most of his yards heading to stud receivers in Austin Duke and T.L. Ford. Duke is well known around campus and has already eclipsed 200 receptions for his career.

Perhaps slightly lesser known is Ford, who has already eclipsed his receiving yardage total of last year in merely four games. Both Duke and Ford place in the top ten C-USA receiving yardage ranks. Ford possesses the fourth highest yards per catch (minimum of fifteen receptions) in the conference. The two give Charlotte a strong pair of pass catchers, one that Kevin Olsen will surely grow more comfortable passing to.

In the run game, Charlotte has a four-star true freshman in Robert Washington who is currently leading the team in rushing yards and touchdowns. Behind him is senior Kalif Phillips who nearly eclipsed 1,000 yards on the ground last season; as well as Ben LeMay, a freshman who has averaging 5.3 yards per rush on his nearly seven carries a game.

The three combine to average over five yards per carry and are on pace for 1,572 rushing yards as a trio. However, it is more than likely that the three backs will eclipse this number greatly in their subsequent matches against lesser opponents.

As a whole, the offense has just been slightly below the FBS average, ranking directly below the University of Georgia and directly above Stanford in yards per game. On the other side of the ball, the defense has played better than a lot may have expected.

For the year, the 49ers have allowed 486.50 yards of offense per game, a little higher than the FBS average of 403.35. Though most of the yards against Charlotte have come through the air, the run defense has been very good.

Opposing rushers are averaging 162.75 yards per game on the 49ers, nearly ten yards lower than the national average of 172.09 yards per game. Even more impressive considering that most of the damage was caused by Louisville’s 663 yards of offense and 272 yards rushing.

In fact, if you take out the Louisville game, the 49ers are holding teams to a mere 126.3 yards on the ground. This number is significantly better than the national average and something the defense should be very proud about.

Whether Charlotte’s 1-4 start is simply a facade or foreshadowing of what is to come, we as fans should be excited about the rest of the season and for future years as well. The offense looks to be in good hands with T.L. Ford catching passes and Robert Washington toting the rock this season and the near future.

Time will tell, but come out and support the Charlotte football team, they might surprise you sooner than later.

Recap: Panthers Get The Horns Against Minnesota

Cam Newton getting sacked by the Minnesota defense. Photo by Ben Coon.
Cam Newton getting sacked by the Minnesota defense. Photo by Ben Coon.

The Carolina Panthers’ offense proved to be less than impressive in a 22-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings Sunday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium, following a rough week full of riots and protests in the Charlotte area.

In a match-up pitting one of the NFL’s premiere offenses against the of the toughest defenses, the Panthers found themselves on the short end of the stick suffering their first home loss in nearly two years. The blame falls on none other than the shoulders of Carolina’s offense, a group that allowed eight sacks and posted three interceptions.

A Cam Newton touchdown run on their second possession put the Panthers up 10-0, failing to score again. On the third drive of the game, Cam Newton was sacked by Danielle Hunter in the end zone for a costly safety. Due in part to the reoccurring issue of penalties, the Panthers never recovered.

On the day, Carolina was penalized 10 times for 65 yards, none bigger than a Kelvin Benjamin holding call that wiped away a potentially momentum shifting 56-yard Fozzy Whittaker touchdown. The holding call and special teams mishaps were the tale of the second quarter and the Minnesota comeback.

Midway through the second quarter, Graham Gano missed a 55-yard field goal, a missed opportunity for a team desperately in need of them. On the very next drive, a Vikings punt pinned the Panthers deep in their own territory; Andy Lee punted from his own end zone and had it returned 54 yards for a touchdown.

On the ensuing drive, a pass deep right for Ted Ginn was intercepted, an omen for how the second half played out. Despite holding the Vikings to 34 yards of offense at the half, the Panthers only led 10-8.

Fozzy Whittaker running down the field. Photo by Ben Coon.
Fozzy Whittaker running down the field. Photo by Ben Coon.

The Panthers ended up having five drives in the second half; resulting in two punts, two interceptions and a turnover on downs. At the same time, Minnesota’s five drives of meaning ended up putting three scores on the board to zero turnovers.

