Sam Palian

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WELCOME BACK: 2019 Charlotte 49ers Preview

It seems like every year, something big changes with the Charlotte 49ers. Between coaches, players, the athletic director and everything in between, things can switch around pretty quickly. This goes for programs other than Charlotte too. Going into the 2019 season, there is yet again almost an entirely new football staff as well as a new head softball coach, baseball coach and an assistant women’s basketball coach. Aside from the coaching changes, each program looks for a fresh start every season and the first of those teams are football, men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball, and cross country. 

Women’s soccer

Women’s soccer kicks off gameplay on Sunday, Aug. 11 at UNC Greensboro at 1 p.m. These women came out of 2017 with a winning record of 11-8-2 after reaching the Conference USA final and falling to North Texas following overtimes and penalty kicks. The next season was one without powerhouse goal-scorer Martha Thomas who graduated in May 2018. The Niners found themselves unable to fill her boots and make up for the lost goals. Junior Megan Greene did manage to lead the team in goals with eight, but even with Julia Grainda just behind with five goals, it wouldn’t be enough to give the team a winning season. The shots simply were not hitting the back of the net for Charlotte in 2018, and they finished with a record of 8-9. This year, with seven incoming freshmen and eight returning seniors, the Niners will look to produce a more powerful offense and find themselves in the postseason once again.

Men’s Soccer

The men’s side of the sport begins their season at Transamerica Field on Friday, Aug. 16 at 7 p.m. Kevin Langan and his crew were a little better off come to the end of the regular season. Charlotte finished with a 14-5-2 record following a loss to Kentucky in the C-USA Championship final and second-round loss to Virginia Tech in the NCAA tournament. After two consecutive seasons of making the conference championship and not being able to win, the Niners will look to return to the final and bring home a championship this time, and potentially reach the NCAA tournament as well. Having lost players like Daniel Bruce, Callum Montgomery, Dean Rutherford and Tommy Madden, who have all been vital parts of the team, it’s possible the group will have a lot of scoring to make up for. On the other hand, even when losing some of its talents, the program has remained fairly steady. This season will be one in which to maintain and develop the players that already have the experience as well as the 10 freshmen present on the roster. Players like senior Teddy Chaouche and redshirt senior Maclean Holbrook, who’s spent a good deal of time off the field due to injuries, will help to keep the team moving forward in 2019. Standout goalkeeper Elliot Panicco enters his senior season as well, setting up redshirt junior GK Austin Mullis and freshman Ryan Burg to continue to improve and prepare to take on the role as well. The Niners meet Kentucky on Sunday, Sept. 15 at Transamerica Field at 7 p.m. to begin their conference schedule.

Football

The Will Healy era of Charlotte Football hits the field under the lights for their first game on Thursday, Aug. 29 at 7:30 p.m. inside Jerry Richardson Stadium. The Niners are coming off of an emotional final season with the program’s first head coach, Brad Lambert. Lambert’s last game as Charlotte’s head coach was a win over FAU, barring the Owls from a chance at a bowl game, allowing the 49ers to finish their season with a 5-7 record after finishing 1-11 in the season prior. Attitude isn’t everything when it comes to finishing with a winning season according to the numbers; there’s obviously the scores to consider. Nonetheless, it looks as if the attitude of everyone surrounding Charlotte’s football program could be enough to propel them into their first winning season since the first game in 2013. It’s a domino sort of effect in which they know they are going to win games and put butts in seats, so it’s exactly what it seems like they will do. Time will tell, as will the scoreboard, at least in reference to games won. As far as the butts in the seats go, that may not be quite as dependent on the scores in 2019. The team is working hard day in and day out and intend to be outstanding. Support of Charlotte 49ers Football has grown immensely since the hiring of Healy was announced for a number of reasons and it’s imperative to the program that this support continues and grows. With seniors like Benny LeMay, Alex Highsmith, Ben DeLuca, Jeff Gemmell, other standouts like Victor Tucker, Chris Reynolds, Jonathan Cruz and many others on the roster of 100 plus athletes, the team is hopeful to prove that they’re a force to be reckoned with in 2019. No one is blind to the hard work it will take, but improvements are certain and they’re adjusting and fine-tuning in any way they can. Of course, these improvements won’t occur just like that and the program has a lot of ground to cover before they’re where they want to be. Once again, time will tell. 

Volleyball

Volleyball begins their season in Halton Arena with the Charlotte Invitational starting on Friday, Aug. 30 at 10 a.m. The team recently gained a new assistant coach in Ana Pego and heads into the 2019 season with head coach Karen Weatherington entering her fifth year. The team made it to the first round of C-USA Championship in 2018, falling to Rice 0-3 and finishing the season 16-15. The Niners have not made it past the first round in the postseason since rejoining Conference USA in 2013 and have made it to the first round on three occasions in 2014, 2017 and 2018. Weatherington and her coaching staff will try to capitalize on the talent present on the roster. The team will feature the young talent of four freshmen, four sophomores, two juniors, and five seniors returning. A recurring characteristic of this team is that they have the ability to win, tend to have a winning streak at one point or another and can’t seem to keep it going. Having lost in the first round of the CUSA tournaments in both 2017 and 2018, the team can certainly get there but has to maintain the same structure and mentality that they have when they are winning games during the regular season.

Cross Country

The cross country team heads into the 2019 season preparing for the C-USA Championships on Nov. 2 The Niners kick off their season with the Charlotte Opener at Franke Liske Park on Friday, August 30 beginning at 10 a.m. The Niners will be losing C-USA Cross Country Male Athlete of the Year Tom Nobles and with the loss of a few seniors, runners like Paul Arredondo, Matt Bonkamp, Alex Cornwell and Zach Marchinko, who was named an NCAA Southeast All-Region Honoree along with Nobles, performed well last year as well and will still be with the team this season. On the women’s side, Bridget Abbatiello, Taylor Brown and sophomore Chandler Norton will return to work to continue to set new personal-bests and help propel the team into the postseason. With a competitive schedule on the horizon, Charlotte will gear up for 2019 season to keep competing and to grow as athletes.

Charlotte soccer hits the ground running

Charlotte soccer has shown time and time again that they can perform strongly and have the longevity to make it through the regular season and go far in the postseason as well. It seems that this year, Charlotte 49ers athletics are taking a big step forward all across the board.

Head Coach Kevin Langan and his crew expect only improvements this season and as many coaches and players often say that they’re taking it day by day. With a conference season-opener on the horizon against Kentucky no less, it may seem a tad daunting. It would be unrealistic to characterize it as just another game but when the Niners take on the Wildcats at home on Saturday, Sept. 15 it won’t the end-all-be-all no matter the outcome. Though Charlotte will be hopeful to start the Conference USA season off with a win, should they fall to Kentucky, they would correct mistakes, deal with the faults and it would be on to the next one. 

The Niners finished last season with a 14-5-2 record after falling to Kentucky twice, once in the regular season and once in the C-USA Championship final. After the championship title loss, Charlotte made it the second round of the NCAA tournament following an exciting at-home win over Georgia State. They lost in the second round to Virginia Tech at 1-0 after outdoing the Hokies in both shots and shots on goal. The match against Kentucky is not the only game to focus on here, but it’s impossible to not draw attention to it for a few reasons. Charlotte is 4-4-1 against Kentucky, all four of their losses and one tie coming in each of the seasons since 2015. One of the best records the Niners have seen since 2012 came in the 2018 season. In 2012, the team finished with a record of 15-4-3, made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament and had their first win against the Wildcats in the first meeting between the two teams. The 49ers’ ability to maintain a certain momentum throughout the season will help determine how they fair following their home opener this season. 

“We’ll hit the ground running and then get up to speed straight away. And then go on the road to another great team and then come back and start conference play with the reigning regular season and conference champions, it’s a wonderful marker for us early on; where are we, how are we looking, what do we need to do, so the key thing from that especially as we go into the season is to take it day by day,” said Langan. “But, with an urgency we have to get it right and we have to get flying straight out of the gates.”

The 49ers are 1-0 so far, also having won both exhibition games, and will have played High Point on Monday, Sept. 2. Games against Coastal Carolina and West Virginia also precede the conference-opener. 

