Inside the Charlotte Sting training camp

VandyMania's Whitney D. was on the road again last weekend-- she brings back this photo gallery from the WNBA's Charlotte Sting training camp, where rookies Jenni Benningfield (Vanderbilt), Kelly Mazzante (Penn State) and Nicole Powell (Stanford) are working hard to try to land roster spots.

First stop is uptown Charlotte. Rookies and visitors innocently ask, "Where is uptown? Is it close to downtown?" As a matter of fact, it is. In Charlotte, downtown and "uptown" are one and the same.

During training camp, the team stays in uptown Charlotte in a block of rooms at a comfortable hotel nestled in the shadow of Ericsson Stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers. The heart of uptown is within easy walking distance. When the season arrives and the roster has become more stable, they'll move to apartments.

Next stop is the Bobcats Training Center, where the actual training sessions take place. It's 20 minutes away down I-77, just across the South Carolina border in Fort Mill. The training center, in the distant right of the above photo, is located on an expansive tract of land which also includes the baseball stadium for the Charlotte Knights.

"Bobcats" is the nickname of Charlotte's new NBA expansion team, which will play its first season in 2004-05. Billionaire Bob Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, acquired the Sting as part of his successful bid for the NBA franchise.

The training center had been used by the Charlotte Hornets before they relocated to New Orleans in 2002. It's been recently renovated and will serve as the training facility for both the Bobcats and the Sting.

During training camp, there are practice sessions in the morning and in the late afternoon, with weight training before the morning session. Doors are opened to the media at the end of practice.

The facility features two full-sized courts. Originally the building was designed to accommodate other types of activities, so there's a stage to the left and bleachers to the right.

Both of the Sting's preseason home games will be held here, rather than in the Charlotte Coliseum where regular seasons games will be played this year. Next season both the Bobcats and the Sting will play in the new arena that's currently under construction in the heart of uptown Charlotte.

In the past, the Sting shared the Hornets' distinctive teal and purple colors. The Bobcats' colors are orange and blue, and this season the Sting has transitioned into the new colors.

The practice courts show the new colors, and the Sting's uniforms were updated this season to incorporate the new color scheme. The markings on the court show the extended 3-point line and the widened lane, which will be in effect for the first time this season in the WNBA.

At the end of practice, everybody breaks up for shooting. The pullout bleachers can be seen in the background.

It's the ubiquitous end-of-practice huddle. Today there are some last minute instructions about the team's upcoming appearance at the "Taste of Charlotte" street festival in uptown which will take place in the afternoon. It will be the team's first public appearance this season and will also be the first time they have worn their re-designed uniforms in public.

After the huddle, stretching, and talking to VandyMania for a few minutes, Jenni Benningfield poses for a photo before she leaves to grab some lunch and get cleaned up for the afternoon's festivities.

The last stop is uptown once again. The team is scheduled to appear on the main stage at the corner of Trade and Tryon Streets, located in the midst of a myriad of booths featuring food, arts and crafts, with music coming from every direction. There's a good crowd in attendance,

Before the appointed hour, the team is waiting to make their appearance on stage. At first glance, it looks like the veterans on the team are at the end of the line for introductions. Dawn Staley, Andrea Stinson, and Sophia Witherspoon are members of a select group of players who've been around since the league's inception. Closer examination, however, reveals that the players are in alphabetical order, with Witherspoon and Kara Wolters, a 1999 UConn graduate and the tallest player on the Sting's roster, at the end of the line.

The alphabetical order means that "Benningfield" is at the front of the line, with her two mini-basketballs ready to throw into the crowd when the appropriate moment arrives.

After all the players are introduced, the Sting's Head Coach and General Manager Trudi Lacey addresses the crowd.

Then it's time to sign autographs.

Stanford's Nicole Powell was the Sting's first draft pick, No. 3 overall.

Kelly Mazzante from Penn State and Jenni were the Sting's second round draft picks.

As the session winds down, the fickle Carolina weather switches back from sun to rain once again. The team calls it a day and leaves with the happy thought that they'll have a day off on Sunday, the first since camp began a week before.

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Photos by Whitney D., copyright 2004 for Top Stories