Sam Palian

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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.

Niners hire Will Healy as 49ers head coach

Mike Hill and Charlotte Athletics have officially hired their new head football coach, Will Healy.

“When we set out to hire a coach, our goal was to find someone who will energize and transform the 49ers into a championship program. Will is that man. Across the country, he is recognized as one of the top up-and-coming coaches in the nation,” said Hill. “His name came up time and again throughout our search as someone who is a relentless, proven recruiter who has seen remarkable success.”

Healy, National FCS Coach of the Year, will become the second youngest head coach in the FBS at 33-years old. Healy spent the last three years as head coach of the Austin Peay Governors in Tennessee.

The now Charlotte 49ers head coach led the Governors to what is considered to be “one of the great turnarounds in college football history.”

In his first season with the Governors in 2016, Healy was named Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year and under his hand, six players garnered all-conference honors as well as his quarterback Jeremiah Oatsvall being named Freshman of the Year.

In 2017, the Governors were ranked sixth nationally and set a school record with 3,105 rushing yards. Austin Peay also set records for rushing touchdowns, total offensive yards and total touchdowns. At the end of the season, despite missing the postseason, Healy received more accolades including Roy Kidd Coach of the Year from the Ohio Valley Conference.

In his most recent season, the Govs went 5-6 overall to give themselves two five-win seasons in a row for the first time since 1984-85.

Prior to coaching at Austin Peay, Healy spent time as an assistant coach at Chattanooga where he helped lead them to multiple Southern Conference Championships and the FCS Playoffs multiple times.

During his tenure with the Mocs, he served as quarterback coach, wide receiver coach, passing-game coordinator and recruiting coordinator for the Mocs.

While serving as quarterback coach in 2009, he worked with BJ Coleman, who would become a seventh-round selection of the Green Bay Packers in the 2012 NFL Draft.

Healy himself was a Tennessee “Mr. Football” finalist as a senior and holds the Chattanooga area career passing record with more than 7,700 yards. The University of Richmond 2008 graduate held a position as team captain that year.

The Charlotte 49ers welcome Healy, his wife Emily and their son Eli, as well as the child they are currently expecting.

“In my first conversation with Mike Hill, I told him that I would walk to Charlotte to talk to him about this job. This is a special place – a young football program with tremendous University leadership located in a first-class city. We can recruit and develop excellent student-athletes here and we can compete at a very high level,” said Healy. “I can’t wait to get started.”

Wrapping it up

Men’s Soccer

After falling to Kentucky in the Conference USA Championship and  making it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, No. 14 Charlotte finished with a 14-5-2 record overall, 6-2 in the conference and were nearly undefeated on their own turf at Transamerica Field with an 11-1-1 record at home.

Niners celebrate following win over Georgia State in first round of NCAA Tournament

The men saw five All-State honors with Callum Montgomery, Elliot Panicco, Tommy Madden and Teddy Chaouche earning spots on the North Carolina Collegiate Sports Information Association First Team and Daniel Bruce garnering a spot on the second team.

Seven players earned All-Conference USA honors including Preston Popp and Delasi Batse who both garnered spots on the All-Freshman Team. Montgomery, Panic and Madden were each tabbed to the First Team while Bruce and Chaouche earned places on the Second Team.

Instrumental players like Panicco collected multiple Defensive Player of the Week accolades and Montgomery also earned C-USA All-Academic Team honors. Seniors Montgomery, Bruce and Dean Rutherford each played their last season donning a Charlotte 49ers jersey.

Cross Country

2018-19 Cross Country Squad

Redshirt senior Tom Nobles crossed the finish line yet again to claim the individual 2018 Air Force Reserve Conference USA Cross Country Championship, while the men’s team finished as runner-up. Bridget Abbatiello led the women to a fifth place overall finish, setting a new personal-best and finishing 14th individually.

Alex Cornwell and Matt Bomkamp both had top-20 finishes while Todd Gunzenhauser and Joseph Wilson finished in the top-30. On the women’s side, Katie Tomasi finished 16th and Chandler Horton finished 21st. Taylor Brown and Erin Nelson were next up, finishing 32nd and 42nd, respectively.

A whopping eight Niners were named to All-Conference USA Teams. Nobles and Paul Arredondo were placed on the First Team while Zach Marchinko and Abbatiello were named to the Second Team. On the C-USA Third Team were Tomasi, Horton, Bomkamp and Cornwell.

With the men finishing seventh in the NCAA Southeast Regional, Nobles finished 17th and Marchinko finished 22nd. Cornwell placed 37th, Arredondo placed 66th and Bomkamp placed 80th. The women finished 20th with Tomasi finishing 66th, Abbatiello finishing 76th and Horton finishing 88th.

Football

This year was quite an interesting season for the Niners who finished with their best record since the team was established at 5-7 and 4-4 in C-USA and since parting ways with head coach Brad Lambert who took on the task of starting a football program in 2011.

2018 49ers Football Seniors

It was a big year for the additions to the Charlotte 49ers record book as players like Benny LeMay, Juwan Foggie, Alex Highsmith, Jonathan Cruz and countless others saw plenty of impressive accomplishments on and off the field.

Senior linebacker Juwan Foggie finished Charlotte’s season as the nation’s leader in interceptions with six interceptions and 186 interception yards and returned two of them for touchdowns.

Senior offensive lineman Nate Davis accepted an invitation to the Reese’s Senior Bowl in January and is a nominee for 2018 All-Conference USA First Team honors.

LeMay had quite the breakout junior year and finished the season ranked second in C-USA rushing yards with 1,228, becoming the first 49er with 1,000 rushing yards at the FBS level and the second all-time for the Niners with 1,055 rushing yards in the 2018 season.

Highsmith, who earned Defensive Player of the Week after helping the Niners hold Tennessee to a 192 yards of total offense, was named to to the Pro Football Focus National Defensive Team of the Week in the final week of the season. The defensive end was also named the College Sports Madness Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week, following the Niners’ final game of the season against FAU.

True freshman Cruz earned his third and the final Conference USA Special Teams Play of the Week after kicking a career-best 56-yard field goal to seal the deal for Charlotte in their 27-24 win over FAU.

Redshirt junior defensive end Tyriq Harris named to 2018 InTouch Credit Union Conference USA All-Academic Team and to the Google Cloud Academic all-District 3 first team selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America.

After many accolades and a record-breaking season for not only the team but many individual players as well, the Charlotte 49ers await a new head coach and bid farewell to as many as 18 seniors.

Women’s Soccer

Charlotte 49ers huddle

Charlotte finished the season without an appearance in the postseason and 8-9 overall record as well as a record of 4-6 in the conference.

