It’s been so long since the last time a Charlotte 49ers women’s basketball did not make the post-season that one of its oldest players, senior Ny Hammonds, was still in grade school when it happened.
The 2001-02 season was the most recent time the 49ers failed to reach either the NCAA tournament or the Women’s National Invitational tournament. That was the same year that current Charlotte head coach Cara Consuegra started her college coaching career, as a director of operations at Penn State.
This week, the 49ers head to El Paso, Texas, for the Conference USA tournament with the goal of winning it and earning an automatic NCAA bid. If they fall short, they hope for a WNIT bid, which would be Charlotte’s 12th straight post-season berth.
“We have to make the post-season,” said sophomore forward Kira Gordon. “There’s no question about it. That’s what we’re playing for.”
Consuegra, in her third year at Charlotte, feels sure the 49ers will secure a WNIT spot if they can come out of the tournament with an overall record that is better than .500.
Before the final two regular season away games (March 5 at Tulsa and March 7 at Alabama-Birmingham), Charlotte was 14-13 and 8-6 in C-USA games.
Charlotte could easily be 20-7 overall and 12-2 in league play. It has lost six games, including four in conference, by two points each.
At least one win by Charlotte in its final two games would clinch the sixth seed in the conference tournament, giving the team a first-round bye.
The 49ers have struggled with consistency all season. Their longest win streak was three games in the first weeks of January. But the last time Charlotte had a losing streak of more than two games was in November.
Charlotte won 26 games last year, but when it lost its two best players – Jen Hailey and Amanda Dowe – to graduation, the team also lost its identity as a post-dominant team. With several key roles being filled by new players, the 49ers have fought hard to find a new identity this season.
“As we go down the stretch I think the team’s identity is ‘team first,’” said Consuegra. “We don’t have a superstar. It’s been team-ball.
“If you look at the games we’ve won and played well in, we have five people in double figures and several people with multiple rebounds and 18 (team) assists and holding the opponent to under 40 percent shooting. When we play together and play for each other, we’re pretty good.”
Hammonds, the program’s career assist leader and the only senior, became only the sixth player in NCAA women’s basketball history to record triple-doubles in consecutive games on Feb. 28 (Florida International) and March 1 (Marshall).
“I feel like we have a lot more than what our record shows,” said Hammond. “(Our record) is not as good as what we wanted it to be. But we have so much more left. I’m trying to get my team to realize that I’m going to do whatever I can do.”
Entering the regular season’s final week, Charlotte trailed these teams in the C-USA standings: Middle Tennessee (14-1), UTEP (12-3), Southern Miss (12-3), Tulane (11-4), and East Carolina (11-5).
The men’s and women’s indoor track and field teams each finished in sixth place at the C-USA Championships March 1 in Birmingham. Joann Blakney ran a personal best time of 7.35 seconds to win the 60-meter dash. Kerrick Williams won the weight throw with a personal best toss of 17.78 meters.
East Carolina won the women’s title while UTEP captured the men’s crown.
The softball team lost to Georgetown in the finals of the 49ers Invitational March 2. The 49ers reached the championship game by winning two games the previous day. They beat Georgetown 23-2 and Liberty 7-1. In those two games, sophomore outfielder Jessica Plemmons was 6-for-6 with four RBI and two runs scored.