It’s a fairly full roster all things considered. Charlotte lost major players on the field after the 2018 season including Callum Montgomery, Daniel Bruce, Dean Rutherford and Tommy Madden. Bruce was Charlotte’s top goal-scorer while Madden and Montgomery were among the top goal-scorers and in assists as well. Each of these former Niners were integral parts of the season the team had in the 2018 season. 

Of course, there’s still plenty of talent to continue to fall into place for Charlotte and naturally, there’s quite a bit among the current seniors now as well. Six seniors fill the Charlotte 49ers roster this season including goalkeeper Elliot Pannico and returning offensive forces, 2019 assist-leader in Teddy Chaouche and Maclean Holbrook who is coming back from off and on time away from the field due to injuries. 

“We lost some really good leaders last year and really encouragingly for us, Pat, Teddy, and Elliot really stepped up in the spring and with the college soccer season, the way that the players come back early before school starts and we have to get prepared for the season…without the coaches’ instruction we have to lean heavily on the seniors to help,” said Langan. “We’ve got some incredible seniors, some really good people. First and foremost, great people that lead by example, lead by how they live their lives first and foremost and then we just encourage them to verbalize it, to put an arm around some of the newcomers to help them out as well.”

Along with returning upperclassmen are players like Preston Popp who emerged in the 2018 season as a potentially major goal-scorer for Charlotte and teammates Delasi Batse who contributed a lot of minutes and energy to the field. 10 freshman gives Charlotte an opportunity to build and further develop a solid but ever-improving program. Kameron Lacey, Axel Sigurdarson, Jaxson Watermann, and Carson Price saw minutes against Gardner-Webb and Lacey and Sigurdarson each contributed shots on goal.

“A key part of soccer is that we’re always going to change, we’re always going to bring in newcomers and players are going to graduate and that’s what makes it such an exciting, dynamic environment to be a coach in. Players like Preston who contributed greatly last year, the role is very different and the expectations of him are very different now,” said Langan. “And for him now, we’re going to look at him and rather than ‘what can the new guy give us and how is he figuring out’ it’s going to be ‘okay, this is what he will have to contribute to the team and how he’ll have to play.’ And that’s the same throughout the whole roster for a lot of players.”

As the team makes its way through the season, gearing up for conference play and preparing for a lot of tough competition against opponents, they also experience a good deal of competition on the practice field. Langan mentions quite often that Charlotte is a “development program.” This doesn’t mean that it’s all they’re good for, the No. 21 Niners certainly win games, but they also do it largely with players that begin and end their college careers as 49ers. Charlotte will have played three more games by the time it reaches CUSA play, but for the time being, they hit the field each and every day working to improve.

“The cool thing for a college coach is we get to watch these young men grow as people and as players through the program; we’re very much a development program. We don’t lean heavily on transfers or one-year players, etc. We love to bring in a freshman and we love to work with them day after day and watch them grow as players and as people,” said Langan. “So, the goal for them all is to be playing their best soccer and to be in the most control of their life going into their senior year.”

2019 season preview: Charlotte 49ers football

The Charlotte 49ers are entering their seventh season on the field, but their first with Head Coach Will Healy at the helm. Along with Healy comes Carter Crutchfield as the recruiting coordinator and director of football relations, who was with Healy at Austin Peay prior to joining the staff at Charlotte. Crutchfield helped to garner Austin Peay’s top five recruiting classes to help Healy turn the program around. This bodes well for the recruiting classes at Charlotte, and among many other factors, will potentially contribute to the turnaround of this program as well. 

Charlotte has a big season ahead of itself with all things considered. Since the hiring of the new head coach and all of the things that have followed, the program has generated a lot of support, but the 2019 season itself could generate a whole new fanbase for the Niners. Part of the hope is to get those that are already at Charlotte more invested in this team than ever. That doesn’t appear out of thin air, sure, but no one’s claimed that it will. 

Aside from the less tangible things like support, the program is facing an interesting schedule. Most notably, Charlotte will take on the 2019 National Champions, the Clemson Tigers. This is huge. It’s clearly something that sparked a lot of conversation from the public since the plan was made and even more so once people began to realize what was going to be taking place in the fall of 2019. Charlotte, in its seventh season, is traveling to Death Valley to play against a program that has been around for over 100 seasons. This is going to be a really beneficial thing for the Charlotte 49ers in a lot of ways. 

To begin the Healy era, the 49ers kick off at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 29 against Gardner-Webb at home inside Jerry Richardson Stadium. 

vs. Gardner-Webb, Aug. 29, 7:30 p.m. 

The last time the Niners met with the Bulldogs, they fell 24-27 in Boiling Springs in 2014, six games into the season. The season prior, Charlotte faced Gardner-Webb at home and came out on top at 53-51. Either way, it’s important to consider that these were also the program’s first and second seasons. In 2013, the Niners rallied from a 21-point deficit going into the fourth quarter. Of course, none of the players present for either of these games will be suiting up this year. Even so, the Niners have a lot of defensive weapons that are likely to keep the Bulldogs from such a high-scoring game.

at Appalachian State, Sept. 7, 3:30 p.m.

Charlotte faced this in-state opponent in particular for the first time ever in 2018 at home and will travel to Boone this year for another matchup with the Mountaineers. The outcome in 2018 wasn’t ideal at a 45-9 loss, but it was a slightly similar situation to playing Clemson this season, mostly in the exposure it brought. App. scored 21 points in the second half alone while Charlotte scored their nine points in the second quarter and was unable to do so again.

vs. Massachusetts, Sept. 14, 6 p.m.

While the 2018 season was the first in which the Niners faced the Minutemen, the loss wasn’t nearly as substantial as the loss to the Mountaineers. It was the first road game of 2018 and the Niners let the game get away from them early on. Massachusetts took a 28-0 lead before Charlotte was able to score in the second quarter. Simply unable to come back after giving the opponent the upper hand, it’s a trend that the Niners will have to remedy this season in order to play a good full four quarters and give themselves the advantage right out of the gate.

at Clemson, Sept. 21, TBA

As mentioned before, this is the first meeting between the two teams. It’s expected to be a big loss for Charlotte as far as numbers go and it’s unlikely Clemson will play much if its first string — or if at all. Either way, the Niners under Healy playing the Tigers under Dabo Swinney is sure to be an interesting meeting, probably taken seriously as a learning experience. Teams need games like this, even if they don’t always come when the fans think they should. The program is excited about it and they have every reason to be.

vs. FAU, Sept. 28, 3:30 p.m.

Charlotte’s first Conference USA matchup will be against the FAU Owls, the fifth game between the two teams overall. This will be third meeting in Jerry Richardson Stadium following a big 27-24 win for Charlotte in Boca Raton, Fl. in 2018 that kept the Owls from a bowl game and finished the 49ers’ season off with a 5-7 record. Charlotte is 2-2 against FAU and the previous meeting was the lowest point margin of any of the meetings, the second lowest having been in 2016 when the Niners won 28-23. This will also be the earliest in the season that the team has played and obviously is a flip flop from FAU being Charlotte’s final opponent in 2018.

at FIU, Oct. 12, 7 p.m.

The fifth matchup between FIU and Charlotte holds potential to be Charlotte’s first win over the team that was picked to finish second in the east division ahead of the Niners, a team that was picked to finish last in the division. Since a 17-point loss in 2015, the Niners have closed in on the Panthers, with a 1-point loss in 2017 and falling at home 42-35 in 2018. The last meeting between the two teams saw scores for each team in each quarter, but FIU was able to get the additional points needed over Charlotte. Benny LeMay had a record game in that loss, scoring four of five 49er touchdowns and is entering his final season as a 49er.

at WKU, Oct. 19, 4 p.m.

WKU, only picked to finish in the east division two spots ahead of Charlotte, has only met with Charlotte twice and the matchup previously held at WKU ended with a 45-15 win over the 49ers. In the 2018 season though, Charlotte came out on top at home at 40-14 for homecoming win. This was a breakout game for quarterback Evan Shirreffs as a Niner and an all-around team win if there ever was one. Jonathan Cruz kicked a 51-yard field goal and showed Charlotte once again how vital he would come to be. Charlotte’s win was a product of nearly 450 yards of total offense and holding WKU to almost half the yards and recreating something of that nature would no doubt secure another win.

vs. North Texas, Oct. 26, 3:30 p.m.