It seemed that what the girls were missing this season was a concrete goal-scorer. Megan Greene, who was tabbed the All-Conference USA’s First Team, led the team with eight.

Riley Orr was added to the Second Team and Julia Grainda to the Third Team. Freshman Sandra Geiselshart was named to Conference USA’s All-Freshman Team.

Greene and Grainda were both recognized as members of the InTouch Credit Union All-Conference USA Academic First Teams, and Jamie Fankhauser was placed on the Second Team.

Greene and Orr were named to the North Carolina Collegiate Sports Information Association First Team while Grainda was named to the Second Team.

Juniors Greene and Orr were also tabbed to the United Soccer Coaches All-South Region Teams; Green to the third and Orr to the second.

Aside from the accolades, the Niners pressed on but simply could not capitalize. The girls will begin preparation for the 2019 season and return to the field in the spring. Abby Coffey and Amelia Clower played their final season as Charlotte 49ers.

Volleyball

Niners huddle before a serve

The Charlotte 49ers fell in their final match against Rice in the first round of the conference tournament, finishing with a 16-15 overall record and were 6-8 in Conference USA.

Yumi Garcia was tabbed to the All-Conference USA First Team while her teammates Jocelyn Stoner, Reeana Richardson and Tyra Galloway were named to the second team. Galloway and Nya Steele were placed on the All-Conference USA Freshman Team.

Garcia was also named as the conference’s Libero of the Year and Galloway as Defensive Player of the Year. Stoner was placed on C-USA’s All-Academic Team while Steele was chosen as the final Setter of the Week.

The Niners graduate Richardson and Jannelle Curtiss.

A Lynx in the Mines

How many division one assistant coaches can say they spent their summer donning a jersey for WNBA championship franchise, the Minnesota Lynx? Just one. Of course, that’s not necessarily what she had planned.

Tanisha Wright inked a free agent deal with the Lynx following the completion of her first season as an assistant coach for the Charlotte 49ers and spent the summer playing for the four-time WNBA Champions. The 2010 WNBA Champion is now a 13-year veteran and continues to help coach the Niners, constantly perfecting her craft both on the sidelines and on the court.

Wright earned a degree intending to become a teacher following school, never expecting to have the length of a basketball career that she has. Certainly, though, she’s incredibly thankful to have been given the opportunities that she has had and to still be playing, and now coaching, as well.

“The staff and everybody was super, super great. It was awesome. I couldn’t have asked for a better response to my wanting to go back and play and again; that’s just a testament to Cara and her leadership here. They say the first thumb of being a good leader is being a good servant, and she really wanted to allow me to be able to do that for me and my career,” said Wright. “The assistant coaches…the staff…everybody really allowed me to go and do that and kept up with me throughout the year. Even the players; the girls were excited about it too, so I really couldn’t have asked for a better situation than the one that I’ve been in and that I’m in now, and was able to be in for that opportunity.”

Wright was an incredible force for the Seattle Storm and that’s not just based upon her 2,591 points. She led the team in free throw percentage in the 2009, 2011 and 2012 seasons as well as in steals in the 2009 and 2012 seasons. Wright spent the two seasons prior to signing on to Charlotte in 2017 with the New York Liberty, where she ended the 2015 season as the leader in assists with 119.

As a testament to her skill on the court, she was selected to the WNBA All-Defensive Team seven times over the course of her career, including to the Second Team in each of her two seasons with the Liberty.

“I think it adds to her knowledge of the game especially. I know there are a lot of coaches that haven’t really played basketball and they don’t really know a lot, but she has a great understanding of the game by itself and she always knows what’s gonna happen here, and as far as her coaching us, she tells us what’s going to be here for the future, how they work out or if we’re having a bad day in the gym or something. She kind of knows what to do to help. I feel like she puts all of her experience into her coaching.” said sophomore guard, Octavia Jett-Wilson.

The guard played for Penn State from 2002-05 before being drafted No. 12 by the Storm, becoming the highest drafted player in Lady Lions history.

Among her many accolades as a Lady Lion were three All-Big Ten First Team honors, being named to the All-Big Ten Tournament Team in 2002 and 2003, becoming the first player to receive back-to-back Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors in  2003 and 2004, and then earning the Big Ten title once again in her senior year. Wright also helped the U.S. Young Women’s National Team to claim a gold medal in 2003.

Guard, Tanisha Wright.

Charlotte 49ers head coach, Cara Consuegra, found her first job out of college in Penn State’s director of operations from 2001 to 2004 and hired Wright as an assistant coach for the Niners just thirteen years later in September of 2017.

“I’ve known T. since she was 18 years old, so I felt very comfortable in knowing who she is, what she values and what she could bring to the team. So, it was an easy decision. I think first and foremost, she’s a great person, and I knew that she would fit in with our culture of wanting to grow young women into awesome adults and that she would be able to contribute to that,” said Consuegra. “But I also know that she always played with such a high competitiveness and passion for the game, and those are the types of coaches I want around us and that’s somebody that’s going to compete, that’s gonna work hard, that’s gonna prepare the right way in order to prepare our young ladies because they love the game. And that’s all Tanisha.”

The Niners came out of a tough 7-8 preseason last year and turned it around into their best Conference USA finish since rejoining in the 2013-14 season, finishing with a third-place tie and a 10-6 record. Currently, the Niners boast a young team, a deep bench and a 4-1 record with seven non-conference games to go until Charlotte’s Conference USA season begins in January.

“I think she had an immediate impact because, obviously, she brought a lot of credit to who she is and the type of player she was to our team initially from just being a WNBA player. But, also her personality, you know. I mean, right away our kids gravitated to her,” said Consuegra. “And I’d say probably the biggest impact right away was just teaching them another level, right? I mean, as coaches, we can harp on them about their work ethic and what they put into it and the extra work they do. But, Tanisha lived it; she lived it for 12-13 years in the league and she played at the highest level, so who better to explain that or to show you the way than somebody who’s been in the shoes that you may want to be in? So, I think that just creating that type of mindset of what it takes to be the best, what it takes to be a pro…I think that she was able to instill that right away.”

Having tremendous experience, Wright translates her skill on the court to her skill in coaching as well. Overseeing guards and helping them to improve every day, Wright’s passion for getting better personally reflects on the players in an abundance of ways.

“As a coach, I think she really pushes us to our full potential, and even when we’re practicing, if there’s something she thinks we could’ve done better, she tells you. She takes the time, as far as with me and with everybody else too, she really takes the time to get everybody to work out if we need to work out with her,” said Jett-Wilson. “And just as a person, I feel like she’s really caring. Even aside from basketball, she really cares about what we do outside of basketball, how we take care of our bodies and school. I know she stays on top of me about my school; she’s always asking me and she’s just genuinely a good person to be around.”

