It has genuinely been an outstanding year for the Charlotte 49ers, and it seems that with some other sports starting their seasons or getting into conference play now that it’s probably going to continue to be. Outstanding doesn’t mean better-than-ever in all cases or that the Niners don’t still have room to improve. Of course, there is always something to get better at and no one wants anyone to become complacent, and it seems that Charlotte programs feel that way more than anyone lately. Plus, the work didn’t stop over Christmas break.
Charlotte Football had an incredible season and made so much history in their seventh year on the field. By the end of the season, they were countless unbelievable moments, but it wasn’t all touchdowns and wins. Obviously it was a historic year, but more than anything, it shows progress. Head Coach Will Healy arrived and helped to guide the program into somewhat of a turnaround season but again, no one is settling. A win in the Bahamas would have been great and a conference championship would have too, but the season that Charlotte Football is nothing to ignore. While the bowl game against Buffalo was a 31-9 loss, the fact that the team made it there at all is impressive, though the whole point is that everyone should come to expect it.
“We’re going to be hungry. This isn’t how we wanted to end and I think it’s going to motivate us going into the offseason and we’re going to work harder than we’ve ever worked before,” Quarterback Chris Reynolds said.
Here’s the thing: this whole idea of having amazing seasons but never being satisfied is wonderful. It’s especially wonderful if multiple programs experience a great enough season to have to remind people that making it to a bowl game shouldn’t be the end of it. Men’s basketball seems to be heading in the same direction, but being 3-0 in Conference USA so far and at the top of the conference has also led Sanchez to make the point that no one should be overthinking what that means. There are 11 more games and almost six more weeks until the conference tournament begins. It’s not time to think that far ahead, it’s time to focus on right now, the next practice and the next game. As Sanchez would say: “Be where your feet are.” Still, this is the first time that the team has started the conference 3-0 since the 2012-13 season and that was the final season that program was part of the Atlantic 10. In fact, the program began conference play 0-3 in 2018-2019 in Sanchez’s first season as Charlotte’s head coach. While this is just the beginning and the program was placed 12th out of 14 in the 2019 C-USA Preseason Poll, each of the three wins were over teams picked above Charlotte including the most recent win over fourth-ranked Old Dominion.
Coming up, the Niners continue conference play against Marshall on Thursday, Jan. 16 and WKU on Saturday, Jan. 18. WKU was picked first in the preseason poll and is currently 3-1 while Marshall stands at 2-2.
Charlotte tends to have a tough non-conference schedule and finished the 2019 preseason 9-2 with losses against Fordham and No. 15/14 Kentucky. The 49ers also found themselves picked sixth in the 2019 Conference USA Preseason Poll and are currently 1-2 in conference play. Consistent with how the team has fared over the past four seasons and how it tends to sway for most teams, they’re getting better results at home (4-1) than they are away (4-3). While a loss is a loss, this team is better than their record often shows, and just like with the men’s team, there’s a lot of time left in this season.
“We have to understand that we have to be better to close a game out but we also need to understand that we’re not a bad team. We’re a very good team and we’re going to have a lot more opportunities to win games in this league,” Head Coach Cara Consuegra said. “Just a long way to go.”
Track & Field
The Charlotte 49ers Track & Field team began their indoor season in December 2019 and will continue with the Virginia Tech Invitational beginning Friday, Jan. 17. The men and women both performed well to kick off the season, seeing Niners secure several of the top spots and win multiple events. Keon Howe, Elijah Cole and Robert Yardley took the top three finishes in pole vault and Gabe Nash won the 60-meter dash event. Anthony Richarfson, Brandon Smith and Justin Leaston also collected the top three sports in the 60-meter hurdles while Jurcek Korpic Lesjak and Austin Gallagher finished first and second, respectively, in the weight throw. The women also won several of their events as Tracey Manigualt won the 60-meter dash with Imani Rivas, Alex Council and Taylor Boykin-Roach not far behind her, taking all top five spots. Eve English and Riley Felts also won their events in the high jump and pole vault, respectively. Megan Cook collected a personal best in the weight throw to get second and in fourth was Mateya Haintz. What’s very promising about this indoor season is that the underclassmen are performing especially well, boding well for the overall results and development of the program in 2020.
There are only 31 days left until Charlotte Baseball takes the field again on Friday, Feb 14. to kick off a home stand against VCU at 3 p.m. at Hayes Stadium. This season begins with the program’s first new head coach since Loren Hibbs retired in 2019 after 26 years with the program. As the program has teetered between winning and losing seasons over the last decade, a new season with a new head coach in Robert Woodard and a new emphasis on data analytics, changes have certainly hit the baseball program quickly much like other Charlotte 49ers programs over the last few years. Charlotte is 13-6 against VCU and this series kicks off the first of eight matchups before getting into conference play on March 13 against UTSA. Charlotte takes on quite a few tough opponents throughout their season including an early game at Tennessee on Feb. 18; a team which the Niners are 1-3 against so far. East Carolina, NC State and Wake Forest are also some of the programs that Charlotte has a long in-state history with. The 49ers host a home stand March 6-8 against East Carolina who leads Charlotte 19-5. Wake Forest and NC state will both take on Charlotte at BB&T Ballpark, but first the Niners will travel to Raleigh to take on the Wolfpack on March 10 before meeting them again in Charlotte on March 24. The Charlotte 49ers are 4-14 and 0-4 at BB&T Ballpark against NC State, the Niners only fell 5-6 in the most recent matchup in 2019.
Wake Forest, however, has been giving Charlotte trouble for much longer and lead 32-18-1. The most recent loss to the Demon Deacons came in 2019 at Hayes Stadium where the Niners suffered a 12-point loss. Of course, Charlotte is 2-2 against Wake Forest in the last four games and the only meeting between the two teams at BB&T Ballpark came in 2018 when Charlotte won 13-1 after beginning the game with four runs in the first inning.
Once again, a new head coach in Ashley Chastain has taken over the Charlotte softball program that will hit the field for play starting Feb. 7-9 with the Charlotte Invitational. While the program seems to filter in plenty of talent consistently, they have not had a winning conference record since 2011 when Charlotte was still a part of the A-10 and had not yet rejoined Conference USA. One important goal for Chastain and the team will be making sure that the program feels like a family, but also that the talent they have and bring in will be better-developed and utilized in the coming seasons. Charlotte baseball and softball have consistently recruited and pulled quality athletes from North Carolina, and Chastain hopes to continue to foster those relationships with local talent and to get the program to a conference championship and NCAA postseason.