The Charlotte 49ers women’s soccer team has ended their regular season campaign and it’s been somewhat of a turnaround season for the 49ers.
After an 8-9 season in 2018, Charlotte has taken a 360 degree turn with a 12-5 record and 7-3 record in conference play.
Now with the regular season in the rearview mirror, Charlotte will be looking for a Conference USA championship as the conference tournament starts this week.
The 49ers will be reliant on a certain senior duo in Julia Grainda and Megan Greene in postseason play. Much of the 49er success from this year has come from the duo. The two forwards have combined for 15 goals on the year and 41 points all together. Those numbers lead the team. The two players have impacted every game and also combined for 11 assists. Grainda lead the team with seven.
“It definitely means a lot coming from last year and not making the conference tournament,” Grainda said of the 49ers’ turnaround season. “We have definitely improved a lot and raised the standard.”
The captains have been together since day one.
Greene and Grainda arrived to campus back in 2016 and both were in-state recruits. Both players went through a pretty quick recruiting process. A visit to the school had both players sold. From the beginning, they both started games and produced at high levels in their freshman seasons.
They experienced success in their first season. The 49ers went 11-9-2 and won the Conference USA Tournament Championship against Florida Atlantic. Furthermore, Charlotte played Duke in the first round of the NCAA tournament but fell short of a victory. That loss turned into a good experience.
“That was a huge experience,” Grainda said. “I think playing Duke helps focus on giving it our all because you never know when it’s gonna be your last."
The next two seasons were up-and-down. In the duo’s sophomore season, the 49ers lost in the conference final and then had a rough 8-9 season in 2018 after battling with a lot of injuries.
Throughout it all though, 49ers Head Coach John Cullen has been impressed with his captains.
“First and foremost, they are great people on and off the field,” said Cullen. “As soccer players, they have really worked at their craft and improved everyday.”
It’s no question that they are good individual players as both players have had stellar soccer careers overall. But when put together, Cullen sees them flourish.
“They are sort of a threat. Individually they are great on the run but collectively they are even more dangerous as a dynamic duo,” said Cullen. “They drive each other on.”
Out of the four years the duo has had together, this year might have been one of the toughest when it comes to change. The 49ers have had to endure a lot of injuries throughout the year and a lot of changes prior to the season. However, the 49ers have seen a lot of improvement.
“Over the year, I definitely think a lot of improvement has been made with having a lot of freshmen coming in,” said Grainda. “We lost two big games against ECU and Wake Forest and that was a turning point for us because we showed the potential we have.”
Greene knows as well that those losses can actually be a good thing come postseason time.
“You learn a lot about the team you have when playing teams like Wake,” Greene said. “Losing can be a good and bad thing but you can learn a lot for the postseason.”
All the focus now is going to be turned to the Conference USA Tournament, which the 49ers will kick off this Wednesday, Nov. 6 as the fourth seed against Western Kentucky, who is the fifth seed.
The tournament will be held in Denton, Texas and the magic number for the 49ers will be three. Three wins and Charlotte will be crowned as Conference-USA Champions for the second time in Greene and Grainda’s career. Grainda, who was injured on Oct. 24, looks to be back for the first round. Charlotte went 0-2 in her absence.
A championship would put Charlotte in the NCAA Tournament as well.
To make those goals a reality, Cullen will turn to his two leaders to use their veteran presence to guide the team. The 49ers as a whole have already had a few challenges including games against soccer powerhouses ECU and Wake Forest. Now in knockout soccer, those games will be important lessons
“We know that when we aren’t at our best, those two are capable of getting goals for us,” Cullen said. “We have wanted to give our players a test throughout the season and our mindset is just to be the best. We have to rise to the occasion.”
For the duo, the tournament will go beyond their own playing days. Grainda hopes the players younger than her get an experience to learn from as well.
“I’ve experienced the best of both worlds,” said Grainda. “I want those girls who are freshmen and sophomores to get that same experience”
For Greene, she's taking in every last minute and enjoyed the ride with her senior class.
“I think our class is one-of-a-kind and we have experienced everything you can imagine,” said Greene. “We have a little bit of everything in our class.”