Much like Jett-Wilson describes, Wright makes a point to be an outstanding coach in and out of the arena. Even during her most recent stint with the Lynx, the assistant coach has made it her mission to give the Charlotte 49ers her very best.

“Typically, I’m a person that doesn’t really keep up with people very much, even my friends. They know that, but we all have those great relationships where you pick up right where you left off. But, I made a real conscious effort this year to stay in touch with all of the girls throughout the summer, and I was able to do that. And I really found myself missing them, like really missing them, and reaching out to them. I really just missed being around them and the opportunity to really help them grow and to teach them.” said Wright.

This past year, Wright coupled her passion for the game with her love for each player that steps a foot in the Charlotte 49ers locker room each and every day.

Niners fall on the road in second round of NCAA Tournament

After a 14-5-2 season (11-1-1 at home) and hard-fought battles in the postseason, four Charlotte 49er seniors have reached the end of their collegiate careers, helping their team finish as the No. 14 team in the country.

“Those four have been unbelievable seniors,” said head coach, Kevin Langan. “Tommy Madden has had an unbelievable career here and will go down as one of our best ever midfielders. Callum Montgomery, a four-year starter for us, is another player that is going to be a benchmark for the centerbacks who come through the program. Daniel Bruce, who unfortunately couldn’t play tonight, is just a wonderful example of perseverance and playing hard every day. And Dean Rutherford stuck with it and really worked hard.”

Defense proved to be an incredible factor in yet another game for the Niners as the first half ended scoreless and with the Hokies taking only one shot and the 49ers taking just two. After just over 21 minutes, Virginia Tech goalkeeper Mathijs Swaneveld had to make his first save of the game when Joe Brito fired a shot toward the goal.

Kristo Strickler scored the first and only goal of the game for the Hokies. Up next, Maclean Holbrook, Madden and Montgomery each had good opportunities to score that would still go without a Niner goal.

By the end of the match, the Niners led in shots 9-7 and Brito and Patrick Hogan each tabbed two shots while Holbrook, Montgomery, Madden, Teddy Chaouche and Luke Vallone also added one shot each.

“We are absolutely devastated,” said Langan. “We thought we did enough to win the game. We opened them up four or five times in the second half and I am proud of the guys for sticking to the game plan. It’s one of those games where we feel like we didn’t lose the game, we just ran out of time.”

Photo by Chris Crews

Lambert no longer to serve as head coach

Brad Lambert, who has been Charlotte Football’s only head coach, will coach his final game with the Niners against FAU next week. Athletic Director Mike Hill announced this afternoon that Charlotte will be parting ways with Lambert.

“It is a decision I made after an opportunity to assess my first football season here. It’s about the trajectory of the program and putting us in the best position for the future,” said Hill.

Although Lambert began as the program’s first head coach, he won only 21 of 69 games in his six years on the sidelines at both the FCS and FBS levels, seeing a 1-11 record in the 2017 season.

It can’t be known for sure whether a bowl game would have solidified another year for the head coach or not, but the 2018 season alone certainly was not enough.

Following the loss to FIU on senior day, a game that could have put Charlotte on track to be bowl game eligible, Lambert was clearly disappointed for his team.

“It’s always a tough locker room when you’ve got to look those seniors in the eye and we didn’t get to where we wanted to go, so it’s tough,” said Lambert. “It hurts so bad when you don’t get it for them because you know what kind of people they are.”

For Lambert, this applies to more than just the loss to FIU. Chancellor Philip Dubois and Hill will begin the search for a new head coach immediately and Lambert will see his last game as 49er head coach on Saturday, Nov. 24 at 6 p.m.

“We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Coach Lambert for the foundation he established, the culture that he built and the student-athletes he brought into our program,” said Hill. “Like many of his players, he took a tremendous leap of faith when he took on the challenge of building our program. Our program is on solid ground thanks, in large part, to the love and effort he consistently put into developing our student-athletes.”

Photo by Chris Crews

Niners advance to second round of NCAA Tournament

In the first round of the NCAA tournament, on a cold and wet evening, Charlotte (14-4-2) managed to advance over Georgia State (11-6-3) by way of penalty kicks in order to continue playing college soccer this season. Finishing 110 minutes of play tied 2-2 with only 24 shots to the Panthers’ 21, the Niners simply found a way after such a close and intense game of soccer.

“We expected a full battle from Charlotte and we certainly got that. I feel like we gave that as well,” said Georgia State head coach Brett Surrency. “It’s the NCAA Tournament, so it’s just survive and advance, you know, so you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to try and get through. But, you just have to find a way if you want to continue to play; and credit to Charlotte tonight, they found that way and they’ll move on.”

Quite early in the game, before the first 10 minutes had even passed, Dean Rutherford gave Charlotte the first score of the game assisted by Daniel Bruce. Shortly before the half ended, the Panthers tied it up with a goal by Aris Briggs, off of a ball from Hannes Burmeister.

In the 25th minute of the second half, Delasi Batse played a ball into the box and Daniel Bruce put it in the net to bring the score to 2-1 Charlotte. Not too long after the goal was scored, Bruce would receive his second yellow card of the night, now forced to leave the Niners a man down on the field. Georgia State would find the opportunity to tie up the score yet again and send the game into overtime periods.

Overtime went much like regulation time did. The Panthers and the Niners both put on the pressure the entirety of the night both offensively and defensively, not really missing a beat, and the score remained 2-2, sending the game into penalty kicks.

Up first for the Niners was Callum Montgomery to send his goal into the back of the net, giving the Niners a 1-0 advantage to start. The Panthers’ first attempt by George Proctor would hit the left post and next up for Charlotte would be Maclean Holbrook who would also manage to connect and give Charlotte a 2-0 advantage. Max Hemmings would send a shot high for the Panthers leaving Charlotte to continue on with the only penalty kicks made going into the third round. Tommy Madden took the next shot and forced Liam Fitzsimmons to make his shot and he also sent it high, allowing the Niners to win the shootout and advance to the second round.

“I’m just so happy to still be playing college soccer,” said Montgomery. “That was definitely an up and down game, but I thought it was unbelievable; we found a way to win and we came together. And the fans were unbelievable tonight; their support was amazing.“

Charlotte will travel to Virginia Tech (10-6-3) to play the Hokies on Sunday, Nov. 18 at 3 p.m. Virginia Tech is ranked 10th nationally and beat Charlotte 3-2 in their last meeting in 2016.

“I think we’re battle-tested, we’re battle-hardened and we have unbelievable experience just from these last eight days. This is our fourth knockout game and we’ve won in overtime now, we’ve won in pk’s, rallied from being behind, and in the final, we pushed the team all the way, so we have some unbelievable experience,” said Langan. “The key thing now is just to regenerate and to recover and this is a fit group. This is a really strong group; we could probably play every second day if we had to, so no worries there. We’ll patch up, see who’s healthy and spend two days getting ready, and then we can’t wait for Sunday.”