A game against North Texas brings the Niners back to Jerry Richardson Stadium for their fourth CUSA game of the season. This is the first meeting between the two teams, and while Charlotte was picked to finish last in the east division, North Texas was picked to finish first in the west division after a 9-4 overall record last season. The Mean Green is likely to give the 49ers a tough game, but Charlotte has become incredibly comfortable in their home, so how they fare throughout the season leading up to this game could prepare them for this matchup.

vs. Middle Tennessee, Nov. 2, 3:30 p.m.

Even though the Blue Raiders played in the 2018 CUSA Championship and fell to UAB only 25-27, they had an 8-6 overall record and they were picked to finish in the east division in only fourth, three spots above Charlotte. Of course, as Charlotte intends to prove, the preseason poll isn’t typically the end all be all, and in their four meetings so far, Charlotte has yet take down Middle Tennessee. The 49ers outdid the Blue Raiders in terms of offensive yards, but they’ll need to capitalize on turnovers and cover the passing game more carefully.

at UTEP, Nov. 9, 3 p.m.

This will also be the first meeting between the two CUSA teams as the Niners travel to El Paso, Texas to take on the Miners. UTEP had a record of 1-11 overall in 2018 and were picked to finish last in the west division. It should be a decent win for Charlotte, but it will be an interesting matchup either way.

vs. Marshall, Nov. 23, 3:30 p.m.

The last home game of the season for Charlotte before preseason ball bring Marshall to Jerry Richardson Stadium for the fifth meeting between the teams. Charlotte has lost three of the four games, and the one occasion on which the 49ers had the win, many of the current senior standouts were freshman. In the 2016 win, Ben DeLuca forced a game-changing fumble in the third quarter to help get the Niners back into gear and on their way to a win.

at ODU, Nov. 30, 2 p.m.

The final regular season game of the season for the 49ers will take place in Norfolk, Va. in the fifth matchup between ODU and Charlotte. The 2018 meeting saw Charlotte out on top with a 28-25 win at home after falling  just 6-0 the season prior. The win was courtesy of a number of things. Once again, some of the standout Niners such as Jeff Gemmell, Anthony Butler, Aaron McAllister, Benny LeMay, Jonathan Cruz, and the duo of Chris Reynolds and Victor Tucker were key pieces of the team win among countless others. This game in 2019 came as the first CUSA game of the season and was right on the heels of a big loss to Appalachian State, so between that and the home field advantage, some of the factors may be very different and Charlotte will need to maintain their momentum at the end of this season.

Faith and football

If there’s one thing that someone might know about Alex Highsmith aside from the fact that he plays football, it’s that his faith is extremely important to him. Becoming one of the most notable CUSA athletes on a team that was picked to finish last in the conference in 2019 says a lot, but there’s more to every athlete than their sport.

A member of Charlotte’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Highsmith has made his faith the forefront of his life and is confident that the relationship he fosters with God and his dedication are what have gotten him to where he is.

Senior Alex Highsmith

“Jesus died for me, I’ve got to live for Him. That’s why it’s so important because all the things in this world are fleeting. I love this game of football, it’s amazing, but it’s not my God. I’ve tried to put my identity in the sport at times and it’s let me down. This game, it’s great, but it’s not going to be God,” said Highsmith. “Having a foundation in Christ is so important to me because Jesus Christ is the same forever. Today, yesterday, forever. That’s why it’s so important; He gave it all for us, so we’ve gotta give it all for Him.”

Of course, no one is perfect and it’s not always easy to keep a strong relationship with God. When you surround yourself with the right people who will encourage you and help you build that relationship, it can become much easier. 

“I’ve always had a church background. I went to church with my parents growing up and I kind of stopped going in high school and I felt like for me, I was a believer because I would say that I believe in God, but my actions didn’t really follow it,” said Highsmith. “It wasn’t until I came here [and] I got plugged in to FCA. Guys like Jeff Gemmell, Trevor Stacy and Ben Jacques [plus a] couple other guys that used to play here, helping them and getting involved with FCA is really what helped me to get back to my faith.”

Finding the right place to strengthen his faith and help others strengthen theirs came to be a vital part of Highsmith’s life and being a 49er. Ryan Gloer, the football team’s chaplain and one of the FCA staff members has also become an important part of Highsmith’s life. Highsmith considers the fellowship he has with other Christian athletes and with Gloer to be quite a blessing. He also met his girlfriend, another Charlotte athlete and member of FCA, after getting involved with the organization and is grateful for that as well.

“I remember in December 2015, our annual FCA Winter Blast camp that happens at the end of the year every year, we had that and I remember that Saturday night, that was the night that I gave my life to Christ and you know, I felt that presence in my life and that was the night I sort of laid it down,” said Highsmith. “It’s definitely been a struggle, the walk isn’t easy, but it’s worth it because you know at the end of the day, all that we do for God matters.”

Highsmith has found a way to put his identity in Christ and with that has come blessings upon blessings.

Having played football since he was about six years old, Highsmith grew up with it, but even going into highschool he wasn’t exactly in love with the sport. By his junior year, he’d hit a growth spurt and ended up having a good season and decided that playing football at another level didn’t have to be a dream and that if he put his heart into it, it could become a reality.

“It’s been awesome. Coming in here as a walk-on, I just wanted to prove people wrong and show people that I could play at this program. I just wanted to keep my head down, be the first one to enter the building and the last one to leave and so it’s just always been motivating to me that I was a walk-on,” said Highsmith. “Even now, I’m still motivated by that in the back of my head. People didn’t want me, so that’s one of the things that motivates me as well.”

The redshirt senior from Wilmington, N.C. spent 2015 in his redshirt season and played in every game in the 2016 season including one start. Highsmith was given a scholarship in the summer of 2017 and has certainly proved that he’s deserving. That season foretold what was to come for the athlete, gathering 22 of his 33 tackles of the season in just the final five games. A true breakout year came in the following season, starting every game and earning multiple honors including 2018 first-team all-Conference USA and earning the highest run-defense grade in CUSA at 90.6. Going into this season, CUSA coaches selected him for the 2019 Preseason All-Conference USA and he was placed on the 2019 Bednarik Award for Defensive Player of the Year. 

“It’s always great when your best players are your best leaders, and nobody works harder than Alex. For us as a coaching staff to inherit this program and have a guy who’s a great player and works so hard and does everything the way you want it done, and then to see the success that he’s seen on the field sets a great example for the guys we’re trying to bring up,” said Healy. “Because they can say, ‘That’s who I want to be and that’s what he’s doing to be able to get there.’”

An exercise science major, Highsmith has hopes of a potential NFL career, but if that doesn’t pan out, he plans on going into the sports performance field or pursuing work in physical therapy. While he has entered his final season playing as a Charlotte 49er, he knows that whatever happens after graduation, his walk with God is never-ending.

“His faith is extremely strong. He’s an example to all of us because he lives it,” said Healy. “And I think that what he teaches you is consistency, he teaches you humility, but he’s also a great person to hold me and our staff accountable as well because he lives life the right way and for the right reasons.”

Student perspective: sports editor shares experience of shooting

The morning of April 30 was Charlotte’s last day of class. I began my day with a plan: first, to have breakfast with my family, then to meet a Charlotte Athletics media relations individual about a story I had been working on. It was a very good conversation, one that I left feeling as though I was growing in my profession and that others could see this. From there, I went to a class to review for a final exam. We didn’t spend long in the class, so I spent time filling out one last course evaluation for that professor. A friend took me home to my apartment so I could eat one last time before studying for an exam at 4 p.m. From there, I would head straight to work at BB&T Ballpark with the Charlotte Knights. I left the exam and got to work on time at 5:30 p.m.

