Last season didn’t exactly end the way Cara Consuegra and the Charlotte 49ers would have liked.
After breezing through the Atlantic 10 schedule (13-1) and earning a two-seed in the A-10 tournament, all signs pointed to a possible Charlotte-Dayton final and an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
That didn’t happen. Instead, it led to a 48-47 loss to Temple in the quarterfinals. The hoped-for at large bid? That failed to materialize as well. Another WNIT berth would be their postseason fate, as they toppled App State and rival Davidson before losing to Florida at Halton Arena.
This year, the Niners will look to erase last year’s disappointments and work to reach the NCAA tournament for the firs time since 2009. To do it, they’ll need to conquer a new league–Conference USA–and do it without their big two from last season, Amanda Dowe and Jenn Hailey. But it all begins with the non-conference schedule, which includes three teams that went to the Big Dance last year and a host of WNIT squads.
Saturday, November 2–Johnson C. Smith (exhibition)
Friday, November 8–Liberty (27-7, 16-2 Big South)
The Flames blazed (pun intended) through the Big South schedule, ending with a 54-45 victory over Longwood in the championship game. They would fall to 4th seeded Purdue 77-43 in the first round. Ashley Rininger (6.9 ppg) is the team’s returning scorer as redshirt seniors and Big South first-t Devon Brown and Tolu Omotola ended their college careers in March.
Sunday, November 10–Kansas State (19-18, 5-13 Big 12)
Like the Niners, the Wildcats played in the WNIT, but their journey ended in the semifinals against Utah. K-State star and Big 12 first team pick Brittany Chambers has been lost to graduation, so that leaves Haley Texada (11.8) and Bri Craig (8.3) as the top returning scorers. Mariah White’s defense (80 steals) and playmaking ability (130 assists) will be missed.
Wednesday, November 13–Minnesota (18-14, 7-9 Big Ten)
Another WNIT team, the Gophers fell to Ball State in the opening round. They do return some scoring in Rachel Banham (20.7 ppg) and rebounding with Micaella Riche (13.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg), so they shouldn’t be in terrible shape in 2013-14.
Wednesday, November 20–FGCU (27-7, 18-0 Atlantic Sun)
The ladies at FGCU didn’t have nearly the same success as their male counterparts did in the postseason (running the table in the Atlantic Sun regular season before falling to Stetson in the championship and Winthrop in the WNIT), but they’re still a force to be reckoned with in the mid-major ranks. Sarah Hansen (16.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg) returns for her senior season, but she’ll be without Joyce Iamstrong and Brittany Kennedy.
Saturday, November 23–UCF (16-18, 7-9 C-USA)
The Niners return to the friendly surroundings of Halton Arena as they welcome C-USA departee and The American newcomer UCF. The Knights are the first team on the schedule that didn’t appear in a postseason game, as they fell in the C-USA championship game to Tulsa. Brianna Jackson (15.0 ppg) should handle the scoring while Erika Jones can contribute points as well as boards (9.6 a game).
Tuesday, November 26–Winthrop (21-12, 14-4 Big South)
Charlotte’s rival to the south, Winthrop, makes the short drive up I-77 and I-85 to pay a visit to Halton during the Thanksgiving break. The Eagles, as mentioned earlier, dropped FGCU in the WNIT opening round before losing to Florida (the Gators, of course, ousted Charlotte not long after that). Depsite third leading scorer Aliyah Kilpatrick undergoing season-ending Achillies tendon surgery last week, they’re still in good hands with their dynamic duo of first-team all Big South Dequesha McClanahan (19.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and Diana Choibekova (14.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg) as well as leading rebounder and all-freshmen selection Schaquilla Nunn (10.1 rpg).
Saturday, November 30-Sunday, December 1–Lady Rebel Round-Up in Las Vegas, NV
After Winthrop, the Niners head west for the Lady Rebel Round-Up. Their first game, on November 30, will be against Cincinnati (12-18, 4-12 Big East), another newcomer to The American that didn’t do all that well in their final season in the “old”, pre-Catholic 7-split Big East. They’ll then take on either UNLV (12-19, 8-8 Mountain West) or old foe/WNIT team Fordham (26-9, 12-2 A-10) the next day.
Sunday, December 8–South Carolina (25-8, 11-5 SEC)
Charlotte’s first game back from Vegas will be against an SEC team that ended the year nationally ranked. It’s the Gamecocks, who parlayed an at-large NCAA tournament bid (a four seed) into a first round win over South Dakota State before a second-round defeat to Kansas. One thing about the Gamecocks: they didn’t score a ton (57.8 ppg, 22.7% behind the arc) but didn’t give up a lot either (52.8).
Tuesday, December 17–Stetson (24-9, 14-4 Atlantic Sun)
They play some pretty good basketball down at Stetson, and the Hatters were the reason FGCU didn’t get to the NCAA tournament as they topped the previously undefeated Eagles in the A-Sun Championship. Stetson would draw third-seeded UCLA in round one. Out of their top three scorers from last year’s squad, only Sasha Sims (12.0 ppg) returns.
Saturday, December 21–Davidson (22-13, 16-4 Southern)
The annual Charlotte-Davidson showdown shifts up to Belk Arena after being held at Halton last year; it was the Niners also ending Davidson’s season in the WNIT. Whatever success the A-10 bound (in 2014) Wildcats this year will have to be without the now-graduated Sophia Aleksandravicius, the SoCon player of the year by a longshot.
Sunday, December 29–Furman (12-17, 8-12 Southern)
The Niners take on their second straight SoCon opponent as they head back to Halton to entertain the visiting Paladins. They lose leading scorer Teshia Griswold to graduation, so juniors-to-be Brittany Hodges (9.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Sarah Durdaller (7.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg) will need to step in and fill the void.
Friday, January 3–UNC Wilmington (5-26, 3-15 CAA)
The Seahawks are hoping to put a dismal 2012-13 behind them, and they will have to do it without leading scorer and rebounder Karneshia Garrett (10.8 ppg, 11.0 rpg). Jessica Freeman (10.6 ppg) and Kelva Atkins (10.4 ppg) look to be back in the fold as well.