Photo by Chris Crews

Heating up

The Charlotte 49ers women’s basketball team hit a new stride last season, finding their highest Conference USA finish since rejoining the conference for the 2013-14 season. That 2017-18 group of Niners reached double-digit wins within their conference, accumulating the longest sheet in program history.

During the preseason last year, the program challenged itself with a tough non-conference schedule to go into conference play with a 4-10 record; 5-10 if the exhibition game against Coker to begin the season is considered. The Niners started off conference play with a telling win over Southern Miss and went on to finish with a tie for third in the regular season for Conference USA with a record of 10-6.

Following the regular season, Charlotte faced North Texas, who they had seen earlier in the season and lost to 73-68, in their conference tournament and fell 58-55 in the first round. Anyone who followed the game as it was happening would know how intense the play was and how much harder that made it, but none knew better than seniors Amaya Ransom, Nyilah Jamison-Myers and Jada Martin.

These seniors would realize that those were their last moments on the court as active Charlotte Forty-Niners, taking their sweat-soaked jerseys off at the end of the game for the last time, waiting for Consuegra and the rest of the staff to make their way to the locker room.

Both the guards and the forward were vital parts of the Niners’ presence in college basketball. Jamison-Myers was named a member of the All-Conference USA Defensive Team, finishing the year with 67 blocks and 109 in here two years as an active 49er, as well as netting her 1,000th career point last season. The Charlotte alum went on to play overseas, having signed with BLK Slavia Praha in the Czech Republic, becoming the fifth player to play professionally after having played under Consuegra.

Jada Martin, who walked on to the team before the 2016-17 season began, was a player that brought high energy to the program and quickly exhibited the Niners’ values of “HEART.” Martin proved herself in practices right off the bat, wanting to be better and was soon awarded a scholarship for her senior season as a Charlotte 49er. The walk-on guard contributed 150 minutes of playing time, scored all of her 17 points in her second year and snatched 13 rebounds.

Ransom will also be a force deeply missed, but even more so for the Charlotte offense, having scored 340 of the Niners’ 1,965 points scored over the course of the 2017-18 season. Ransom scored the majority of her career baskets during her senior year, scoring only double digits in each season prior.

To accommodate for Ransom’s graduation, Laia Raventós is now in her senior year. The guard from Santa Eulàlia de Riuprimer, Spain finished her junior season with 428 points scored. Aside from the numbers in the points column, Raventós also added 176 assists, remaining a team-oriented player. She was named Preseason All-Conference USA and was also named to the All-Conference USA Team at the end of the 2017-18 season. In the summer of 2017, Raventós added a gold medal to her accolades as a member of the Spain team that grabbed the 2017 FIBA U20 European Championship title. As a leader who has become more vocal, more comfortable and more confident in what she can do, she is sure to continue to be a driving force for the Niners.

Octavia Jett-Wilson will be returning the court as another explosive body for Charlotte for her sophomore season. Jett-Wilson collected three Conference USA Freshman of the Week honors and was named to the All-Conference USA Freshman Team at the end of her first season as a Niner. The guard from Greenbelt, Maryland heated up the net with her free throws and dropped a total of 304 points by the end of the 2017-18 season.

Another sophomore approaching the 2017-18 season is Mariah Linney, who also earned a Conference USA Freshman of the Week title. Linney put 186 in the points column, grabbing 62 total rebounds and collecting 54 assists to begin her Charlotte 49er career. The guard from Goose Creek’s State Championship team left her high school career with many recognitions for her skill, including High School Sports Report’s Miss Basketball for South Carolina. Linney has grown more and more comfortable with collegiate level play and is sure to show it this year.

Junior Lauren Harley broke out into the game this past season, seeing her first two career starts, playing in 22 games and accumulating 62 of her 68 career points in her sophomore season. Lyrissa Deans played 47 minutes in her first year and collected her first two career rebounds and six rebounds, and will be beginning her sophomore season looking to show Niner Nation just how hard she’s been working with her team.

Redshirt junior Dara Pearson returns as that force on a team who does the most, putting forth her best effort with every movement and changing the feeling on the court as soon as she steps away from the score table and onto the floor. Pearson collected six double-doubles in the 2017-18 season, partly associated with her ability to crash the boards, having grabbed 257 rebounds last season with 167 of them being defensive.

Ka’Neeshia Brown will be starting her senior year alongside Raventós after pulling down her first five rebounds and putting up her first two points as a Niner. With these things in mind, Brown will be a powerhouse to look for in the paint.

Another bright spot for the Niners is not just a single player, but the roster as a whole. Charlotte is set to begin the 2018-19 season with a full, active 13-person roster. The bench will be deep with a roster that Consuegra feels confident she’ll be able to draw from. With four new freshmen learning quickly, and redshirt junior Jade Phillips and redshirt sophomore Christian Hithe ready for action, there’s no doubt the 49ers will be ready to give it their all out of the gate.

Aside from the names on the roster, there is still that coaching staff section to look into. Consuegra, who has the second-most winningest record in program history, currently stands with a 126-91 game record and is entering her eighth season as the Niners’ head coach. The Iowa basketball graduate led the 49ers to their best finish in Conference USA since returning to the conference in the 2013-14 season, ending the 2017-2018 season with their aforementioned third-place tie.

Consuegra keeps the program dedicated and hard-working with the help of each and every body that steps in and out of the gym by holding the core values of “HEART.” Those core values remain as Heart, Effort, Accountability, Respect and Toughness, and each one represents what it means to be a Charlotte 49er.

Alongside Consuegra are assistant head coach Joanne Aluka-White, assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Nicole Woods and assistant coach Tanisha Wright. Each of these women brings something different to the table, Aluka-White having played for Nigeria in the 2004 Summer Olympics where the team would garner the country’s first ever win in an Olympic game. Woods was a firecracker in her day, finishing out her single-season playing professionally as the second leading scorer for the Nottingham Wildcats and becoming the first ever women’s player at Belmont Abbey to have her jersey honored, in 2013. Wright remains the highest-drafted player from Penn State for the WNBA and before joining the 49ers coaching staff she concluded her 12th season in the league. Deciding she wasn’t done just yet, Wright signed a free-agent deal with the championship franchise, the Minnesota Lynx, after the Niners’ 2017-18 season.

With coaches like these, who work to exhibit “HEART” themselves as leaders, Charlotte 49ers are eager to begin what looks to be quite the season, beginning with an exhibition matchup on Saturday, Nov. 3 at 4 p.m. against Chowan in Halton Arena.

