The past year was unforgettable for Charlotte athletics for many reasons. The football program struggled to get a weekly performance on the field, and the passionate fans were unable to see their favorite teams in person for the majority of the year.
However, most of these issues will unlikely transfer over into next year as the world slowly gets back to normal. Here are five things to look forward to in the 2021-22 athletic year
5. A sense of normalcy
This shouldn’t be a shocker, but with UNC Charlotte going back to full, in-person learning for the fall semester, Charlotte athletics could likely be heading in the same direction. More people are getting vaccinated, and Governor Roy Cooper is relaxing covid restrictions just about every month, making the perfect recipe to get more people back in the stands.
The most significant aspect of getting back to normalcy has full capacity crowds, but there’s more to it than that. It’s about a fully engaged and passionate student body, it’s the tailgates before the game, a full schedule, and all the other festivities that happened pre-covid. Charlotte athletics hasn’t announced anything regarding next year’s attendance policy but this could all be a reality starting later this year. This will also help the athletic program get back on its feet from a financial standpoint.
4. Football’s bounce-back season
Charlotte football was the team most affected by covid. They had 12 games scheduled for the 2020 season but only played six, including a month-long break without a game in November. Now with covid somewhat in the rearview mirror, there’s a chance for football to return to the 2019 glory season.
While the team lost starters from last season, there’s plenty of talent incoming and returning that can make an impact and get back to success. Returning players include Chris Reynolds, Victor Tucker, Cameron Dollar, Tyler Murray, and Markees Watts. On the transfer side, Charlotte brought in players from big programs such as Jon Alexander (Kansas State), James Foster (Texas A&M) and Kofi Wardlow (Notre Dame).
Looking at the 2021 schedule, there are three firsts. The season is set to begin on Sept. 4 against Duke, which will be the first time Charlotte hosts a Power 5 program at Jerry Richardson Stadium. Charlotte set the single-game attendance record in 2019 against App State, but that record could be broken against the Blue Devils.
On Oct. 4, the 49ers will take on the Illinois Fighting Illini, the first Big 10 opponent in program history. In November, Charlotte plays Louisiana Tech for the first time, despite being in the same conference for six years.
3. Transfers for both men’s and women’s basketball
Both men’s and women’s basketball finished the season below .500, but there’s still plenty of optimism on both sides. They both return their star players in Jahmir Young and Octavia Jett-Wilson, but some transfers can make an immediate impact.
The men’s basketball team will be bringing in Clyde Trapp from Clemson and Musa Jallow from Ohio State. Trapp and Jallow bring experience to the table, with both playing significant minutes in the NCAA Tournament. With the team losing three starters from the previous season, these new guys can score at an efficient level to help ease some of the weight off Young’s shoulders.
On the other hand, the women’s basketball team made a splash in the transfer portal, signing Kameron Roach and KeKe McKinney from Kentucky and Mikayla Boykin from Duke. Roach and Boykin will add to the guard play, while McKinney can help fill the void down low with Dara Pearson and Jazmin Harris leaving the program. All three players are skilled that can help Charlotte take the next step and compete for a C-USA championship in the coming season.
2. Coach Consuegra breaking the wins record
In addition to all the players coming back for women’s basketball, head coach Cara Consuegra will have the opportunity to break the coaching record for most women’s basketball wins in program history. Heading into last season, she needed 11 total wins to become the standalone record holder, but the team went 10-12 and suffered four one-point losses.
Nevertheless, Consuegra sits at 175 wins which is tied for the most and with one win next season, she will hold the record with plenty more games to be played that will add to her legacy.
1. Young women’s teams taking the next step
Two teams in particular, were way ahead of their time when it came to the 2020 season, specifically the volleyball and women’s soccer team. Volleyball had a historic season last year, winning eight straight games that helped the team accumulate a 13-5 record. They also made the C-USA semifinals for the first time in program history.
The team also took home numerous conference awards, highlighted by freshman Emani Foster winning Freshman of the Year and All-Conference First Team and head coach Karen Washington being named C-USA Coach of the Year.
Next year’s volleyball team will return everyone except outside hitter Sydney Rowan. With an exceptional season that was built under the radar, there’s plenty to build on for next season.
As for women’s soccer, the coronavirus hit them hard in the early part of the season, but the team persevered, going 6-6 and making the C-USA championship game.
They will be losing key starters in Abby Stapleton and Sophie Sipprell, but the team contains 13 freshmen that received significant minutes throughout the season. Along with the large freshman class returning, the team’s two leading scorers, Michaella Arteta and Julia Patrum will have the opportunity to carry this year’s success into a normal fall season that begins in less than four months.