Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Charlotte 49ers Athletics Media Relations Department sat down with third-year Head Coach Karen Aston to get her thoughts on the upcoming season and several other topics. Aston guided the 49ers to the program’s first-ever conference tournament title after Charlotte captured the Atlantic 10 Tournament title last season. Charlotte won 23 games en route to a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

What did last year’s Atlantic 10 Tournament title, NCAA Tournament appearance and a 23-win season mean to you personally as well as the program? As far as the program is concerned I feel it was an enormous step. Charlotte 49ers women’s basketball had been in great hands when I arrived here, but that was a step that needed to be taken. The players really set some high goals last year. I think that everybody understood that you can only talk about going to the NCAA Tournament so much before it becomes just talk. Winning the A-10 Tournament and going to the NCAA Tournament was validation for the program in terms of moving forward. It was a great satisfaction for me personally, because the players really talked about specific and attainable goals. The team understood there were steps throughout the year that needed to be taken to achieve their final goals. It was fun to watch them take those steps little by little. You could see their confidence growing and the team’s chemistry was tremendous which made it fun. It was very memorable for all of us that were a part of the journey.

Last year’s seniors were three-time All-Atlantic 10 selection center Danielle Burgin and the program’s career leader in three-points, shooting guard Traci Ray. What did Burgin and Ray mean to you as well as to the 49ers women’s basketball program? Last year’s junior and senior classes will always be very special to me. This was my first head coaching job and those players had been through a lot by having two coaching changes in their careers and their commitment to me as their coach and our staff was tremendous. Danielle and Traci said that we are going to have a great senior year and leave a mark on the program and I think that’s what they did. They were leaders who brought different things to the table, but the combination of the two was really good. They were humble everyday which is the best thing I can say about them. The way they lived every day on and off the court was something to be respected and we miss them.

Any changes to your approach as you enter your third season at Charlotte? I think that is the one thing that you learn quickly as a coach is that every year is different. Our first year obviously I thought that we had to establish as a staff how things were going to be run here at Charlotte. I think with that first year under our belt we all became more comfortable. Last year, we had some older players that understood what the expectations were and knew what every day was going to be like. It was very different from the in terms of our approach every day with the group. As you graduate two players and you bring in new ones, all of a sudden this year seems dramatically different. The one thing that I understand about coaching is that it is all about chemistry and how the players approach every day. It will take some time to figure out what this team’s personality is going to be but I am excited about the potential.

Juniors Kendria Holmes and Epiphany Woodson and freshman Jaquaria Forney all are from the City of Charlotte. What does it mean to have three players on the roster from the Charlotte area? It shows that Charlotteans feel that our University is a great choice for them. Playing for the 49ers is a choice that allows them to play closer to home and have their families watch them play. I think the missing piece has been for Charlotte area high school players to feel secure in the fact that they will be able to play at a high level of basketball, on top of getting a great education. I think that it is a tribute to our players that are in the program now and were in the past. I’m thrilled that Kendria, Epiphany and Jaquaria saw the vision that all of us have, and they want to come back here and represent the city and this University.

What does the program need to do to take that next step forward which is advancing in the NCAA Tournament? At the beginning of every season you have goals of taking steps forward. Last year winning the A-10 Tournament and making the NCAA Tournament was obviously a huge step. I’m not so sure that you don’t have to spend a couple of years just getting to NCAA Tournament before you can advance. Obviously we would love to just jump to the Sweet Sixteen, but I feel it is definitely a process with the players and the coaches. I think the next step in the long-term vision is that going to NCAA Tournament has to become a regular occurrence. We have to get to the NCAA Tournament two or three years in a row and then all of a sudden you can stop being amazed by being there and start thinking about winning. So again, we are striving for consistency.

What are the team’s goals for the season? Each season is unique with different goals. Our first goal is to develop the chemistry that I saw in our team last year. That is a challenge and will always be, because each year the players are different and they bring along new challenges. I think we have been fortunate here that are whole coaching staff has remained intact. You have consistency in what you’re doing when your staff remains together and we have been extremely blessed to have all been here together for three years. Everybody’s goal is to win a conference championship and go to the NCAA Tournament, but we also have academic goals. I was really proud of our team last year. We had a 3.0 GPA as a team and that is a goal that we will always have as a team. Of course we want to finish in the top three in the A-10, make the NCAA’s, etc. But, I also think we need to take a step up in our non-conference schedule. If I had a specific goal it would be to continue to challenge ourselves against Top-25 programs and win some of those games. The conference has established itself nationally, and non-conference success makes a big difference.

What about strength of the Atlantic 10 conference which had eight postseason teams including three NCAA Tournament teams last season? I think we should have had four teams in the tournament last year, and the leagues’ performance in the NIT was a reflection of that. I am proud to be in the conference, and I believe that the best is yet to come for the A-10!

