How the Charlotte 49ers men’s and women’s track and field teams will fare in their first year in Conference USA indoor and outdoor championship meets remains to be seen.
But differences in scheduling and the way their new conference allots athletes in championship meets are certain to affect the way the 49ers approach the postseason.
A change in scheduling already has affected the first part of Charlotte’s indoor season. Instead of participating in an early December meet, as they usually do, the 49ers had to wait until after the semester break for their first competition.
Charlotte will open the 2014 season Jan. 10-11 at the Blazer Invitational at Alabama-Birmingham, one of its new C-USA rivals.
“Our strengths remain what they’ve been in the Atlantic 10,” 49ers coach Robert Olesen said. “I think we’re pretty well balanced and committed to all the different areas. Your depth is always relative to your competition. You’re only deep if you’re scoring points in that area, and with the new conference, that’s a good question.”
Led by 200-meter specialist Anthony Bynum (Hopewell High) and long-sprint standout T’Sheila Mungo (Independence), both juniors, and hurdlers Juanita Leto (junior, Concord High) and Alvonna Blakney (sophomore, West Mecklenburg), both the men’s and women’s sprinters and hurdlers should be strong.
Bynum spent a year at Mississippi State before transferring to Charlotte before the 2012-13 season. He followed that with a successful first year, qualifying for the NCAA East Preliminary Championships in three events: 200 meters, 100 meters and the 400-meter relay.
“Before I came here, I heard they had a lot of success in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” Bynum said. “Hopefully we can carry it over to Conference USA, because we mostly have the same athletes. We’re all fast, and we all have the will to win.”
Mungo set a school record in the 500 meters during last year’s indoor season, and also won the conference championship. She and sophomore 400-meter runner Chris Tate were named Most Outstanding Rookie Performers in women’s and men’s track and field, respectively, at last year’s A-10 indoor championships.
In distance events, senior Maraya Slatter, graduate student Kimberly Spano and junior Zach Greth are all coming off fine cross country seasons. Slatter placed third in the 800 meters at last year’s indoor conference championship.
High jumper and long jumper Coye Still (senior, Hickory Ridge) leads a strong group of men’s and women’s jumpers. Junior Trey McRae and sophomore Will Thomas were both indoor all-conference high jumpers last year.
Sophomore Anthony Campbell is coming off a freshman year in which he won the triple jump at the conference indoor championship and was named the A-10’s Most Outstanding Male Rookie Performer at the outdoor championship. Senior Briauna Jones has made her mark in the long jump and triple jump during her three years, but she is also a standout sprinter.
Senior Katrina Wright and redshirt senior Kerrick Williams (West Mecklenburg) should be a couple of the 49ers’ top point-scorers in the throwing events.
Olesen will have to piece the team together differently for the Conference USA Indoor Championships – scheduled for Feb. 28-March 1 in Birmingham, Ala. – than he did for the A-10 championships.
In the A-10, teams could enter as many as 32 athletes and have up to three in any individual event. In C-USA, teams can enter 28 athletes without limitations on how many can enter a given event.
“It takes a little different strategy in figuring out how to maximize your points with your roster,” said Olesen. “If you’re really deep in a particular area, it’s great. But the more athletes you enter into it, the more you make it so the next (athlete) can’t score as many points.”
The C-USA meet is two weeks later in the schedule than the A-10 meet was, meaning the conference championship will be the last opportunity for athletes to meet NCAA qualifying standards in their events.
In the past, teams could attend another “last-chance” meet to give athletes a chance to qualify for the NCAA without having the pressure of achieving it while also trying to win a conference championship.