We went through our routine of going through our schedule for the game. I had my Apple Watch on and started seeing a lot of messages come through. I couldn’t look at them then. A few minutes later, I checked my messages and saw that my fellow Niner Times staff members and friends were saying that there was a shooting on campus. And then I get the Niner Alert that countless others received telling us to: “Run. Hide. Fight.”

I realized it was for real. This wasn’t just a situation where we see a fire truck and hear sirens on campus and all converse about what might be going on. It was happening. A shooting was happening on my college campus, a place I consider home. And I was at work, nowhere near campus.

I started getting messages and calls from all kinds of people. My parents were both at my brother’s high school baseball game in Stanly County, also nowhere near. I didn’t have time until late to think about how on Tuesdays at that time my dad or I could have been in a parking lot waiting to pick up my mom from Reese — just a few buildings away from where the tragedy began. Or how my mom often has meetings in the Kennedy Building. Or how my dad and my younger brother could have been sitting in the stands at Hayes Stadium waiting for the baseball game to get started. I knew none of this was a possibility at the moment, so I didn’t have to think about it too much just yet.

I went through a few spurts of being missing in action and then back to work until I got asked if one of my writers and friends, Drew Pescaro, had been shot. My heart dropped. I couldn’t control whether I walked or ran or hit the ground or cried or anything at this point. I remember looking down at my hands and seeing how blotchy they had gotten, because it is something that happens when I am nervous or upset. I started getting more and more messages as I ran to clock out and leave work. I almost ran right into one of my boss’s bosses. At some point, I passed my own wonderful boss — she offered to get me an Uber or help me find a ride.

I was a mess, but I was focused on getting to the hospital as fast and safely as I could. I texted someone who knew what hospital to go to as I ran to my car with my backpack full and heavy. I called my mom to be sure about which hospital it was and put it in my GPS. I was almost to the hospital and was trying to figure out where to park as I started to turn onto a street when my car started breaking down. I was stuck at the corner of an intersection, perfectly visible and safe, unsure if I could move. I called a friend who I knew was at the Knights game to come help me get to the hospital — that was all that I was worried about. He came to help me find my way to where I needed to be at the hospital.

All of the moments between getting the first few messages and getting to the hospital are a blur. I know what happened, but when I try to tell people what happened, it’s hard to get everything in the right order. I spent a few hours at the hospital with members of Alpha Tau Omega, Drew’s fraternity, along with several others, including a fellow editor and very dear friend Kathleen Cook, Dean of Students Christine Davis and Head Football Coach Will Healy. Kathleen and I waited until we were certain that Drew was out of surgery. We planned to come back to visit on Wednesday, May 1.

The morning after, I went to the hospital with my mom to figure out if what we’d be able to do about my car and ended up having it towed.

I took photos and videos at the vigil held in and outside of Halton Arena. After the vigil, I went with a close friend to get a smoothie. My parents picked us up from there to get us both home. Then, less than 45 minutes after people began leaving the vigil, a shooting occurred at the University Village Apartments where many students — and quite a few of my friends — live. My friends were all safe. But many were not.

I met some other editors at the apartments to cover the story. The three of us were there for somewhere between two and three hours to take photos and talk to whoever we could without being too intrusive. Numb isn’t the proper word to use. I had not cried much since leaving the hospital because I was incredibly busy. There were moments, but I hadn’t even seen most of my friends. It was heartbreaking to realize how many people still hadn’t heard back from me because I’d not yet been able to respond to them. What was more heartbreaking was that I know many others were in this same position — and that three young people were tragically never able to respond again.

And somewhere in the midst of all that’s been happening, I realized that I was helping to document a tragic part of Charlotte’s history. This time it is not in reference to a basketball player having a 30-point game or a football player reaching 1,000 yards. It’s not a pleasant history. It’s horrific to now understand what it feels like when it happens to you.

I am so grateful that I have so many amazing people in my life. 

Former Charlotte tennis player sues school and coach Jeremy Feldman

William “Scotty” Cameron filed a lawsuit in March of 2019 against Charlotte and the men’s tennis head coach, Jeremy Feldman, after being kicked off the team for supposedly having bullied teammate, Michael Bass.

Cameron joined the team after being recruited into the same standout class with Luca Keist, Siem Fenne, Collin Thomson and Benjamin Wayand. He transferred from the University of South Carolina following his freshman season.

Cameron has claimed that he, in fact, did not bully Bass and that they were friends. Eventually, both went to some of the University officials, including Title IX case administrator Alex Thompkins and executive director of Human Resources Jeanne Madorin, to explain that the accusations were incorrect and that it was actually Feldman whose behavior was unacceptable.

Claims about Feldman making sexually and religiously offensive remarks were made in the lawsuit as well as some claims in reference to the player’s health. Cameron said that Feldman made him run a mile, ignoring that he had an injury and that even though this resulted in worse pain he was still required to participate in practices and again, worsened the injury.

After he was assured that scholarship money would remain available to him, he found that in Fall of 2018 he was no longer being awarded the scholarship. This is also a large component of the allegations included in the lawsuit.

The NCAA has opened an investigation into the lawsuit against Charlotte based upon some of the allegations in the lawsuit, including those that say his scholarship was taken away after promises of it being upheld. Contrary to this allegation, the University recently said that the scholarship money was actually available to Cameron until he withdrew from the University.

The information regarding this story will be updated as it becomes available.

Voices of Niner Nation

When Charlotte 49ers fans can’t make it out to a game, Matt Swierad, Josh Feldman and Jackson Kaplan get to do what they love while helping to bring the game to life for fans listening at home.

For these three, it’s more than a job, it’s a passion, and their love for sports carries over into their calls.

“It’s really been a dream come true. You get to do something that’s not really a job. We all work hard but it’s fun. This is what I dream to do. I get to watch sporting events and that’s my job,” said Swierad. “I’ve met some great, great people and I’ve got some fantastic friends that have come out of it and some great memories, so we’re also getting a chance to give the listeners memories as well and to be a part of that. To be a part of what we have here at the 49ers is really special.”

Jerry Richardson Stadium

Swierad speaks for all of them when he says it’s really special. Each of these men have been in all kinds of different areas of the sports world and are fortunate to still be deep in it. Each one has a pretty different story as to how they got into broadcasting in the first place. Swierad actually began with Charlotte after college and after a series of broadcasting positions in baseball, basketball and other sports, he returned to Charlotte to call 49ers football and men’s basketball games and help to call Charlotte Knights baseball games as well.

“Well, I started doing it in college and my first job out of college was actually here at UNC Charlotte as a grad assistant in 1990. And when I got the Niners job, no one had done their baseball games on the radio, so what I did was get permission from my boss in sports information and he said, ‘If you can get the games on the radio then you can do them,’” said Swierad. “So I went out with my own credit card, I bought airtime on two radio stations in Charlotte and then I went out and sold the advertising to pay my credit card off and I put 26 games on the radio and that’s how I got started.”

Feldman spent some time as a walk-on for the University of Southern California’s men’s volleyball team and after that he stayed connected to the sport by calling the volleyball matches on the radio. Having called games for USC, play-by-play for the Kannapolis Intimidators, holding countless other sports positions and now having called for Charlotte 49ers volleyball and women’s basketball, he’s working on a lengthy career himself.

“Broadcasting for Charlotte has been incredible because you can see that this place is a family. The people that you’re working for, the people that you’re representing, they care about you well beyond statistics, well beyond wins and losses and it is clearly built on relationships that I don’t think exist in other places I’ve broadcast.” said Feldman.

Each one of them may regularly don a headset, but when it’s for the Charlotte 49ers, there’s something different about it than any of those other jobs.

Kaplan’s story for getting into broadcasting isn’t quite so intentional, though. His obvious passion for baseball led to multiple opportunities in the minor leagues and quickly turned into a passion for both the sport and for calling the play-by-play of it.

“I won’t give you the whole story because we’d be here all day, or a couple of hours at least. Basically, I got my start in the sports business right out of high school where I was an intern for the Morehead City Marlins in the Coastal Plain league. I was their social media intern, stats intern, and that’s how I kind of got interested in working in sports. And then I was an intern for the league office in Holly Springs the summer after. During that internship, the commissioner of the league recommended me for the fill-in spot for the Holly Springs Salamanders, which is a team that was right down the street from the league office. If he had never asked me to do that, I may not have ever done play-by-play,” said Kaplan.

