Two years ago, Ayanna Holmes spent her Thanksgiving in the Big Apple. This year, she and her Charlotte 49ers basketball teammates will be feasting over the river and through the desert, in Las Vegas.
Spending the annual holiday in some of the farthest corners of the country is a far cry from how Holmes is used to spending Thanksgiving: with family and friends in Salisbury.
Such is the life of a college basketball player as the calendar year approaches its end.
Charlotte will be playing Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in The Lady Rebels Round-up, a tournament hosted by the University of Nevada – Las Vegas.
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In the opening round, the 49ers will play Cincinnati, an rival from the old Conference USA days, and will face either UNLV or Fordham, an old Atlantic 10 rival, the next day.
“Normally I’d be home with my family,” said Holmes, a junior guard who helped Salisbury High to three straight state titles. “But now I can’t do that. So you get used to not seeing them on Thanksgiving Day.
“I’m looking forward to playing different teams. It’s a different atmosphere, being so far away. We’ll see how we can handle better teams in a different area.”
When Holmes was a freshman at Charlotte, the team played at the Courtyard LaGuardia Turkey Classic in Brooklyn, N.Y. One of her lasting memories from that trip is taking in the Broadway show “Spider-Man.”
During that season, the 49ers also traveled to Miami after Christmas for the Sun and Fun Classic hosted by Florida International, which is now a C-USA opponent.
Last year, Charlotte stayed home for Thanksgiving and played in a post-Christmas tournament in Atlanta.
Freshman guard Ciara Gregory will be spending her first Thanksgiving away from her family. Hailing from Jeanette, Pa., outside Pittsburgh, she is already farther from her home than any other Charlotte player.
“If I was back at home, we’d have dinner at my grandma’s,” said Gregory, “and watch the Thanksgiving Day parades with my mom, eat dinner, and watch basketball or whatever is on.”
Per coach Cara Consuegra’s wishes, the extended trips are not only about basketball. The team’s main focus is winning games, but she believes her players deserve the chance to be tourists as well.
“I think our student-athletes work really hard,” said Consuegra, in her third season coaching the 49ers. “Obviously they’re given a lot of things, but they work hard for those things, too.
“To give them an opportunity to see something different, I love to do that. None of our players have ever been to Las Vegas.”
The team will have Nov. 27 off from basketball and will arrive in Las Vegas on Thanksgiving Day. They are scheduled to eat Thanksgiving dinner together in one of the casinos.
Touring the Vegas Strip is on Friday’s agenda, along with preparing for Saturday’s opening-round game by practicing and watching game film.
After the team’s 1-2 start, Consuegra is still looking for proper execution and some offensive chemistry from her team.
Volleyball staff gone
Volleyball coach Chris Redding and his staff were relieved of their duties a day after the 49ers’ season-ending loss at Alabama-Birmingham Nov. 17.
Redding had a career record of 93-110 over his seven years at Charlotte, including a 12-17 mark this season.
In two of the past four years, the 49ers raised more money for breast cancer research than any other college program in the annual Dig Pink campaign. Redding’s teams have also received the American Volleyball Coaches Association Team Academic Award three times.
Filling the post void
Redshirt junior forward Gabby Tyler is expected to fill part of the void left by the graduation of Charlotte’s formidable post tandem from last year: Jen Hailey and Amanda Dowe.
In the 49ers’ 90-55 loss at Minnesota on Nov. 13, Tyler scored a career-high 16 points and grabbed six rebounds in 29 minutes.
Through three games, Tyler was leading the team with a scoring average of 10.3 points per game. Freshman guard Lefty Webster was second with a 9.3 average.