The Charlotte 49ers’ women's basketball team has improved every year under Head Coach Cara Consuegra during her nine year tenure.
Charlotte has enjoyed its most success in program history and has had numerous postseason appearance under Consuegra.
However, in the past few years, the 49ers have not reached their full potential. As the team looks to have a more complete team than usual, this year’s team can make a splash come postseason time. As the team was ranked No. 6 in the Conference USA preseason poll, the expectations and potential is there.
Guards Jade Phillips and Mariah Linney are both averaging points in double figures and Christian Hithe is near, averaging 9.1 per game. Those three guards have emerged as reliable scorers for Charlotte. In addition, center Jazmin Harris has been an important piece in the post with 12 blocks this year and 4.7 rebounds per game.
“We have a group of experienced kids,” Consuegra said. “I think that’s the difference maker from where we were last year.”
Charlotte played well against non-conference opponents with a 9-2 record and signature wins against Wake Forest and Boston College. During that run, the 49ers only failed to score at least 60 points one time.
The 49ers have been in this position before: primed for a strong finish but have struggled in C-USA play.
The difference this year for Charlotte is a more complete team has been at hand and a constant leader has emerged. Phillips has been that player. The redshirt senior transferred from Syracuse and sat out the 2017-18 season. During her first season as a 49er, she averaged 13.4 points per game and six rebounds a game.
This year, she leads the team in points per game (15.2), rebounds per game (10.2) and has a team-high of 20 steals. Not only has Phillips been a big help statistically, but more importantly, has been the voice for her team.
“I know I had to step up from last year,” Phillips said. “Stepping up in a leadership role and getting to know my teammates a little better.”
Phillips recognizes her experience will benefit a team that has had their ups and downs.
“We’ve been in tough situations and I always tell my teammates we’re good,” Phillips said. “When I’m level headed, they’re level headed.”
Another big part of the 49ers’ success has been their defense. It’s always been a staple for Consuegra, but the defense has helped Charlotte this season when their offense has struggled. Opponents of the 49ers have been kept under 60 points five times this season. Also, Charlotte is sixth in C-USA in rebounding defense with 36.4 per game. They are ranked fifth in blocked shots in the conference with 57.
There is room for improvement for Charlotte as they are moving into the tougher part of their schedule. With a 2-3 record so far in C-USA play, there have been some missed opportunities. Out of those three losses, only one was lost by five or more points.
“For the most part, we have been able to defend at a level that will help us to be able to win games in this league,” Consuegra said. “What I am concerned about is we aren’t very consistent offensively. I think in the non-conference we are pretty consistent for the most part.”
Another area to improve on, that any team can struggle with, is playing on the road. During the non-conference season, Charlotte only lost one game as a visitor. No matter where they play, Consuegra wants to keep the goal the same: win. Consuegra also sees that there are a lot of factors you can’t control on the road.
“It’s always tougher to play on the road. The big focus is to control what we can control,” Consuegra said. “I think the biggest thing on the road is finding consistency and playing at a high level offensively and defensively.”
The 49ers are only a few made shots away from going from a solid team in C-USA to a top contender. They will have the chance to prove themselves as their next task will be a two-game road trip against Florida International and Florida Atlantic. The experience side of the game is in Charlotte’s favor.
The games that have resulted in losses for Charlotte are ones that Phillips hopes they use as lessons. The 49ers lost to Old Dominion by three points in the final minutes. However, they bounced back against Marshall with a six-point win.
“Just being able to realize other teams have scouted us and understand that,” Phillips said, on how to learn from games. “We made the loss to ODU a learning lesson.”
Consuegra has players on her roster that know what it is like to play tough C-USA teams back-to-back. She will be turning to those players to help get those wins during the rough days of the season.
“We have kids that have been through the rigor of conference play and have seen these teams and know how these teams play,” said Consuegra. “Players like Linney, Hithe and Octavia Jett-Wilson have played these teams a few times. We should be able to pull on that experience when games are tough.”
The road trip will be quite the test for the 49ers as bouncing back has been an important key for Charlotte all season. Coming off a close loss, Consuegra wants to regroup and get her squad back on the right path.
“But we’ll continue to work. We’ll come back and we’ll watch the film and we’ll stay on the same page,” Consuegra said after Saturday’s loss. “At the end of the day, we’ve got to take a step forward together to do what is required and do what is asked to win, and we can do that.”
Though Charlotte isn’t atop C-USA standings at this moment, the chances of a resurgence aren't far fetched.