Photo creditGabby Hutter, Charlotte Athletics
Despite NCAA tournament loss, 49ers cap off a historic season
As the clock wound down on March 20, 2021 there was one thing that appeared to be on the faces of all the players and coaches of the Charlotte women’s basketball team; disappointment, as they fell to UMASS in the WNIT.
Fast forward to April 3; Octavia Jett-Wilson announced she would return for her extra year of eligibility.
Then came a busy summer hitting the transfer portal hard bringing in Mikayla Boykin from Duke, KeKe McKinney and Kameron Roach from Kentucky as well.
Things were looking up for the team as Jett-Wilson was named preseason player of the year for Conference USA and the team was picked to win the conference title as well. With the target on their back, the 49ers began their brutal non-conference slate.
Coach Cara Consuegra’s tactics in her non-conference scheduling might have been puzzling to some, but for her, she wanted to make sure that her squad was tested by some of the best teams in the country before they started their conference schedule.
This tactic paid off.
Despite having a 4-6 non-conference record, the 49ers began their conference slate with their heads high, knowing that they have been tested to the point that they knew they could compete in C-USA.
After a Covid-19 postponement, the 49ers finally got to start their conference season against UTEP on Jan. 13. They got the win, and was able to ride the momentum to four more consecutive wins before dropping their first game in conference to Old Dominion.
They chipped away four more straight wins before running into the second best team in the East division of C-USA, Middle Tennessee. Despite their best efforts down the stretch, the 49ers dropped this game by one point.
What better way to follow up a loss than to blow out an opponent by 46? Well, that’s exactly what Charlotte did against Western Kentucky on Feb. 17 in front of the Halton home crowd. It was the best top to bottom performance of the year as the team was firing on all cylinders and seemed to be able to do no wrong.
The 49ers went 5-1 the rest of the way with a final win at home against Southern Miss which clinched the regular season conference championship. This was nice, but the team was still hungry, and Jett-Wilson wanted the coveted conference tournament championship.
With the double bye secured, the 49ers didn’t get their tournament going till Thursday March 10 against a hot Rice team, who came in winning seven of their last eight games.
It was anything but an easy opening game, as the Owls gave the 49ers all they wanted and then some. However it was the 49ers coming out with the win advancing to the semifinals. Their opponent? The North Texas Mean Green.
In what was, for all intents and purposes, a home game for the Mean Green, Charlotte got off to a hot start leading by double digits in the second quarter. North Texas wouldn’t fold as they clawed their way all the way back, but the resiliency and poise of senior point guard Jada McMillan shined through.
She fouled the Mean Green’s best player, Aly Gamez, out of the game and hit a big pull up jumper to put the 49ers up five under a minute to go. From there it was a free throw contest, and the 49ers advanced to the championship game.
Early in the second semifinal game, it appeared that Charlotte would get another shot at Middle Tennessee as they led LA Tech for the better part of the game. However, it only matters who leads at the end, and that was the Lady Techsters.
What more could a basketball fan ask for? Number one seed in the east — Charlotte, vs. the number one seed in the west — LA Tech.
A lot of teams could have folded and given up trailing 13-2 after the first quarter. Charlotte isn’t one of those teams. Still trailing by nine at halftime, it was clear Charlotte started finding their rhythm as they matched LA Tech’s scoring in the second quarter.
The third quarter can really be defined with one word, or name rather… Tae!
Jett-Wilson wouldn’t let her team lose. Shot after shot, drive after drive, Jett-Wilson was carrying her team to victory.
It was McMillan that hit the big shot in the end putting the 49ers up two possessions at the end. The clock wound down, hit all zeros, and the confetti and streamers flew.
It was truly the redemption story of a team with high expectations that found themselves in a valley a season ago, to a team on the mountain top as conference champions.
They punched their first ticket to the NCAA tournament in 13 years, and coach Consuegra’s first NCAA tournament appearance.
Despite falling to Indiana in the first round, the team won’t get down on themselves, but rather celebrate their accomplishments. Jett-Wilson accomplished what she came back to do.
This is their redemption story, and the 49ers story of perseverance and determination to re-write the script.
So, what’s next?
The 49ers will go into the off-season knowing they have accomplished more than any other 49er team has in the past.
Who is leaving and who is returning?
There are two players that are done for sure, and those are KeKe McKinney and Octavia Jett-Wilson. They are both out of remaining eligibility and will move on from the program.
Jada McMillan can use her Covid year if she so chooses. This decision hasn’t been made yet. Also, due to one medical red-shirt year and the Covid year, guard Mikayla Boykin could return for another year as well. This decision is also in limbo.
Looking to next year
The 49ers will enjoy their off-season while making preparations for next season. All eyes will be on the 49ers next season and the target could never be larger than the one that will be on the 49ers next season. It’s a challenge they are used to and coach Cara Consuegra will embrace.