Catching you up

Where we stand

The Charlotte 49ers have been making strides this season, reaching heights that only attest to how badly they want it.

“We know we’ve got a lot to prove this year. With a season going 1-11, you definitely want to keep it in your rearview mirror, that way you see it everywhere you go. You never want to just let it go, you use that as motivation,” said running back Benny LeMay. “We’re going to do everything we can to fill the stadium.”

The 2017 season was not exactly something to be proud of, but the Niners certainly learned a lot about who they want to be, made a few changes, and have been working harder than ever.

“Coming off of the season we had last year, you wouldn’t expect us to have this type of energy from everybody on both sides of the ball and that’s really big coming from the summer that we had. That’s going to carry into the season and hopefully, we’ll turn this season around and have a winning season,” said linebacker Juwan Foggie.

They don’t quite have a winning season yet, but the Niners hold a 3-4 record overall and a 2-2 record in Conference USA with home conference wins over Old Dominion and Western Kentucky and a win over Fordham to start off the 2018 season.

Charlotte enjoys several names regularly appearing in the postgame reports nearly every weekend, including those such as LeMay, Foggie, Jeff Gemmell and QB Chris Reynolds, prior to his injury during the win against Western Kentucky.

Senior Foggie has caught not only one, but four interceptions in his linebacker position so far this season, having run one of them into the end zone for a return TD and using each of them to help put the Niners in scoring position. Foggie shares No. 2 in interceptions in the NCAA rankings with several other athletes at four interceptions so far this year. He also solely claims the No. 5 spot in interception return yards with 100 yards.

Another LB, Gemmell, is sitting at sitting at sixth in Conference USA with 8.8 tackles per game and 49 solo tackles overall. Just ahead of him is teammate Ben DeLuca resting at fourth with 9.8 tackles per game and 56 solo tackles overall. Foggie, Anthony Butler and Ed Rolle also appear in the top 50 within the conference.

Something else the Niners can easily boast this season is their rushing game, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

The Rushing Game

The Charlotte Forty-Niners currently stand ranked at No. 6 in the FBS in rushing defense, putting them in front of programs like National Champions Clemson and Alabama and previous opponent Appalachian State. Of course, this is just one area of the game, but the Niners are certainly working to show what they can do this season.

The 49ers lead the conference in rush defense and have held their opponents to no more than 84.14 rushing yards per game, allowing the most of 142 yards to Massachusetts and the most to a conference opponent of 123 by ODU.

Offensively, LeMay rushed for 135 yards in the first game of the season against Fordham and has since rushed two more 100-yard games, including two conference games back-to-back, becoming the first 49er to do so.

The powerhouse junior running back currently ranks second in C-USA and 27th in the NCAA with a rushing yards average of 94.9 and ranks second in C-USA and 25th in all-purpose yards.

LeMay has accumulated 1,571 career rushing yards and sitting at 664 rushing yards, he is only 68 short of reaching his career-high from the 2017 season of 732.

“I’m tired of being at the end of the rope, and we really want to show people that we can be top contenders in this league,” said LeMay.

The Quarterback Question

To Charlotte’s dismay, there has been a lot of back and forth since the 2017 season ended about who would find themselves in the 49er pocket.

Given the Niners’ record of 1-11, obviously many changes, including those to the coaching staff, were made between then and now.

QB Hasaan Klugh finished the 2017 season with nine touchdowns, 10 touchdown passes, 11 interceptions and 1,433 passing yards in total in 10 games.

In the 2018 Spring Game, Reynolds and Klugh were trading places throughout, giving coaches and players a feel for what may work best for those QBs and for the team in the coming season.

Within the seven games that Reynolds was able to play in this season, he threw six touchdown passes, rushed for a single touchdown and collected 1173 passing yards.

Prior to his injury, Chris Reynolds was repeating appearances in postgame stats as well, especially when connecting with receiver Victor Tucker.

Early in the second half of the 49ers’ home game against Western Kentucky, Reynolds was injured and it was unclear whether he would return. By the end of the next week, it had been announced that Reynolds was out indefinitely and QB Evan Shirreffs would be stepping in to get his first start as a Niner against Middle Tennessee.

“It’s always tough,” said head coach Brad Lambert. “We tell our team all the time, you know, that nothing is guaranteed in football, and Chris didn’t think that was going to be his last game and sure enough it is. But, we’ll give Evan a shot, see what he can do.”

Shirreffs first saw action as a Forty-Niner in the 40-14 homecoming win over WKU filling in for an injured Reynolds, going 5-of-7 passing for 118 yards, a passing TD and a rushing TD.

The Niners lost their next game on the road to Middle Tennessee, with Sherriffs throwing two interceptions, a single touchdown pass, and went 20-for-40 passing for 209 yards.

What’s coming

The Niners look next to their second to last home game against Conference USA opponent Southern Miss on Saturday, Oct. 27 at 2 p.m.

Charlotte is 3-1 at home, Southern Miss is 2-0 away, and they walked away with a home victory over the 49ers in 2017 at 66-21.

There are an abundance of differences between that time last year and this coming matchup, not excluding the vast changes in Charlotte coaching staff.

On the Golden Eagles’ end, redshirt senior and previous starting QB Kwadra Griggs, who threw 20-of-27 passing for 221 yards including a 45-yard TD pass and a two-point conversion pass, has only appeared in a single game for his team this season. Griggs was suspended early on in the season due to a “student conduct matter” and has since been reinstated with the team but has yet to contribute positively to the stats since August.

On the other hand, the defense will look to keep a tight lock on quarterback Jack Abraham who has thrown 135-of-184 for 1,532 yards this season in five games.

Charlotte’s No. 6 rush defense prepares for a team averaging a total of 132.2 yards per game.

There’s a new Shirreffs in town

It’s first down Charlotte and the Niners are refusing to finish this season without breaking records and winning games.

The Charlotte 49ers returned home on Saturday, Oct. 13 for Homecoming to put up the most points and claim the largest win margin in a Conference USA game in program history, beating WKU 40-14.

“It was a total team effort today, from our fan base, our student body, our band, administration and our student-athletes. I told our team in the locker room, ‘That’s what a team is, you represent a university and it takes a lot of people to be successful.’ It was a great atmosphere today and Homecoming, and I’m just really proud of everybody associated with the game; that’s what a team is supposed to look like,” said head coach Brad Lambert. “Our guys came out and played a real clean game, stayed focused, played a clean second half; I thought we ran the ball well against a team I thought was pretty good coming in, ya know, Western Kentucky, they beat up on us pretty good last year, so I thought our guys had real good energy and I thought they prepared extremely hard all week and that’s what it takes.”

