As the Charlotte 49ers prepare to leave the Atlantic 10 for Conference USA next fall, the men’s and women’s track and field teams are looking for an exit that matches their entrance into the A-10 seven years ago.
In their first year in the A-10, both teams swept the conference’s indoor and outdoor championships. Should the 49ers capture both titles at the outdoor meet on May 4-5, which Charlotte is hosting, both teams will have swept the seasons’ titles once more.
Charlotte swept the A-10 indoor championships on Feb. 16-17 at Newport, R.I., giving it 22 indoor and outdoor titles in its eight years in the conference.
“I take a lot of pride in it,” said Trey McRae, a junior high-jumper. “We practice a lot. It takes a lot of hours. We do this while maintaining our grades in school and being a part of other organizations. I take a lot of pride in how we compete on the field and how we have won championships the last few years.”
The official start to the outdoor season is March 14-16, when Charlotte hosts the annual 49er Classic meet at the Irwin Belk Track and Field Center.
Robert Olesen has been the track and field coach at Charlotte since 2002. That span included Charlotte’s first stint in C-USA, which lasted from 1995 to 2005.
“The Atlantic 10 has been good for us,” Olesen said. “I’m not sure the other teams would agree. We were at our last conference indoor meet and I had some nice conversations with some of the other coaches.
“They’re going to miss us, and I don’t know if they are saying that just to be nice. But I think there was some sincerity to their comments. I just think we brought a lot to the conference as far as competitiveness and raising the bar. It upped their game too.”
Olesen noted that when Charlotte entered the A-10 in 2005, its presence upset the balance of power in track and field. Rhode Island had dominated the conference for several years before Charlotte entered, including men’s and women’s sweeps of the indoor and outdoor titles in 2004 and 2005.
As the 49ers took control, Rhode Island became their biggest rival. On the men’s side, when Charlotte wasn’t winning conference titles, it was finishing second to Rhode Island. The Rams captured indoor championships in 2007, 2011 and 2012 and outdoor titles in 2007, 2008 and 2011.
Among the women, Dayton’s team that has been the biggest threat to Charlotte’s success over the years. The Flyers won an indoor title in 2011 and shared the 2010 championship with the 49ers. Temple is the only other women’s team to win an A-10 title since 2006, taking the outdoor meet in 2010.
It’s difficult to predict how well Charlotte will fare in C-USA. Four teams are leaving after this season, and eight teams, including Charlotte, are joining.
Houston’s men have won six of the past seven indoor meets and the last four outdoor championships. Central Florida’s women won last month’s indoor title and have captured the last three outdoor meets. But both schools are leaving C-USA after this season.
During the 49ers’ previous stint in C-USA, the men’s team won the indoor championship in 2001. The women were second in 2005, and Olesen believes the team was on the verge of a championship, had it not moved to the Atlantic 10.
The A-10 and C-USA conference meets are organized differently. For example, the A-10 allows each school to enter only three athletes in any event. C-USA has no such restrictions.
Olesen plans to spend part of the summer analyzing how his athletes compare to those whose schools will be C-USA members next year. The study may change his perspective about which events need added depth on his teams.
Olesen is not the only one looking ahead. Freshman hurdler Alvonna Blakney has found herself peeking at the C-USA performance lists.
“I’ve looked at the stats for Conference USA, and I’m like, ‘That’s some good competition’,” Blakney said. “I feel it’s better competition, but some teams are leaving and some are coming in. So what I looked at doesn’t even matter.”