Sam Palian

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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.

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