Charlotte quarterback Chris Reynolds left the game injured early in the second half with the score sitting at 9-7 and the 49ers ahead, giving Evan Shirreffs his first opportunity to stake his claim as a Niner in Jerry Richardson Stadium.

“I thought Evan, for his first action, played like he’s been practicing. He’s been into it, he’s preparing hard, so he was ready to go when he went in the game,” said Lambert.

It’s no surprise that Shirreffs’ first pass as a 49er would connect with running back Benny LeMay for 31 yards. Shortly after the connection, RB Aaron McAllister would receive the ball from the QB for 35 yards, Calvin Camp would rush for four and Shirreffs would run the ball one yard for his first career touchdown with Charlotte. This was the first sign of what would be an explosive third quarter for Niner Nation.

“It’s always good just to get out there and get that first completion down and I mean, thankfully, it was a big gain which gave us a little momentum and to this guy [LeMay] on the O line getting out there, knocking some guys down, so it gave us a little momentum,” said Shirreffs.

After a Western Kentucky possession of less than a minute and a half, a pass to wide receiver Workpeh Kofa for 15 yards and 38 rushing yards from LeMay, a nine-yard rushing TD from LeMay and a solid extra point kick from Jonathan Cruz, the Niners would be up 23-7 with 4:20 left on the clock.

Several offensive team members made strides against the Hilltoppers, including Camp rushing for 38 yards, Ishod Finger seeing a lot of action, rushing for 29 yards and McAllister rushing for 20 and gaining a touchdown. LeMay shined as usual, rushing for 121 of 229 rushing yards.

“You try to have competition and depth at each position and I feel like we have that,” said Lambert. “Those guys are all good players, and more importantly, they’re really good people and they want to play well and they want the 49ers to win and that’s a good thing for us.”

WKU would quickly lose their next possession when powerhouse linebacker Juwan Foggie collected his fourth pick of the season on QB Davis Shanley’s first pass of the drive. Foggie has tied for the most interceptions by a Niner in a single season at four and tied the school record for most in a single game at two interceptions and added a team-high eight tackles against the Hilltoppers.

The 49ers used their 48 second possession to add on yet another touchdown thanks to the hands of Shirreffs, the 13 yard rush by WR Rico Arnold and the 14 yard rush into the end zone by McAllister.

The third quarter would end with a score of 30-7 and Charlotte would begin the final quarter with a 51-yard field goal by Cruz, making it his fifth field goal over 40 yards, the most by a freshman and his second over 50 yards.

“That was the challenge at the half; we played really clean in the first half and that was our challenge to them, was to take this next opening drive and see what we can do with it, and I thought the third quarter was extremely energetic and clean,” said Lambert. “We didn’t have penalties, we weren’t making a ton of mistakes and I think the guys were really locked in and when you prepare like that and lock in, you’ve got a chance.

A big pass from Shirreffs to Arnold for 28 yards gave Charlotte their final touchdown. WKU’s final possession led to their second and only other TD of the game, giving them 14 points to Charlotte’s 40.

“That’s just your job, just be ready at any time. I really was staying loose on the sideline, just waiting for my shot you know, and I went out there I just tried to bring a little juice and all of the guys kind of embraced me which was great. I felt like we didn’t really skip a beat at all and it started with the O line and to the backs and the receivers, it was a great second half effort all around,” said Shirreffs.

With over 10 personal and team records either matched or broken, 34 unanswered points and 21 unanswered points in the third quarter, the numbers speak for themselves. The Niners have made major waves so far this season and QB Shirreffs has already made quite a mark.

“Credit to my man, Evan. It’s big, it’s a big win for us. We really worked hard this week, like Coach Lambert said, we focused in on what we had to do,” said LeMay. “He practices with an enthusiasm and energy all week and like he [Shirreffs] said, we didn’t miss a beat.”

Once a Niner, always a Niner

Cullen looks on as the girls warmup. Photo courtesy of Charlotte Athletics

Women’s soccer coach, John Cullen, has begun his 10th season with the Charlotte 49ers. To begin this season, he and his team reached his 100th win as a coach at Charlotte early on.

“It was a nice feeling; I’d forgotten all about it until you brought it back up actually, I’d already moved on to the next one. But I jokingly said, ‘It took more games than I realized to get there.’ It’s always a nice honor, ya know, you try and take one game as they come, and eventually, if you’re here long enough, you start to get those moments, those monumental games,” said Cullen. “I was proud of it, I was happy for it, and want to thank all the players and the staff that I’ve worked with currently and in the past.”

Cullen graduated from Charlotte in 1993 after spending his four years on the men’s team as a Niner himself. In 1991, he was a member of the very first NCAA tournament team in Charlotte history, making it to No. 4 in the national rankings. The team repeated as a tournament team the next year and moved up to No. 2

During his time as a Niner player, he earned a spot on the NSCAA South Region Scholar-Athlete Team as well as on the Sun Belt Academic Honor Roll.

“I had a great experience here as a player. I thought the Charlotte administration, the University, faculty, staff and athletic department treated me with great respect and I just had a wonderful experience here,” said Cullen.

Cullen spent some time with the Olympic Development Program and during that time, he managed a 46-4 record. Included in that record was a 16 game undefeated and unscored on season with the ’90s NC ODP team. In 2010, he coached the NC ODP ’95 team with formers Charlotte Assistant Coach Sarah (Judy) Denton to go on to the regional championships and in the next year, to the national championships.

Amidst the years between graduating and returning to Charlotte as a head coach, Cullen also spent several years with the Catawba Indians from 2001-08. In his run as coach at Catawba, he tallied a 113-33-16 record to leave as the school’s career win leader.

He led the team to four NCAA Division II Regional appearances including twice to the regional finals, and in 2005, he was named the NSCAA Regional Coach of the Year when the team finished the season 16-4-1. In January of 2009, though, Cullen would return to Charlotte to begin his stint as Head Coach at his alma mater.

“I knew when I graduated from here, I wanted to come back here in some capacity, not sure what it was, but I was fortunate enough to get named as a coach in 2009. I had wonderful memories, great relationships, great fondness of the place, and I just wanted to come back and create more of those, not only for myself, but the players I’m coaching,” said Cullen.

Having been awarded many accolades, such as Regional Coach of the Year or Charlotte Youth Girls Coach of the Year in Dec. 2015 for his time with the Charlotte Soccer Academy, Cullen remains humble and reminded of why he reaches those heights.

“It kind of validates some of the work you’re doing. I want to stay true to myself as a coach; I never want to shortcut how I believe a team should prepare and play. So, I’ve always approached every season as a new season, as a new chapter, as a new opportunity to prove myself and for the team to prove themselves. I always look at the work I do as trying to improve as a coach every year,” said Cullen, “but I never look beyond the next game, and I know that’s an old cliché, but they stack up over time. The years go by quickly, but anytime you’re fortunate enough to break a record, it validates to me the work I’m putting in and the preparation I’m putting in.”