What are your overall thoughts on the 2009-10 schedule which features 13 teams that reached postseason play last season? I thought the first year I was here that our non-conference schedule was tough. However, I believe that we put together a schedule that could be the toughest so far. Part of that stems from the draw that we got in the Bahamas tournament which made our schedule very tough. Opening up on the road at East Carolina is never easy. Then, we play South Carolina at home and Duke on the road in the first ten days which will obviously be good for our team. We are going to have to take it one game at a time. Playing these teams will make us better and prepare us for A-10 play. Every step we take in the non-conference schedule helps our RPI and helps in gaining respect. Conference-wise I believe that every night has become a challenge. The biggest change since we entered the league is that the so-called "bottom half" has become tougher and no one can be taken lightly. It becomes a challenge, but one that I think we all welcome.

The 2010 Atlantic 10 Tournament will be played at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. What are your thoughts on a neutral site for the A-10 Tournament? Well, if we can’t have it in Charlotte, this is the next best thing…HA! It was huge plus for our team to play the A-10 Tournament at home last year. However, it is a step in the right direction for our conference and the league coaches wanted that challenge. I think the players will like it because it will be a new site for them, and its neutral, but more than anything we want it to be a great student-athlete experience, which is what this is all about.

What are your thoughts on the senior class (Erin Floyd, Jabrenta Hubbard, Aysha Jones and Ashley Spriggs)? The seniors are special people to me personally, first and foremost. I have a great deal of respect and love for this class. They were on that bubble here in my first year, where they could have chosen to go somewhere else and play because I wasn’t who they came to play for. They stuck it out with a great deal of pride and patience. They are a workhorse group and you won’t find four players with better work ethic, better morals and everything about them speaks of class. It’s hard to talk about each one of them individually because to me, they are a group. I admire the way they carry themselves and their commitment to being the best that they could be during their time spent at Charlotte.

What are your thoughts on the juniors (Kelsey McAdoo, Shannon McCallum and Kendria Holmes)? First of all, Kelsey came in with the senior class, but she redshirted so she is a veteran as far as understanding how things work in the program. I have a great deal of respect for her fortitude because she has had several complications due to her high school injuries and has pressed on through it all. We need her to contribute to the team this year. We obviously will have a size disadvantage on most nights and she can really help us in that area. Kendria and Shannon are very talented and I think everybody saw what Shannon was capable of toward the end of last year. I think she began to change her approach in practice and in games. I have had the privilege of coaching some talented players and Shannon is right up there at the top with any of them. I am anxious to see Kendria in a game because she had been on the floor last year but it was just in practice. It should be fun to see how she takes the reins at the point guard position this year. She is a terrific passer and sees the floor as good as unbelievably well. She will add a different dimension to our team because of her passing and creating ability.

What are your thoughts on the sophomore class (Rachelle Coward, Nicole Hargraves and Katie Meador)? This class obviously did not get a lot of playing time last year due to our veteran team. I have seen them mature from last year. They stayed here this summer and put in a lot of work in the gym. We need them to contribute this season. Nicole is expected to help us in the paint. I think that Katie really has matured a lot and hopefully will be able to contribute at the point guard position. Rachelle has the ability to stretch the defense because she can really shoot the basketball. She has gotten stronger and is in better shape. I expect this group to play a bigger role this year.

What are your thoughts on the newcomers (Epiphany Woodson, Amanda Dowe, Jaquaria Forney, Jennifer Hailey, Jessica Johnson)? First of all let me touch on Epiphany, who transferred here from the University of Miami. Epiphany is a Charlotte native and I couldn’t be more excited about her in a lot of ways. She came from a traditional high school power in Providence Day. She won a lot of basketball games there and is well known here in the community. I’m looking forward to seeing her grow as a basketball player. She is one of those players that saw a vision of what we are trying to do here and I am excited that she decided to come home and contribute to our program. As far as the freshmen are concerned I think the sky is the limit with this group. They are an extremely athletic group and all have different qualities they bring to the table. You will see that they have athleticism, length and quickness. Jaquaria Forney is another Charlotte native that chose to come here that committed early to us and never looked back. She had a lot of opportunities to go elsewhere, but she decided on Charlotte. She will be an early contributor at the guard position. She is an excellent defender and has the ability to create her own shot. Amanda and Jennifer are two players that will be thrown into the fire quickly. They both have a high-level of athletic ability in the paint but they will have some growing pains. I’m expecting tons from those two, but we all will have to be patient as they grow. As far as Jessica Johnson is concerned she is an unknown in regards to rankings because she is recovering from an injury during her junior year of high school. She has a tremendous upside because she is a great athlete. JJ actually jumped in the state track meet last year! All four of these players are long, athletic and fit great in our up-tempo system. Again, I repeat, the sky is the limit with this class!

What are fans going to expect to see when they watch us this year? We have a lot of new players on the team. If I had to guess, we are going to be a lot thinner across the board! When you see the freshmen you are going to want to feed them. Our up-tempo style of play will continue, however, my question is how frenetic the pace is going to have to be with this team and that depends upon the play of the guards. The difference may be in the way we play defensively. I believe we will press more, continue to run, and probably rebound by committee. Our success will be determined on the defensive end when it is all said and done.

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