BB&T Ballpark

Even though he’s taken stabs at volleyball, soccer, softball and baseball, his heart probably lies in the booth at Hayes Stadium for now. Or really anywhere on campus.

“I just love this place. I love the student athletes, I love the fact that this place is an up-and-coming athletic department, in my opinion. I love the setup of Hayes Stadium, I love the program. All of the games are exciting and I love the people too,” said Kaplan. “I just think that the relationships here that you gain from being a broadcaster while getting to know the people in the pressbox, getting to know the media relations directors here, it all kind of feels like a family atmosphere. Just going to Hayes stadium everyday is a thrill for me. I love college baseball, not just Charlotte, but I love college baseball in general. Baseball’s my thing.”

Of course, Kaplan’s love for the other sports he spent time calling grew quickly, in fact, much more than he expected it to. He just has fun doing it and is excited to see where it takes him and to see where the athletic department itself goes in the future. That’s for sure.

“I love describing the action, I actually always envisioned myself as a broadcaster because I grew up just a huge sports fan. I played sports my whole life until after high school, I wasn’t exactly going to be playing college sports so I always envisioned myself in some sports capacity. The more games I did, it’s kind of hard to describe, I just feel like calling the action out as it’s happening and describing the scenery and the play is just riveting to me.” said Kaplan.

Feldman, along with his fellow broadcasters, feels more than just lucky to be doing what they do. It’s a dream come true for them, but they still may have their own reasons as to why they love broadcasting so much.

“Anyone can call a game-winning shot, and I’ve screwed up a few of those too, but to me, capturing the moments that you know are going to mean more to the players on the floor and to the fans that are supporting them, those are the ones that I’ll remember.” said Feldman.

Whether it is a game-winning shot, a record-breaking play or some other incredible moment in history, the way it is called will be different every time. Fans listening at home surely wouldn’t be disappointed by any of the calls from Swierad, Feldman or Kaplan.

“You know, it’s something different every time. There’s always a different game; you never get to see the same game twice. You may get to see the same result, you may see the same final score, but it never unfolds the exact same way and so I never know what I’m going to be talking about until the game unfolds in front of me,” said Feldman. “And whether that’s with the basketball team, whether that’s with the volleyball team or any other game that I’m calling, it’s exciting to see how the game unfolds and that’s the fun part about it, is the unexpected.”

The Tournament comes to town

While the Charlotte 49ers women’s basketball team ended their postseason run after two games in the Conference USA tournament and one game in the WNIT, there were still women’s basketball teams playing in Halton Arena on Friday, March 22 and Sunday, March 24.

The Niners were granted their first WNIT bid since the 2015-16 season in which they also lost in the first round by only three points to Wake Forest and finished with an overall record of 19-12. This season, Charlotte ended with an 18-13 overall record.

Nevertheless, several games of the first and second rounds of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament would be played inside Halton Arena.

There were new bands, new teams and certainly, new fans in Halton Arena. But, why were they there? It may seem like a ridiculous question but many have been curious. A simple Google search would seemingly do the trick, but it’s more than just straight facts.

After the decision was made in April 2017 to host the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament in Colonial Life Arena at South Carolina, South Carolina’s athletic department and Athletic Director Ray Tanner worked to be granted a waiver to host the women’s tournament as well.

The top-16 seeded teams in the NCAA tournament have the ability to host the first and second round at their home venues or within 30 miles if another venue better suits their needs. There is also an option to find an arena further away if necessary. However, completing the process of getting the waiver and then hosting at an arena whose home team is not even in the tournament doesn’t happen too often, so when South Carolina was afforded the opportunity, they searched for a host site.

Final scoreboard of NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament, round two, held in Halton Arena

“Our staff looked at venues across South Carolina that met our capacity needs and many had hosting date conflicts. Halton Arena is a quality venue and the accommodations for the teams in the area will serve as a great host for the tournament,” said Tanner. “Charlotte is important for Gamecock Athletics and this will also be a great opportunity to have the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament in a large market.”

Halton Arena accommodated the capacity, and the quality that South Carolina was looking for in order to host the first and second rounds and the city of Charlotte and its potential speaks for itself.

“We’re excited about the possibility of hosting the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament and assisting our good friends at the University of South Carolina,” said Charlotte Athletic Director Mike Hill. “When Ray Tanner approached us about this, we didn’t hesitate. We believe in the power of the sport and the positive impact it has on our University and city.”

Put simply, the Gamecocks put butts in seats, although it wasn’t always that way. When the Niners met the Gamecocks in the second round of the WNIT in 2011, the Niners certainly had more fans follow them on the road to be in the stands in Colonial Life Arena. Even so, that was a long time ago and South Carolina has had no trouble growing their fan base. With that large, supportive fan base comes the need for an arena and facilities to match that.

“I appreciate the persistence Ray Tanner showed in getting a venue for us to host and the NCAA Women’s Basketball Committee for recognizing what the opportunity to host games means to our team, our fans and the growth of our sport,” said South Carolina Head Coach Dawn Staley. “Our Gamecock FAMS have shown their loyalty to our program through the postseason every year and I know they’ll continue to do that with us in Charlotte.”

The first round held in Halton saw No. 4 South Carolina in a matchup with No. 13 Belmont and No. 5 Florida State in a matchup with No. 12 Bucknell. After a surging victory for South Carolina at 74-52 and a battle from Florida State to beat Bucknell 70-67, the Seminoles and the Gamecocks filled Halton Arena with garnet on Sunday, March 24. The No. 4 and No. 5 teams traded buckets throughout the second round contest, never hearing silence come from the crowd. The first quarter ended in a tie and the score was 37-30 with South Carolina in the lead by the half.

Coming out of the locker room, neither team gave the appearance of wavering. To start off the half, South Carolina worked to further their lead and Florida State worked to come back and with less than five minutes to go in the third quarter, the Seminoles brought the score to within one at 44-45. It seemed that with every Florida State score, South Carolina would break away just before the Seminoles fought to get right back in it. The third quarter ended at South Carolina 52, Florida State 51.

A tie game at 60 with less than four and a half minutes to go in the fourth, it was nothing short of an intense ending, fitting for what had been such a competitive game. Florida State nearly gaining the lead forced Staley to call a timeout with 2:31 to go. Coming out of the timeout, the Gamecocks earned an and one to bring them to a 63-60 lead with 2:14 to go. The Seminoles responded with a jumper to bring their deficit to within one right before the Gamecocks were sent to the line to bring the lead back to three.

Florida State soon dropped two more points and South Carolina rolled one in for another and-one and a 68-84 lead with 27.2 to go. With the Gamecocks in the bonus, they were sent to the line yet again and pushed the lead to 69-64 with 16.8 to go. A Florida State foul and a following technical foul led to more Gamecock free throws with 9.8 to go and a score of 72-64. A missed shot from the Seminoles ended the game and the South Carolina Gamecocks would advance to the final four. Though the entire game was full of back and forth play and trading shots, the Gamecocks pulled away in the end and you’d expect nothing less than a battle from the No. 4 and No. 5 teams in a second round tournament game.

“I am super proud,” said Staley. “It is about sustaining and keeping your program in a place that you are competing for national championships. You have that in front of you.”

The Gamecocks will leave Charlotte as they look to grab another win in their post season run on Saturday, March 30 to make it to the Championship game.

Running home

Being away from home isn’t always easy for college students whether they’re going to school two hours away, just in the next state over or across the country. But imagine moving across the world and becoming a part of another family entirely because your family wanted to be able to do what was best for you do. About 10 years ago, Mihret Coulter’s family made that happen for him and his sister in a unique way.

“My parents couldn’t really take care of us the way that they wanted to anymore because my father was getting older and ill and the benefits he had from being a lawyer previously weren’t enough to put my sister and I through a private education. So they knew we would have better opportunity if we came to the U.S. if they were able to get us to do that,” said Coulter. “And then we got adopted by our parents.”

