CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Head women’s soccer coach John Cullen has announced the 2016 schedule for his Charlotte 49ers, which includes eight home regular-season matches at Transamerica Field in addition to the squad playing host to the Conference USA Championships in November.
“It’s a very unique non-conference schedule in that we’re playing a lot of the ‘Carolina’ schools – East Carolina, Western Carolina, North Carolina and South Carolina. We also have a good weekend down in Georgia against Georgia State and Georgia Southern, along with a couple opponents we lost heartbreakers to last fall in Mercer and Elon at home.
“It’s a pretty strong schedule, particularly when you put North Carolina and South Carolina in there. We have high level competition throughout the non-conference schedule.”
Charlotte will begin the campaign at home Aug. 19 against Western Carolina. It marks the fourth meeting between the two in-state foes, who have not played since 2013 and the Niners increased their series advantage to unbeaten in three tries.
The 49ers then hit the road for their next three, starting with an Aug. 21 clash in Chapel Hill against 22-time national champion North Carolina. The sides have matched up four times overall, including two times in the NCAA Tournament Second Round (1998; 2008). They haven’t squared off since that 2008 meeting, the second of the year between the two programs.
Charlotte will stay on the road to conclude August competition with a trip to the Peach State to face Georgia State (Aug. 26) and Georgia Southern (Aug. 28). It will mark the first regular-season meeting with the Panthers, who served as the exhibition opponent last fall for the 49ers. The Niners then are pitted against the Eagles, whom they defeated last season at Transamerica Field behind Perri Bonner’s game winner.
The 49ers will then play host to Mercer to begin September action. Martha Thomas netted the team’s lone goal in last year’s contest in Macon, Georgia, on a penalty kick.
Charlotte will then make the short trip down I-77 to face South Carolina three days later on Labor Day Sept. 5. The Gamecocks were ranked No. 16 whey they came to Transamerica Field this past fall and reached the NCAA Tournament.
The final non-conference home match will take place Sept. 8 when the 49ers play host to Elon. Thomas recorded both of the Niners goals in last year’s road contest.
Charlotte then heads across the state for a Sept. 11 tilt with East Carolina to conclude the non-conference slate. Thomas once again posted both of the team’s scores in the double-overtime heartbreaker.
“The conference portion of the schedule is extremely difficult, especially with the back end of the games. The lesson we learned from last year is the longer you leave potential points on the board, the more difficult it becomes and the more pressure is on you as a program. You always want to accumulate as many points as you can because there’s a lot of parity in the league. When you take a look at the teams who made the conference (tournament) and those who missed out, there wasn’t a large disparity in points. One victory here; one point there. The more points you can put on the board as quickly as you can, it takes a little bit of pressure off you on the back end and hopefully it transfers pressure to other opponents. We were chasing points and games last year and this year we want to get off to a strong start to put ourselves in a position of strength.”
Charlotte will be looking to improve on its standing in Conference USA in its fourth year back in the league this fall.
“The big picture is to improve upon last season in a number of fronts. We have to be a better team defensively and offensively in respect to being in so many games last year that were one-goal margins and getting that finishing-type mentality. The quality of opponents will stretch us again but if we look at one game and one opponent too often, we’ll lose reality of what the bigger picture is. We have to be better and more competitive, finding ways to win games rather than just playing well in games. We played very well in games but we lacked that winning mentality on the clinical side. I’m excited about the mentality change we’ve already seen from the players.”
The 49ers start Conference USA play with three home matches among their first four, beginning with a Sept. 18 contest against Old Dominion. The lone road matchup in the stretch will be Sept. 23 when the Niners travel to Miami to square off against FIU.
Charlotte returns home the following weekend to welcome a couple of first-time Transamerica Field opponents, UTEP (Sept. 30) and UTSA (Oct. 2). The 49ers have played the Miners and Roadrunners two times previously but all other meetings have come in Texas.
“The UTSA and UTEP weekend last year was one of our most successful weekends in terms of how we played. We came out of it with four points so we’ll gladly be looking for that and more again this fall. It’s always nice to bring them to where you’re playing.”
The ensuing weekend will once again only see the Niners in action for one match, an Oct. 9 game in Boca Raton, Florida, against Florida Atlantic. The Owls were the No. 3 seed in the C-USA Championships last November when the tournament was held in Miami.
The middle weekend of the month will wrap up the home schedule for Charlotte, as it plays host to two opponents. Louisiana Tech will hit the Transamerica Field pitch Oct. 14 followed by Southern Miss two days later. Although it is the final regular-season contests at Charlotte’s home field, it will not mark the final women’s soccer action at the facility this fall.
Before the 49ers return to Transamerica Field, they hit the road for three matches. Charlotte makes a journey to the Lone Star State to meet North Texas (Oct. 21) and Rice (Oct. 23) in Denton and Houston, respectively. The two traditional league powers played their first regular-season matches in the Queen City last fall. North Texas went on to win the Conference USA regular season and tournament titles in 2015, representing the league in the NCAA Tournament.
The Niners cap the campaign Oct. 28 in Huntington, West Virginia, against Marshall. The Thundering Herd placed second in the conference standings last fall and reached the tournament title match before falling to North Texas 1-0.
Charlotte then plays host to the Conference USA Championships, which begin Nov. 2 with four quarterfinal round games. The semifinals will take place Nov. 4 followed by the championship Nov. 6. It marks the second time in the last three years in which the tournament will be played at Transamerica Field.
“There’s quite a number of ways to look at playing this at home – big crowds, home support, familiarity with the fields, less travel – but, as we’ve seen in Conference USA the last couple of years, there’s been teams that have hosted who have not made it. I know our athletic department will do a great job of hosting and putting on a first-class event. But, we have to put ourselves in position to compete in it and win the title. Thankfully, alongside my staff, we can just focus on getting our team very well prepared. Any time you can finish at home in the conference tournament, you have to be excited about the opportunity in front of you.”
More details regarding the 2016 Charlotte women’s soccer season will be released at a later date.
2016 Charlotte women’s soccer schedule
Aug. 19--Western Carolina--7 p.m.
Aug. 21--at North Carolina--3 p.m.
Aug. 26--at Georgia State--7 p.m.
Aug. 28--at Georgia Southern--1 p.m.
Sept. 2—Mercer--8 p.m.
Sept. 5--at South Carolina--6 p.m.
Sept. 8—Elon--7 p.m.
Sept. 11--at East Carolina--2 p.m.
Sept. 18--Old Dominion*--1 p.m.
Sept. 23--at FIU*--7 p.m.
Sept. 30--UTEP*--7 p.m.
Oct. 2--UTSA*--1 p.m.
Oct. 9--at Florida Atlantic*--1 p.m.
Oct. 14--Louisiana Tech*--7 p.m.
Oct. 16--Southern Miss*--1 p.m.
Oct. 21--at North Texas*--8 p.m.
Oct. 23--at Rice*--2 p.m.
Oct. 28--at Marshall*--7 p.m.
Nov. 2-6--Conference USA Championships (Charlotte, N.C.)--TBA
* - Conference USA matches
All home matches in bold played at Transamerica Field
All times Eastern and subject to change