UNT soccer team captain is setting goals in class and on the soccer field
There was a time when one of UNT's most successful students didn't want to attend the university.
Kelsey Hodges, a senior business marketing major and one of the Mean Green soccer team stars, grew up in Denton and had looked forward to leaving town to go to college. She was aggressively recruited by other universities and had every intention of packing up her car and driving away after high school graduation. But one conversation with UNT soccer coach John Hedlund and a few other Mean Green soccer players was all it took to change her mind.
"Once I sat down with Coach Hedlund and my teammates, even though I wasn't a part of the team yet, they made me feel really at home," Hodges says. "It was just very comfortable, and it was a good place to be."
And while Hodges, a team captain and defender, is a standout player on the soccer field, she's also a star in the classroom and even serves as a mentor to other students.
"Captains are role models, especially for the young players," Hedlund says. "They not only see what Kelsey can do on the field, but also what she does academically, and it rubs off on them. She does extremely well as a student. Her overall GPA last year was a 3.3, and she makes sure the younger players are balancing soccer, their education and their social life. You can't cut corners in one of them without the other two suffering. The younger players look up to her. They ask her questions, whether related to the field or the classroom."
Hodges agrees that mentoring younger players is one of her most important roles as team captain.
"As a team leader you have to listen and interact with everyone's personalities," she says. "You have to give constructive criticism, but being a positive person and a supporter of your teammates on and off the field is important. Working hard and being the first to practice helps you lead by your actions."
Even the best students can struggle from time to time, and balancing rigorous academics with the demands of athletic participation can be a difficult task. Hodges, who is also the president of UNT's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, credits on-campus resources like the Student Athlete Academic Center and her athletic academic advisors with challenging her and helping her balance classes and sports to achieve academic success.
"It takes a lot of time management," Hodges says. "You have to keep an open mind and never give up. I try to have the same attitude toward my academics as well as soccer. I'll need both athletics and education to succeed in the future. And now that I'm getting into my upper level marketing classes, it's a lot more fun."
Hodges' career as a soccer player has been just as impressive. She was named a Conference USA Player to Watch for 2013 and has posted 25 career goals – only one shy of 10th place in UNT program history. She also owns six career game-winning goals.
UNT's soccer team is ranked fifth in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America's Central Region poll — ahead of traditional soccer powerhouses Texas, TCU and Kansas — with high hopes of winning its first C-USA title.
Hedlund says Hodges has been a standout player for his team.
"She's a tremendous player," says Hedlund. "Once we got her here, I knew she was the type of player who could run the back line for the next four years. Her first year, we actually played her as a forward, so she could play almost anywhere on the field, to be honest with you. But her last three years, she's really run our defense."
Hodges faced some injury challenges during her athletic career. In July 2012 – just a month before the season began – she suffered a knee injury that threatened to sideline her for the entire year. The injury required surgery and at least four weeks of recuperation – and if recovery took six weeks, she'd be ineligible for the rest of the season.
Luckily, she healed in time to play in the first game and even managed to score goals in the first two games that helped the team take pivotal victories.
"It was hard, but it helped me be a stronger person, player and leader," she says. "I had to lead from the sidelines the first few games of the season, which was difficult, but it helped me grow."
She cites many of the team's accomplishments among her favorite college moments, including their back-to-back conference championships.
"We conquered a lot of battles of negativity toward us since we hadn't won the conference since 2005," she says. "I think that coming together as a team the past two years is my proudest memory."
After graduation, Hodges hopes to play professional soccer, then use the skills she learned through her business marketing degree to enter the field of sports marketing, either with a professional sports team or with a business like Nike or Gatorade.
Until then, she still has the rest of the soccer season to play through — hopefully followed by a playoff season— plus plenty of classes and studying.
"UNT is an excellent school," Hodges says. "It's a wonderful environment with a variety of students from many different states and countries. It's great to have the best of both worlds— on the field and on campus."