At 13 years old, Coulter was adopted along with his sister, Tsion, by their parents, Kevin and Sarah, after seeing them on a video while they were at the orphanage. While some children may spend six years or longer at the orphanage, Coulter and his sister were fortunate enough to only be there about six months before being adopted.

The siblings were recently able to return to Ethiopia and visit their family over Christmas break for their fifth trip back since moving to the U.S. after not having been back in about five years.

“Not many people get to do that. I’m very fortunate and grateful my parents are actually able to do this and able to afford it; they’re willing to sacrifice something for us to have that. It’s amazing; again, not many get to do that and it’s kind of sad. It’s a great opportunity,” said Coulter. 

Though they had been back several times before, some things were a lot different about their trip this time around. Aside from it having been a longer period of time in between the visits, the outlook on the situation had changed a bit.

“The first time I went back I was like 14 and then 15, 17, 18, and this time going back I was 23. I guess that I was still in that childish mindset the first four times I went back, but this time I was able to see more into my surroundings instead of just focusing on more childish things, like trying to go see our friends and things like that. I focused on the politics and anything going on inside Ehtiopia and tried to compare that to things I’ve learned in my studies here at Charlotte,” said Coulter.

“It was an eye-opener because when you think about ‘first-world problems’…that always happens to me anytime I go back. I mean, my phone; I was so worried about my phone being dead, but then there were power outages in Ethiopia and I was like, ‘Come on, Mihret, this is not something you should be worrying about right now, there are people that have actual problems aside from not being able to see what people are posting on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat.’”

One of the great opportunities that Coulter and his sister were given by being able to come to the U.S. was education, and they’ve worked hard to make the most of it.

“I could get education back in Ethiopia, but it was pretty competitive and yes, you’ll have high school pretty much free, but once you get to the higher levels, people often stop at grade 10 and you either go to university or college. To be able to be accepted to the university, you have to be like top-10 percent in almost the whole nation,” said Coulter.

With a major in criminal justice and a minor in political science, what Coulter’s been doing with his education also sort of goes back to his father and the things he’s learned and experienced in the past 10 years.

“I’ve always been interested in criminal justice and political science, or politics itself. I hope to go to law school. I’ll definitely look into it more when I’m done with criminal justice and political science and maybe give it a year and see if I want to commit three years of my life to it,” said Coulter. “My father was a lawyer so law and politics have always been in my family. And my parents here, they always talk about politics and it’s just something I grew up around. Plus, the criminal justice reform, I’m very interested in that and I hope I get to do something with that [and] helping people.”

Along with his opportunity for education, Coulter was able to pursue a collegiate career in running as well where he has garnered an individual championship at the Charlotte Invitational, an individual championship in the 3,000m steeplechase, earned First Team All-Conference USA, helped to get his team to a Conference USA Championship and many other individual accolades over his career. But the titles are certainly not the only plus. Within college athletics, it’s often that teams feel more like family than anything else and the same has been true for Coulter who found sort of a third family in his “Charlotte Track Squad.” A lot of wonderful things have come out of the opportunity that he had to come to Charlotte and prosper.

“It’s taught me to adapt. I’ve lived in Ethiopia and then I’ve lived [in North Carolina], so coming here, I’ve been introduced to different situations and different types of people so it’s definitely helped a lot. Having people here for you is something that’s amazing about being a part of this team and being here,” said Coulter.

Niners finish up regular season in Halton with a 59-46 win

With a small-but-mighty crowd in Halton Arena, the Charlotte 49ers (17-11, 9-7 C-USA) took on the Southern Miss Golden Eagles (17-12, 9-7 C-USA) on Thursday, March 7 in their final battle before the postseason ensues.

Charlotte began the night with starters Jade Phillips, Mariah Linney, Octavia Jett-Wilson and, of course, seniors Laia Raventós and Ka’Neeshia Brown, who scored the first two points of the night and the Niners’ first four.

After opening up the game at 4-4 less than three minutes into this Conference USA matchup, the Niners never fell below a tied score in the first quarter and would not do so for the entirety of the game. Conference USA Player of the Week Jade Phillips followed by kickstarting an 8-0 run for the Niners with a three. Phillips led her team for the night with 17 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals. 

“I wanted to win. I wanted to win for our seniors on this special night; especially for Laia and Ka’Neeshia. We talked about it in the locker room to come out with that mentality against Southern Miss because they are a great team, they played with a lot of urgency and we have to reflect that,” said Phillips. “So that was my mindset, was to come out and reflect the urgency and just play hard how we usually play and do it for our seniors as well, so that was my motivation for tonight.”

Octavia Jett-Wilson had her one and only assist of the game on Phillips’s first three of the night and also recorded eight points and a steal. Mariah Linney added 13 points, including three three-pointers as well as grabbing two rebounds, two assists and two steals.

Phillips garnered 10 of her 17 points just in the second quarter while Christian Hithe, Jett-Wilson and Brown also added buckets within the period. Hithe grabbed three rebounds and recorded one assists along with her single bucket that came before the half which saw a score of 37-20 with Charlotte ahead.

The Golden Eagles also had a player lead their team with 17 points in Shonte Hailes. Hailes also grabbed six rebounds, recorded two steals, one block and three steals. Southern Miss also had Respect Leaphart with 10 points, Kelsey Jones with eight and Amber Landing with six.

Southern Miss fought especially hard to get back into the game starting in the end of the third quarter after the Niners spent some time extending their lead. By the end of the third, Charlotte’s lead was cut to only nine points. Within the first four minutes of the final quarter the score was brought to 43-42 just before Raventós came in clutch with her first points of the night with a quick jumper and then again with a three. The Niners pulled out all the stops from then on, literally. Following the buckets from Raventós, Charlotte forced Southern Miss shot-clock violations. Linney, Raventós and Phillips put some more through the basket before Brown knocked the final shot down with a free throw to secure a win on senior night. The Niners finished the night with a 59-46 win over Southern Miss to take the No. 7 seed moving forward into the Conference USA Championships.

“We knew it was gonna be a tough game for her; she didn’t have her legs under her. She got great looks that if she was in a normal rhythm she would have made. That’s what Laiai is: she’s a competitor. And bottom line, at the end of the day, she wants to win. She knows when the team needs her, she’s gonna step up,” said Head Coach Cara Consuegra. “She got those great looks and it’s almost like she just rolled it into the basket. She wanted it more than anyone else and I know that this team is really happy for her.”

Going into the game, Southern Miss sat at a three-way tie for fourth in the conference with Charlotte right behind them as the lone team in fifth and finished the regular season tied with Southern Miss for fifth. 

A lot has changed for Charlotte from the beginning of the season to the now, and one thing that has remained the same is how badly they want to win. The difference now is that they have found ways to translate that into wins and garner a season-best five-game winning streak going into the postseason.

“Well, this game was important for a variety of reasons. We talked about it all week. We wanted to win our last game at home, wanted to keep our winning streak going, we wanted to play well. But most importantly, we wanted to win for our seniors and that was the focus of this group as we went out tonight.” said Consuegra.

Charlotte will face No. 10 seed LA Tech on Wednesday, March 13 at 2:30 p.m.

It’s just a special thing

On Tuesday, Feb. 12, the Charlotte 49ers Student-Athlete Advisory Committee was involved in something kind of special. For most of the day, the rotunda of the Popp Martin Student Union housed a few people with the Project Life Movement and Gift of Life bone marrow and blood stem cell registry.

Just about 30 years ago, this movement began in order to help connect volunteer donors with patients whose only hope may have been a bone marrow transplant. Now, in 2019 there are a number of universities involved in helping further this goal, including Charlotte.

It’s simple. You get in line, you scan a QR code and download an app, fill out some information, swab your cheeks and then you get to meet Carolina Panthers Linebacker Luke Kuechly. Well, that last part isn’t really always the case, but it was for a lot of Charlotte students last week.

It really is that simple though, just for you to be put on the list as the potential to help save someone’s life. By registering, you are put on a list as a donor to be contacted when you may be able to give someone that gift but are not required to do so.

Many students who jumped in line when they saw Kuechly may not have known what they were getting in line for at first but a great deal of Charlotte students had a big impact last week, including quite a few 49ers student-athletes.

