After three weeks on the road to open the season, the Charlotte 49er volleyball program finally opens up Halton Arena with three matches as part of the Hilton University 49ers Invitational, starting Friday. A 4:30 p.m. match between Towson and UNC Asheville will open the tournament, while the Niners host Kennesaw State at 7 p.m. in Charlotte's home opener.
The 49ers have posted three straight winning records at home under head coach Chris Redding, and the team is already off to a 7-2 start, matching the team's best start under Redding. Charlotte started 8-2 in 2007, the first season under Redding.
Charlotte typically plays earlier at home, but the Democratic National Convention forced the 49ers to become road warriors away from home, and the early tests on the road have been good for the team in the early going. Charlotte has gotten off to fast starts, winning the opening set in all but the team's last match against Gardner-Webb.
Charlotte saw two matches go to a fifth set tiebreaker, both last Saturday at the Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldog Classic (over UM-Kansas City and Gardner-Webb). Charlotte was 7-3 in five-set matches last year, comprising more than half of the team's 13 total wins.
The 49ers broke a school record by winning the first 10 sets of the season, sweeping their first three opponents and winning the opening set in match four at Clemson. Charlotte's only losses were in four sets at Clemson and in four to East Tennessee State, both after winning the opening set in those matches.
Individually, Bianca Rouse came in to the season with 976 career kills, and eclipsed the 1,000-kill mark in the opening weekend. Since that point, she has been on fire. She leads the team with 134 total kills and has moved from off the 16-person 1,000-kill list at Charlotte to 12th on that list. She trails 11th place by one kill, needs 16 to move up two spots and a total of 62 this weekend to leap three spots on the all-time career list at Charlotte.
Coming into the 2012 season, the biggest question mark would be at the setter position, but that has been the strong suit. After graduating three-year starter Sheri Davis, senior and career back-up Lily Vera has stepped up and is in second in the league and ninth in the NCAA with 11.91 assists per set through the first nine matches, and the team has 14 kills per set to this point of the season.
The tournament field boasts a 28-16 overall record, with three of the four teams sporting seven or more wins. Kennesaw State and Towson are both 8-3 so far this season. KSU and Charlotte have won the last four matches played, while Towson started the season with five straight wins. Asheville started the year by dropping its first five matches, but the Bulldogs have won four of their last eight matches to enter at 4-9.
Saturday, four matches will be played across two sessions, with Kennesaw and Towson starting the day at 10 a.m. Ashville and Charlotte are slated at serve at 12:30 p.m. After a break, Kennesaw and Asheville play their final match of the weekend at 4:30 and Charlotte hosts Towson in the 7 p.m. finale. An All-Tournament Team will be named following the final match of the tournament.
The 49ers will begin their final season of Atlantic 10 Conference play on the road the following weekend.