CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A new season rises above the horizon Friday for the Charlotte women’s basketball team, as it opens the year at home against Liberty at 5 p.m. in the first game of a 49ers basketball doubleheader inside Halton Arena. The anticipation of the new season, which includes a return to Conference USA, is at its peak as the squad returns to the floor for the first time in the 2013-14 regular season.
Charlotte starts the campaign after posting a 26-6 record last year and reaching the WNIT Sweet 16. Head coach Cara Consuegra had a chance to get a first look at the team Saturday when it handed Johnson C. Smith a 98-46 setback in exhibition action.
This year’s squad will feature a different look than recent seasons, as the shift from a primary post game turns into a perimeter-oriented focus. Leading the charge on the outside will be the lone senior, Ny Hammonds, who set single-season school records for assists (209) and minutes played (1101) on her way to receiving All-Atlantic 10 Third Team honors and a mention on the Players Making the Buzz list for the Nancy Lieberman Award in 2012-13.
Hammonds will be joined by a pair of juniors in the backcourt, including sharpshooter Hillary Sigmon who drained a career-best 67 3-pointers a year ago. She added two more in the exhibition contest and is the only other returning starter other than Hammonds.
Ayanna Holmes will be looked upon for an increase role this season. She responded with a stat-stuffer box score line of seven points, six rebounds and five assists in just 24 minutes in the exhibition game.
Sophomore Tori Carter poured in 10 points during the exhibition, as she earned a start coming out of preseason camp. Freshmen Tanisha Brown, Ciara Gregory and Lefty Webster combined for 26 points in the exhibition as they stepped onto the collegiate floor for the first time.
In the paint, Charlotte welcomes back redshirt junior Gabby Tyler, who missed all of last season with an injury. As one of the team’s captains, along with Sigmon, Tyler will be counted on to help offset the graduations of Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Jennifer Hailey and All-Atlantic 10 Third Team selection Amanda Dowe.
Sophomore Kira Gordon, who became the first Niners freshman to play a full season since 2001-02, added 15 points, including 6-of-7 field goals, and eight rebounds in the exhibition. Her role on this year’s team will also likely increase, using her athleticism to her advantage.
Junior Olivia Rankin shined the brightest during the exhibition contest, tallying a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds. She will combine with sophomore Alexis Alexander to provide depth on the low block. Alexander burst onto the scene last year with eight points against Florida State.
Freshman Meme Garner and Kenya Olley also will factor into the post play rotation. Garner was the only one to see action in the exhibition, registering five points with four rebounds, while Olley rested an injury but she should be good-to-go moving forward.
Liberty enters the opener coming off a 27-7 campaign in which it reached the NCAA First Round, falling to Purdue. The Flames, under the direction of 15th-year head coach Carey Green, won the Big South regular season and tournament crowns. Two starters and nine letterwinners return for this year’s squad from Lynchburg, Va.
Charlotte owns a 1-0 lead in the all-time series. The two teams met in the 2011 WNIT First Round, picking up a 62-56 triumph. Tyler was the lone 49ers current player to compete in that contest.
The Niners will then turn around two days later and make the trek to Manhattan, Kan., to face Kansas State. It will mark the second game in three days for both schools, as the Wildcats open at home Friday against Tennessee State.
Charlotte nearly toppled Kansas State last year, falling 67-63 at home Nov. 24 in the series’ inaugural meeting. It was one of just four home setbacks a year ago for the 49ers.
The Wildcats return three starters and nine letterwinners from a year ago when they reached the WNIT Semifinals and finished with a 19-18 mark. Head coach Deb Patterson returns to the bench for her 18th season guiding the Big XII school.
Both games can be heard on Charlotte49ers.com with Josh Feldman handling play-by-play duties. Friday’s home contest will also include live video at a subscription rate on the website, while Sunday’s game can be viewed on K-StateHD.TV.
Live stats will also be available for both games, linked through Charlotte49ers.com, and updates will be provided additionally on Twitter by following @49erGameDay.
Friday’s home opener will be Military Appreciation Night and the Niners will honor Armed Services Veterans by wearing special camouflage shirts during warmups. Camo t-shirts will be a part of a giveaway and the Charlotte marketing office will have red, white and blue ribbons available for fans on the marketing table.
With it being a doubleheader with the men’s team, all tickets are $10 for both games. The Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) will also be on-hand with free admission to those who bring a canned food item. The SAAC is in a competition with other SAAC organizations at other Conference USA schools to raise money and bring in the most canned food items.
Fans are also encouraged to help make a donation to Operation Hat Trick. Three hats are available for purchase through the online store and 10 percent of proceeds will be donated to Operation Hat Trick.
Lastly, the team will be available for postgame autographs in three locations: the salons, practice gym and food court areas.