“This definitely is great for us, we love serving the community and love helping in any way that we can. This is surely a bonus and this is not something that usually comes along with it, but it’s also great. Outside of practice and outside of competition, this is a great way for us to get hands-on and really help the community and do something for a larger cause,” said Sydney Blue, Women’s Track & Field athlete.

The Charlotte 49ers SAAC is a group that helps to encourage a great relationship between administration and student-athletes by demonstrating their own concerns or ideas about University policies and discussing NCAA and Conference USA policies as well. But this group of student-athletes also participate in a lot of community service opportunities.

“It’s great for them to see that it’s not just about them being a student-athlete. Even your all-star football players are out here doing things in the community just so that they can use their name and their platform to get other people in a certain spot so that more people can know about other things that are going on within our country, our community. And it’s just a good example for them to see Luke out here doing that,” said Chris Everett, Director of Student-Athlete Development.

Carolina Panther LB Luke Kuechly

Kuechly was there for a reason, aside from students being able to get their picture with them. This Carolina Panther became an ambassador for the program several years ago and considering how simple it is to get on the registry, he believes people should really rally around the movement.

“I got involved a couple years ago and it’s one of those things where it’s easy to get on the list, and the list provides an opportunity to save lives. And we’ve had a couple dinners the past few years and every year at the dinner they bring somebody in that’s a recipient and they also have the donor at the dinner, and it really shows the powerful connection that one person can have with another person’s life,” said Kuechly. “You get out and you can help the community, it’s just a special thing.”

Four things that are different about the Charlotte 49ers this season

There are quite a few things that have changed about men’s basketball since the 2017-18 season. For starters, they beat OK State in their second game this season in a Sports Center Top 10 moment with a play Niner Nation is very familiar with: a buzzer-beating, Jon Davis three.

Ron Sanchez

Obviously, there have been a lot of coaching changes for basketball in the past several years, but anyone that has been watching this team can see that the newest head coach, Ron Sanchez, is determined to help this program reach its full potential.

Prior to arriving at Charlotte, Sanchez spent 12 years as part of Tony Bennett’s staff at Washington State and Virginia. He spent the last three of those seasons as associate head coach at Virginia.

Head Coach Ron Sanchez

Sanchez and his staff have very evidently made a difference in how this team operates. Of course, there is always still progress to make, but it’s clear how much more these individuals play like a team than in the past few seasons. It’s about the whole as well as the pieces that make it up, not just the individuals. The Niners are working as a true team.

“You’ve got to be willing to dig in. When you feel like you don’t have anymore…dig in.” said Sanchez.

Jon Davis

It’s no secret that Davis has been a threat from all areas of the court for the Niners in his time here. But, not too long after this time last year, he declared for the NBA Draft and opted not to hire an agent in order to have the option to return to school for his final season. It seemed like with all of the coaching change drama that Charlotte might possibly be losing one of its staple players at the time, though that was never definite. The three-dropping guard attended camps and worked out in front of teams all across the country this past summer, including the 49ers’ neighbor, the Charlotte Hornets.

Being a college basketball player, especially at a division one school, a lot of people will have opinions about the decisions that an athlete makes but when it comes down to it, yet it’s not up to anyone other than the player themselves. Following Davis’s experience, it was eventually easy to see that he was learning things and growing as an individual talent, and that was especially evident at the start of the 2018-19 season.

“One thing that I did pick up is that in those NBA camps that I went to, everybody is of equal talent and that the separation between all the equally talented people is the little things. How you carry yourself, how you talk to people, the relationships that you build with people…how I address [the media] is a really big deal to them,” said Davis. “There’s more to a basketball player than meets the eye.”

Davis collected 24 double figure-scoring games last season including a career high and Halton Arena record of 38 points in a game against Marshall. Although he certainly has a scoring ability, he’s not stingy with the ball by any means, handing out 10 assists in three games.

So far this season, the guard has tallied 22 double figure-scoring games, including a game against Marshall in which he ended the game just one point shy of his career high. It’s no surprise he’s still letting the ball fall through the net, seemingly with ease. Aside from that, he’s dishing the ball out plenty as well, already tallying 87 assists so far this season.

Davis has grown tremendously as a player since the last season and it could be from a number of things, like the addition of what seems to be a pretty solid coaching staff, his time at the NBA camps, or something he’s been doing differently himself. Whatever it is, it shows.

Young team

Along with Sanchez’s direction, the leaders on the team have been working hard to steer the younger, less-experienced players the right way.

Of the 13 players, nine of them would be considered underclassmen and five of them have been consistently rotating for starting spots alongside Davis. The Niners have five freshmen this season, including Malik Martin who is the third leading scorer for the team and the leader in steals, in addition to Cooper Robb who is second on the team for assists with 31 and third on the team for steals.

The Niners have faced quite a few challenges in the past few seasons, and having such a young team this year is just one of them, but Charlotte has been working hard to make the most of their bench.

Sitting down on press row you can hear the conversations amongst fans. When certain players like these two freshmen or like Dravon Mangum or Brandon Younger are on the court and making good plays, especially this far into the season, the discussion often consists of realizing what year they are and being surprised or just sort of impressed that they are doing so well. Not that anyone usually expects one extreme or the other from a freshman at this level, whether it was being the least skilled on the team or the star player, it wouldn’t matter because what’s obvious about these young 49ers is that they are growing.

“It’s a group that really wants to please the coaching staff, so sometimes you design a play…and the right play is to go make your own play. That’s the balance there; they want to execute things correctly and that’s the part of the game that is not seen,” said Sanchez. “They’re not freshmen anymore. They have way too many games under their belts, way too many minutes. Now, it’s just growth.”

Niners huddle before tip-off

Playing together as a team and with a purpose

Last season, not entirely to their own fault, the team seemed to wait for the plays to happen or watch certain players as they made the plays and scored the baskets. Whatever may have been happening outside of game days, there didn’t seem to be enough unity on the court, at least not for a large part of the season.

This time last year, the Niners had a 5-19 record and finished the season with an overall record of 6-23. Currently, they have a 6-18 record.

“The way that we’re moving the ball, the way that we’re sharing the ball, I think we’re playing a game that you can see is five guys on the floor trying to be kind of unified, synchronized. We’re not trying to be one man show, and I think it’s really helping some of the guys.” said Sanchez.

The thing is, that’s truly the difference in the wins. The stats are spread out, there are more people contributing more points and the ball is moving more. Whether it was Davis or former 49er Andrien White, there tended to be a leading scorer and some other minimal helpers. Although, it isn’t every single game from last season that this is evident in. For instance, take the wins each season over ECU.

In 2017, Charlotte won 69-50 with White contributing 30 points and the second leading scorer, Austin Ajukwa scoring 14 points. This season, Charlotte came out on top over the Pirates with a 55-49 win and had three players in double digits. Davis led with 18, Martin followed with 13 and Milos Supica added 10. Just looking at games this season, there was the 84-85 loss against Marshall in which Davis nearly matched his career high, Supica collected 23 points and Brandon Younger also had 10.

And of course, the 66-64 win over OK State that set the tone for how badly this team wants to win. Davis dropped 27 points, Martin had 13 and Mangum had 12. On the other side of the ball, Supica grabbed 12 rebounds and Davis, Martin and Robb each pulled down five. Wins, losses, either way, the Niners are doing it as a team.

“We’re always trying to grow. Whether we win or we lose, [we’re] just genuinely trying to continue our journey as a group.” said Sanchez.

Three things to consider this softball season

Charlotte 49ers Softball has seen their share of ups and downs over the past few seasons. Putting on a fairly strong performance in 2017 and graduating no players, the bit of a flip-flop they experienced the next season wasn’t necessarily expected.

At the close of the 2017 season, Charlotte finished with a 30-23 record overall and won a whopping 19 games at home, only losing four. On the road though, they finished with a 7-13 record which isn’t unusual. 2017 saw a losing record just shy of a winning one, going 11-12 in Conference USA, but also made it into the postseason losing in the second round to LA Tech after pushing past North Texas.