Not only does he work hard to push himself and his team to get better but he values sharing that journey with his players a great deal. Awards are great and all, but they might just be more fun when there are people to share it with.

“Most coaches will tell you the biggest part of what we do is for the players, and I’ve had a wonderful connection with players currently and formerly with the alums. You know, a win or a trophy doesn’t mean anything unless you can share it with people that you truly care about, and I care about my players. I’d like to think that’s my number one attribute: I’m there for every player and I hope they’ve enjoyed playing under me,” said Cullen. “But at the end of the day, you don’t want to just experience success on your own, you want to share with a lot of people and that’s why you drive on to be better and be ambitious. It’s the next group of players through the door, you know, so it’s: can I give them a good experience? Can I give them good memories?” said Cullen.

Going With the Flo

With a Category 4 hurricane approaching much of North and South Carolina during the week of Sept. 10th, it was unclear early on whether or not the Niners and the Monarchs would meet as planned. Eventually, the decision was made to move the game from Saturday, Sept. 15th to Thursday, Sept. 13th at 4 p.m.

“Obviously, we’d been monitoring the traffic of the hurricane for quite a while, and initially you saw that a lot of the paths were sending it a little north of us where we thought our game would still be in good shape on Saturday. But then once it started to turn beginning of this week and we realized it was coming closer to us and we were gonna be north of it as opposed to south of it, that’s when we decided to kind of start looking into some other options,” said Tom Whitestone, Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations. “Really with the fluctuating nature of a storm path, whether it would hit closest on Friday or Saturday really kind of forced us to go to a Thursday start time.”

From the Monarchs needing to evacuate to Charlotte early to making sure that those who didn’t travel with the team got home safely, a lot of work was done on both ends to make sure the game was played and that everyone was safe and taken care of.

“From our end, we did a lot of communication with them early in the week. We worked with them to help try and find a place for their team to practice once they got down here; they were gonna be using our weight room while they were down here if they needed it to allow them to get some lifts in while they were here, thinking they were gonna be here several days before the game got played, but they ended up not needing to use our weight room because they’ve only been here a short period,” said Whitestone. “But the communications started pretty robustly as soon we realized that they were gonna have to get out of Norfolk and head this way, to start talking about at least the combinations. At that point, we weren’t really talking about changing the game time, but we were talking about how we could accommodate them and make sure that they had as pleasant an experience as they could while they were here.”

Old Dominion was able to practice Tuesday morning and head toward Charlotte that same afternoon, arriving in the evening. Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations, Eric Bohannon, left Norfolk on Wednesday, prepared for whatever Florence brought Conference USA’s way.

“I heard late Tuesday night that the game was possibly going to be moved to Thursday, found out at about 11 a.m. Wednesday when I was stopped at a gas station that this was going to be Thursday at 4 o’clock. Charlotte’s been great, Tom, the communication from both schools, especially coming from Charlotte since they’re the home team, has been phenomenal. They’ve been very helpful, and the fact that this is gonna happen, likely with no rain, is great,” said Bohannon.

Not all of the reasons for making the decision to move the game up may have been obvious. Looking forward to the rest of the season and other teams’ schedules had to be done in order to really decide whether to move the game up. Waiting it out or rescheduling entirely would be the best bet.

“We did not share a common open date with Old Dominion, which meant that the only opportunity we would have to play them would be at the end of the season, if neither one of us were in the championship game. And honestly, when you only have only 12 opportunities in a season and you’re trying to win as many games as you can, we wanted to make sure we were maximizing our competition opportunities for both schools,” said Athletic Director Mike Hill.

Clearly, far more goes into dealing with a situation of this nature than many may realize. From coaches and athletic directors conversing to making sure there are staff members to scan tickets, it certainly takes a village.

“It’s incredibly complicated and I’m not sure everybody fully understands, if you’re not sort of in this world, what it takes to pull off and I do want to give a lot of credit to our Chancellor and our staff and our campus community. We had a football operations staff meeting today where there were probably 50 people in the room to discuss all the different logistics and the things that needed to take place,” said Hill. “Everybody was on board, they understood what we’re trying to accomplish and that is to stage a great football game, but with the safety of our student-athletes, our coaches, staff and our fans being paramount.”

Not being entirely sure how or when Florence would arrive in Charlotte over the weekend, having the option to move the game up proved quite beneficial. The Niners would go on to beat the conference foe 28-25 in a battle that allowed Charlotte to utilize their run-game.

Hurricane Florence. Photo courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

As far as Florence goes, she was labeled a Category 4 as of Monday, Sept. 10, not expected to really hit the Charlotte area until sometime Friday, at the time. Even then, Charlotte could expect mostly heavy winds and rainfall.

“The hurricane was either gonna affect me here in Charlotte, my sister and her husband in Charleston or my family back at home in Apex. But, I’m staying put and just kind of prepping for everything. I really like that we did move the game up because there aren’t a lot of people here because it’s a Thursday night at 4 p.m, but we’re able to get that game in, which is really great for our players and our overall team experience and I think it strengthens our schedule too,” said junior Grace Fendrick.

Hurricane Florence dropped to a Category 1 by Friday, Sept. 14th and most of the effects of the storm were expected to roll through Friday evening through Sunday, with a risk of flooding over the weekend. A matchup on Saturday in Jerry Richardson Stadium would have been unlikely.

As for fans who originally had tickets to the Saturday game and were unable to attend the game when it was rescheduled to Thursday, other options for their tickets were made available.

“They can either get a credit which they can apply to a different game or even a different purchase, for example if they’re also basketball fans and they wanted to apply it to a basketball season ticket, they could do that. If it was a one-time shot and they just can’t do anything about a credit, we would refund their money. But of course we’re hoping that our fans will show up…and if not, that they apply for that credit, so that we could make sure they’re still able to attend a Niner game,” said Hill.

In order to make the most of the unusual circumstances and the weekday game, Hill and Deputy Athletic Director Darin Spease gave away tickets to the game through Twitter to help more fans attend the game.

“We need to win the football game and the more Niner fans we can put in the stadium, the better for us. It’s unusual, 4 o’clock on a Thursday, there’s no other college football really going on. To have folks here to cheer on our team and these guys is really why we do it; we want to give them the great fan experience and those guys on the field are gonna put everything on the line, so the more Niners the better,” said Spease.  

Niners celebrate after LB Juwan Foggie gets an interception. Photo by Chris Crews

Several students and alumni managed to reply to Spease and Hill’s tweets to get tickets to the game. Dave Russell, Charlotte class of 2000, was among the fans who were given tickets to attend the game.

