University City

Plenty of optimism as new UNC Charlotte volleyball coach leads 49ers

Karen Weatherington is the new UNC Charlotte volleyball coach.
Karen Weatherington is the new UNC Charlotte volleyball coach. Courtesy of Sam Roberts

Brittany Held is embarking on her senior season with the Charlotte 49ers volleyball team, but in a way she feels like a first-year player again.

Just like last season.

For the third time in four years, Held is playing for a new coach. Karen Weatherington, who led Hampton University to NCAA tournament appearances in 2013 and 2014, was hired to fill the vacancy left by Gokhan Yilmaz, who guided Charlotte a single season.

Held, who led Conference USA in assists last season, says wading through such coaching staff turnover has been challenging; but she shares an enthusiasm for Weatherington’s coaching style, which she feels will help the 49ers record their best season in a decade.

“It feels like you’re a freshman all over again,” said Held, a setter. “It’s difficult but I’m happy with it. She’s open with communication. She wants us to talk with her about what we’re feeling and she’ll do the same for us.”

Yilmaz resigned abruptly in January after leading Charlotte to its first conference tournament appearance since 2010. The 49ers won their final four games of the 2014 regular season to clinch eighth place in C-USA. They finished 17-17, their most wins since 2006.

Weatherington was hired in February, bringing 20 years of NCAA Division I coaching experience, including six as a head coach. She coached at Kennesaw State for four seasons prior to her two-year tenure at Hampton.

This time wasn’t the first Weatherington was interested in a coaching vacancy at Charlotte. She said she applied for head coaching positions a couple of times when she was an assistant coach.

“It’s been on my radar as one of those really great places, back in the day when I was an assistant at Duke and we would play here,” said Weatherington. “I knew it was a beautiful campus.

“I’ve always been an admirer of (Athletic Director) Judy Rose, and recognizing that she’s someone who would be a good mentor. Since Charlotte rejoined Conference USA, it really excited me to be able to play in a conference at a high level.”

Weatherington describes herself as passionate and intense and says she emphasizes ball control and defense, especially blocking at the net.

Most of the recruiting for the 2015 class was complete before her arrival, but she is responsible for the addition of a couple of freshman.

From the time she was hired, Weatherington heard what an accomplishment it was for the 2014 team to win its final four regular-season games and earn a spot in the conference tournament. Charlotte lost two seniors from that team, and a couple more transferred after the season.

When the C-USA pre-season coaches poll was released last month, Charlotte was picked to finish 10th in the 13-team league.

As a team, the 49ers felt slighted.

“There was momentum” from last season, said sophomore middle blocker Marshae Bradbury, an Ardrey Kell High graduate. “We’re really upset. We saw where we were, 10th, and we thought we deserved to be a little higher up there.”

Bradbury is one of the experienced frontline players who will help determine Charlotte’s strength. She was third on the team last year with 67 blocks, one behind Held, who is just one of two seniors on the team.

Charlotte also lost its top three players in kills last season. The returning leader, Abreia Epps, is a redshirt sophomore outside-hitter.

Returning after sitting out a year because of injury is libero Michelle Hovey who led C-USA in digs per set in 2013.

“They recruited a group of great women here,” said Weatherington. “We need to be bigger and more physical at the net. But the resources already in place are really great foundations for building a championship program.”

The 49ers will open the season Aug. 28-29 by hosting the four-team Charlotte Invitational at Halton Arena. They will play Davidson, UNC Asheville and USC Upstate.

Joe Habina is a freelance writer:

Upcoming events

▪ Aug. 23: Women’s soccer vs. Coastal Carolina, Transamerica Field, 2 p.m.

▪ Aug. 28: Women’s soccer at Mercer, 7 p.m.

Volleyball vs. Davidson, Halton Arena, 7 p.m.

▪ Aug. 30: Volleyball vs. USC Upstate, Halton Arena, 12 p.m.

Volleyball vs. UNC Asheville, 7 p.m.

Men’s soccer at Virginia, 7 p.m.

▪ Aug. 30: Women’s soccer vs. Georgia Southern, Transamerica Field, 2 p.m.