With a fairly decent season in the books, it looked like they may be able to carry it over and improve in order to advance further into the postseason and maybe bump up some of their numbers throughout the season. On the contrary, it was a bit of a tough season for the ladies in green who went 18-32 overall and 9-15 in C-USA. These Niners just couldn’t maintain their drive into the next season, but what can happen for them to get it back in 2019? There are a few things, as there always are for any team to improve, that Charlotte will be considering this season.

Newcomers

There are six freshmen on this 2019 roster and of the six, four of them are North Carolina natives. Outfielder Anna Devereaux, hailing from Mocksville, N.C, holds her high school’s record for career at-bats and sits at second for career runs scored. Catcher Bailey Vannoy, coming from Rouse High School in Leander, Texas, garnered the Female Athlete of the Year title after spending her freshman season competing in varsity volleyball, track and baseball. In her sophomore and junior years, she was named the Rouse High School softball MVP and named First-Team All-District.

Catcher Paysia Reed, who went to Cox Mill High School, helped to lead her team to a conference championship in 2016 and was named All-Conference and All-District Player of the Year. Another N.C. native and an outfielder in Imani Rochelle was named All-Conference Player of the year each of her four years at Heritage High School. Maggie Cannon, a pitcher from Salisbury, Md, earned Player of the Year three times and was a four-time MVP and four-time First-Team All-Conference.

Reagan Thompson, a pitcher and a leader behind the plate, comes from High Point, N.C. and was awarded NFCA All-State and All-District both in 2015 and 2017. Each of these young women brings something special to Charlotte including a drive and passion for the game seen in many of the returning players as well. The Niners will just need to continue their gold standard as a team this season.

Experience

Although 2017 saw no graduates, the 2018 season ended with a walk-off win against USM to send out seven Charlotte 49ers in style.

Aside from the fact that there are seven returning seniors, there’s also been a familiar face added to Charlotte’s coaching staff. Haley Pace, who graduated last year, was added to serve as a student assistant coach this season. Pace saw starts in every game of her playing career and set the bar high for batting average, slugging percentage and hits as well as RBI and home runs. Head Coach Aimee DeVos and her staff are looking forward to having someone of Pace’s caliber and experience staying with the program.

Becca Shipper who was second on the team with 25 runs has graduated out of the Charlotte program and Pace who was tied for first with 27 runs has also graduated, which leaves Kiersten Berrier who also recorded 27 runs last season. The Niners may still need some players to step up and push out some more runs this season. Jude McGough recorded 16 runs last season and a returning senior in Meredith Harris recorded 14, so she would be a name to watch this season as well.

Haley Wiseman pitched for 191 strikeouts, and following her was Alison Green who recorded 26, Carson Pace who recorded 22 and Lauren Riley who pitched for 15. Each of those Niners, aside from Wiseman who graduated, are returning this season; Pace and Green for their junior seasons and Riley for her senior year.

Of the six leaders in hits last season sat Harris, Berrier and Emma Ocker, another returning senior who recorded 35 hits. Bethany Doty started 33 of 39 games players and tallied eight walks and seven runs scored. Lizzy Birch started 40 of 44 games played and eight RBI, 10 walks and a career-high seven doubles.

Of the seven seniors this season — Riley, Berrier, Harris, Ocker, Doty, Birch and Alex Paulson — there is so much diverse talent and potential leadership returning to Sue M. Daughtridge Stadium this year in the senior class alone.

Capitalizing away and in conference

Of the Niners’ 15 conference losses in 2018, eight of them were on the opposing team’s turf and most of them, though not all, were within four runs. The home losses were sometimes a little tougher to take, with a 0-7 loss to USM, an 0-12 loss to FAU and 4-13 and 2-11 losses to LA Tech. Of course, LA Tech tends to be around the top of the conference, having prevailed as conference champions in 2017.

In 2018 though, Middle Tennessee saw their first conference championship and Charlotte certainly held their own with the Blue Raiders during the regular season. In an away three-game series, the Niners lost the first two games, only falling 0-1 and 2-4 and winning the final contest 4-1.

Of course, the Blue Raiders fought long and hard to even get to the postseason and saw a much different 2017 season than their conference championship-winning 2018 season. Although Charlotte has a better history in the postseason, it’s possible this season wouldn’t have to be much different for the Niners than last season was for Middle Tennessee.

At least holding their own against LA Tech, if not taking them down, would be ideal for Charlotte as well as continuing to consistently garner wins in conference over North Texas, USM and Middle Tennessee.

Charlotte will look to utilize their new and old talent and start the season off strong on Thursday, Feb. 7 in Phoenix, Arizona at 7 p.m. as a part of the GCU Kickoff Tournament.

What’s not to love?

Of the many things that Charlotte has to offer, both the city and the University are the top contenders. However, some might say that Will Healy, Charlotte’s newest head football coach, is now on that list.

After more than seven years with the Charlotte 49ers and accepting the challenge of beginning a division one football program, Brad Lambert coached his final game as 49ers head coach and was sent out with a deserved win and a gatorade bath. 

Of course, whenever a big change such as this is made, it affects a lot of people, including the players. Many of the Niners showed up to Healy’s first Charlotte Football press conference to shake hands with their new coach, but a week and a half prior, they were celebrating a big win and celebrating Lambert — the man and coach that he was to them. Several of the 49ers took to social media to say thank you to Lambert after the win over FAU.

Tweet from running back Calvin Camp

Tweet from quarterback Chris Reynolds

Tweet from defensive end Alex Highsmith

“Both of them are great coaches. Coach Lambert definitely knew what he was doing. I feel like Coach Healy might have a recruiting edge and I’m just excited to see what he brings to the table.” said running back Benny LeMay.

Less than two weeks later, Healy was introduced at a press conference which essentially lasted about an hour — and not by any means because he was boring those in attendance. Healy had a lot of good things to say as did Athletic Director Mike Hill.

“Clearly a rising star, a proven recruiter, a proven developer of talent, a man of high character and integrity, and someone who values culture. I think what we got in Will Healy is this: Will Healy reflects our program and our institution. He is a young, hungry up-and-comer and a force to be reckoned with. He is gonna kill it in recruiting, I’m just telling ya; mark my words, he is going to kill it in recruiting. And he is going to make our football program a major factor in this city, in this state and in our conference.” said Hill.

With someone new in the head coaching position, it’s common that the rest of the coaching staff sees changes as well and sure enough, come fall 2019, Charlotte fans will see an entirely new coaching lineup on the sidelines, including some of Healy’s former staff at Austin Peay. Meanwhile, the players themselves will get acquainted with the coaches for the start of the 2019 season.

“I feel really good about it. I feel like Coach Healy brings a lot of energy and I feel like he’s excited to get here, and you want someone who’s gonna be here like we have [had] in the past and like we’ll have now.” said defensive back Ben DeLuca.

But what’s so great about Charlotte? Why should we be intrigued by this program? Why are we bothering to write about it? Less than 48 hours after accepting the job, Healy already knew and was convinced of why well before being offered the job.

As mentioned before, the press conference introducing Healy to Niner Nation was far from boring and was actually captivating.

“This place is a goldmine. What you have in front of you, I don’t know if even you understand the potential of this place. I promise you when we have opportunities to bring recruits on this campus…people will fall in love when they drive through the gates. The vision, the excitement, the opportunities that this campus and this football program have are through the roof,” said Healy. “And I am so fortunate and lucky…to have a chance to be the head football coach here because this place is going to be really special.”

Healy told Hill he would’ve walked all the way to Charlotte from Chattanooga just to have an opportunity to talk about this job. That kind of passion about this program is what he hopes to help build.

As far as looking ahead for this program, Charlotte may still have a lot of work to do. Although they have always had heart for the game, fans got to really see more of that this past season.

“I think you look at the character of a team through the adversity that they went through,” said Healy. “Defensively, it’s one of the best turnarounds in college football this year, but I think you went from an opportunity where you hoped you could win to now they expect to win. So, I think the foundation has been laid to take the next step and do it in a hurry.”

It was a season of record-breaking, lightning delays and a season full of examples as to why this team and Charlotte, overall, is such a special place and program. Much like Healy, the football program is young and growing and has so much passion within.