“I had a situation where I could leave work early, figured if it’s gonna be raining a lot, maybe power outages this weekend, let’s enjoy the good weather while we’ve got it,” said Russell. “We’re excited about Mike Hill being here, think he brings a great energy to the program, so I follow him on Twitter and saw that he was giving tickets to students and thought why not ask if he’ll do it for an alum and he was kind enough to do it, so here we are.”

In any tough situation, someone always has to decide what to do and in the case of a Charlotte 49ers football game and Hurricane Florence on her way, there were a lot of people involved in making the best and safest decision for everyone that would be affected.

Darts, naps and soccer

From left: Callum Montgomery, Dean Rutherford, Daniel Bruce, Tommy Madden. Photo courtesy of Charlotte Athletics and Sam Roberts

After nearly clinching a conference tournament championship in their junior season, Charlotte Men’s Soccer seniors are ready to finish off their college career with quite a year.

Tommy Madden, Callum Montgomery, Daniel Bruce and Dean Rutherford have all been vital parts of this program in their time here, but every college athlete eventually reaches their final year donning their collegiate jersey.

“I think we’ve really enjoyed the relationships we’ve made in the locker room, you know coaches and players alike. Just growing closer as a unit together, enjoying the highs and going through the lows together as a team has been a really enjoyable kind of process,” said Bruce.

During their time on the field, these athletes do their best to lead by example in a lot of ways. On the field, keeping their composure and staying focused are important, but a lot goes into being leaders away from the field as well.

“We try to show them what it takes to be a part of the main squad, and that’s just really working hard obviously on and off of the field, doing everything the right way. Not just with school, but taking care of yourself as well, not getting too drawn into this other kind of life you could live as college student,” said Madden. “Just being that role model, showing what it takes to be a top player here is big.”

Each of these seniors certainly seem to live up to the expectations they have set for themselves. Montgomery was named pre-season Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year as well as pre-season All-Conference USA for the 2018 season. He has collected many honors over his time at Charlotte including an early Defensive Player of the Week honor, which he also earned early in the 2017 season.

Madden and Bruce have also earned several honors over the years including both being named as pre-season All-Conference USA.

Rutherford has had his hand in many of the major goals for the Charlotte 49ers, such as an assist on the game-winning goal in the Conference USA Tournament semifinal game to go on to the championship game.

Sometimes the relationships you build come to mean far more than any of the honors you receive or things that you do as an athlete.

“Especially coming in with some of these guys, me and Brucey came in together, they (Madden and Bruce) came in together, so we’ve been here together for a long time now and building that bond together for four years now has been fantastic,” said Rutherford.

Aside from their accomplishments, they do wish they had done some things a little differently, whether it be not taking enough naps or not really making the best use of the opportunities within their reach.

“The facilities here are really amazing and I think my first year here, I regret not using and utilizing them as much as possible. Especially if you’re not playing as much your first year, just being able to use the amazing facilities and opportunities there are on campus with different areas, different coaches, the gym, the fields and just utilizing all of these things available to you is pretty important,” said Bruce.

Making the most of their time isn’t always easy, but these athletes certainly seem to have done so, even making time for the occasional round of darts, which apparently the soccer players enjoy doing quite often.

As far as what they plan to do at the end of their time at Charlotte as players, all of the senior stars hope to continue playing professionally when they leave the Niners.

“I think all of us have aspirations to play professionally, I can’t speak for them for sure, I know I definitely want to play professionally and then also probably pursue some sort or master’s or graduate’s degree, I’m not entirely sure yet,” said Montgomery.

These young men can be seen on Transamerica Field throughout the fall season leading the Niners to what will likely be a wonderful season. They will continue to do so Friday, Sept. 7 at Old Dominion at 7 p.m.

High Hopes

Benny LeMay and Mark Quattlebaum celebrate during the 2018 Spring Game. Photo by Chris Crews

After beginning the season as the team picked to finish last in the East Division and a 1-11 record in 2017, the Charlotte 49ers remain with their heads high and their sights set on some season-opening wins.

Last season, it seemed as if the Niners would get to the end of the season and have suffered heartbreak with a winless year. Instead, they showed fans why sticking around until the end of the game is always worth it and turned their Homecoming game into an amazing win.

After nearly ending the third quarter down 17-0 to UAB, quarterback Hasaan Klugh had a nine-yard touchdown run accompanied by an extra-point kick from Nigel Macauley to bring the score to 17-7.

Charlotte worked hard to rally in the second half. In the fourth quarter, Trent Bostick caught a 68-yard pass from Klugh to make it 17-14 with an extra point from Macauley. Macauley later helped to tie Charlotte with UAB by way of a 24-yard field goal. Regulation time ended and a victor had still yet to emerge, so the teams would continue the matchup in overtime.

The 49ers gave the Blazers the first go at offense in order to know what they needed to put up on the board to pull out a win. UAB scored to gain a 24-17 lead over the 49ers. Eight plays and 25 yards later, Klugh tallied his seventh touchdown of the season with a one-yard TD to put Charlotte on top at 25-24 in OT.

The Charlotte 49ers showed exactly how much heart they have in their single win of the 2017 season and intend to start the season off with even better energy.

With last season in mind, the Niners needed to make a lot of changes in order to work their way toward where they want to be in the future.

Plenty of new faces have been brought in this year, including coaching staff as well as players. A big change in the coaching staff was the addition of Charlotte’s new offensive coordinator, Shane Montgomery, who is just as optimistic as the guys putting on the pads.

“I know that we’re not happy with where the program is right now coming off of last year. But, that has nothing to do with last year. We have a great group of players, kids that worked really hard in the offseason and we’ve hired some new coaches and I think there’s a really good feeling around the program and we’re looking forward to Sept. 1,” Montgomery said.

Another new face around the stadium is Miami graduate, quarterback Evan Shirreffs. Shirreffs was the Hurricane’s backup QB this past year and looks to be a contender for a starter on the Niners offense.

“We’ll see how that shakes out, whether it’s Evan, Chris, Hasaan, who that guy is once we start playing live plays in camp, so we’ll see as that moves along who wins the job,” said Coach Brad Lambert.

Not only are there new members of the program, but along with a new season has come a new energy in the 49ers. They feel as if they have nothing to lose and plan to put it all on the field, letting their hard work do the talking.

“We’re excited for the season to come and we want to put a show on for the fans, they deserve to see us win. They’ve been supporting us for the most part and we’re going to do everything we can, and fill the stadium,” said running back Benny LeMay.

LeMay and the Niners will begin a three-game home series on Sept. 1 at 6 p.m. in Jerry Richardson Stadium against Fordham University, who finished their 2017 season with a 4-7 record overall.