University City

Charlotte 49ers sports had tough time transitioning to new conference

The success Charlotte 49ers teams enjoyed in its previous conference, the Atlantic 10, was unprecedented.

From 2005-2013, more than half of Charlotte’s programs won regular season or tournament championships during the A-10 affiliation. Men’s golf and women’s and men’s track and field dominated during those eight years.

That all changed during the 2013-14 school year when the university transitioned to Conference USA, the league with which it had been affiliated from 1995-2005. This year, only one Charlotte team – men’s soccer – won a team championship of any kind.

Most of the Charlotte 49ers coaches – if not all of them – expected tougher competition in the new conference. This year gives them a benchmark for how much their teams need to improve to be more competitive.

The fall sports teams allowed the 2013-14 year to start on a high note.

Charlotte’s football team played its inaugural season to much fanfare. The 49ers won their first two games and finished with five victories in 11 games.

The men’s and women’s soccer teams, both of which were at or near the top of the A-10 standings for many years, held their own against their new C-USA opponents.

The conference split its standings into East and West divisions in women’s soccer, the only sport to have such an arrangement. Charlotte (11-7-2 overall, 5-3-2 conference) won the East Division.

The 49ers won a quarterfinal match over Marshall but lost to North Texas State in double overtime 1-0 in the semifinals.

The men’s soccer team’s schedule got tougher with its C-USA connection. Several league teams were nationally ranked over the course of the season, like Alabama-Birmingham, Tulsa, and C-USA regular season champion New Mexico.

Charlotte (12-6-3, 4-3-2) also played ranked non-conference opponents in Wake Forest and Clemson, giving the 49ers the 10th toughest schedule in the nation.

Charlotte finished tied for fifth in the C-USA regular season standings but won the conference tournament on its home turf and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in five years.

“We were really proud to win the conference championship ... especially with the strength of our conference,” said coach Kevin Langan. “We want to win a national championship but we have to achieve our conference goals first.”

Also in the fall season, the volleyball team (12-17, 2-12) finished next to last in the league standings leading to the firing of its coach, Chris Redding.

The men’s basketball team (17-14, 7-9), the university’s long-time flagship athletic program, finished in the middle of the pack, much like it had a for a long time in the A-10. As an No. 8 seed, it won a first round conference tournament game over UAB but lost in the quarterfinals to regular season champion Louisiana Tech.

The women’s basketball team (15-16, 9-7) extended its post-season tournament streak to 12 years but lost in the first round of the WNIT to St. Bonaventure, a former A-10 foe. Charlotte tied for sixth in the regular season.

In the spring, the softball, men’s tennis (13-7), and women’s tennis (7-13) teams all advanced to their sport’s post-season tournament but none of them advanced past the first round. The softball team (20-29, 10-13) played well in a 1-0 loss against 19th ranked Tulsa in the tournament’s opening round.

The golf team, which had won four of the last five A-10 tournaments, finished fourth in its first year back in C-USA. Senior Frank Castro, however, qualified for the NCAA regionals as an individual.

Charlotte’s men’s and women’s track and field teams won 23 team titles between the indoor and outdoor seasons in their eight years in A-10. This year, however, the men’s team placed sixth in both the indoor and outdoor C-USA meets and women’s placed sixth and eleventh, respectively.

“It’s hard to wrap your mind around it when you come back from a conference meet and you set school records, you have personal bests but you finish sixth and eleventh,” said head track and field coach Bob Olesen. “We need to rectify it.

“The beauty of the sport is when we come back from a meet, there’s always something good to talk about. It depends on how you measure success.”