The hometown team ended up losing 22-10 and falling to 1-2 overall. An abysmal game has the Panthers looking for answers, the team performing vastly different from the one fans saw start last season 14-0.

Carolina will look to get Kelvin Benjamin more involved. The third year wide-out didn’t record a single catch despite playing more snaps than any other receiver. The Panthers also hope to get more pass rush production out of a defensive line that has accumulated four sacks through six games.

Including being the fifth most penalized team, the Panthers have a long way to go before resembling the NFC Champions of a season ago. The good part is that they have plenty of time to iron out these issues before their late season playoff push.

Carolina will look to get back in the win column this Sunday against a division rival in the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome.

Cam Newton wearing a MLK shirt in warm-ups due to all the riots and protests in Charlotte. Photo by Ben Coon.
Cam Newton wearing a MLK shirt in warm-ups due to all the riots and protests in Charlotte. Photo by Ben Coon.

Panthers crush 49ers in home opener

Wide receive Devin Funchess after a touchdown catch. Photo by Ben Coon.
Wide receive Devin Funchess after a touchdown catch. Photo by Ben Coon.

Panthers overcome early miscues and defeat the San Francisco 49ers 46-27 for the season’s first win at Bank of America Stadium.

In a game predicated on big plays, Cam Newton bounced back from an early interception to post a stat line that included 353 yards passing and four touchdowns. During the first possession of the game, Newton had a ball tipped in the air by middle linebacker Navarro Bowman, that was promptly picked off by safety Antoine Bethea.

Despite the great field position for the 49ers, the Carolina defense was able to hold them to a short field goal. As both offenses struggled to move the ball, the defense took matters into their own hands as a Charles Johnson forced fumble turned into a scoop and score touchdown for second year linebacker Shaq Thompson.

With Jonathan Stewart in the locker room with a hamstring injury, the Panthers leaned heavily on third down back Fozzy Whittaker to carry the load. Though Whittaker had a career day posting 100 yards rushing on 16 carries, a second quarter fumble subsequently turned into a Blaine Gabbert touchdown pass to receiver Torrey Smith.

Cam Newton right before the ball is snapped. Photo by Ben Coon.
Cam Newton right before the ball is snapped. Photo by Ben Coon.

San Francisco’s 10-7 lead didn’t last for long as Newton hit tight-end Greg Olsen on the next drive for a 78-yard touchdown pass, shattering Olsen’s previous career long of 52 yards. With less than a minute to go in the half, the Panthers marched down the field and scored a late field goal to walk into the locker room with a 17-10 lead.

After two touchdown catches by Kelvin Benjamin during the third quarter, the game was all but a blowout. Carolina started the fourth quarter with a 31-10 lead, but that all began to change after a Gerald Hodges sack of Cam Newton, resulting in a fumble.

San Francisco recovered and scored a field goal a few plays later, but the bleeding would not stop there. The ensuing kickoff saw veteran receiver Ted Ginn muff the ball, only to be recovered by the 49ers on the two yard line. A once 21-point lead had evaporated to 11. Chip Kelly’s team would not go away.

A field goal for the Panthers on the next drive was only to be countered by a 75-yard touchdown pass to tight-end Vance McDonald; making this the only NFL game in history to see two tight ends go for scores of 75+ yards. With the lead dwindled to a mere seven points, Cam Newton and company orchestrated a clutch field goal drive to push the game back to two scores.

With his back against the wall, quarterback Gabbert showed the Panthers that not selecting him in the 2011 draft was the right choice by throwing a backbreaking interception to Luke Kuechly. A Devin Funchess 16-yard touchdown and another Gabbert interception, this time to rookie James Bradberry, all but sealed the game. The Panthers put the last score on the board with a Graham Gano field goal, and walked off the field with their first win of the season.

Carolina will look to continue their 14-game home win streak when they host the Minnesota Vikings next Sunday.

Cam Newton handing a touchdown ball to a young fan. Photo by Ben Coon.
Cam Newton handing a touchdown ball to a young fan. Photo by Ben Coon.