Kelsey Hodges thought long and hard about the benefits and drawbacks of spending her college career at North Texas.
The former Guyer standout grew up in Denton and went to UNT games through the years.
Three years later and many memories and accomplishments later, Hodges couldn’t be happier with the way her decision to play for the Mean Green paid off.
Hodges has developed into one of the better all-around players in recent UNT history, played in the NCAA tournament and put herself in position to play professionally heading into her senior season that will begin tonight with a game at Texas Southern.
“I never thought it would work out as well as it has,” Hodges said. “I can’t imagine it any other way. I enjoyed having friends and family at every game and having the support from people who know you’re a Denton girl.”
Hodges was named to the All-Sun Belt Conference first-team in each of the past two seasons and has 23 career goals, an impressive total considering she has been a vital defender for UNT for most of her career. She needs only three more goals to move into the top 10 in UNT history.
“Kelsey anchors our defense and does a great job,” UNT coach John Hedlund said. “We just have to keep her healthy. I don’t worry about anything else with her. She is a kid we don’t like to pull off the field. She has a good understanding of the game and reads it well. She can attack from the back and is good in the air. She does so many things well and is competitive. When you put all that together, you get a complete player.”
Hodges’ all-around skills have attracted the attention of professional teams. Landing a spot on one of those teams is Hodges ultimate goal, one she could come closer to reaching by posting a standout senior season in a time of transition for UNT.
The Mean Green will play its first season in Conference USA this fall after 12 seasons in the Sun Belt. C-USA is considered a higher-level league.
The switch is one UNT’s coaches and players believe they are ready to handle after finishing their run in the Sun Belt by winning the conference tournament title. UNT posted a 16-5-2 mark and played in the NCAA tournament for the third time in program history last year.
UNT was picked to finish third in the C-USA preseason coaches’ poll.
“We have the talent to be at the top of Conference USA,” Hedlund said. “We just need to stay healthy. We are deep at every position and we have more speed than we have ever had up front. It’s an explosive offense. We just have to develop chemistry with the players up top.”
UNT lost its top scorer in Michelle Young to graduation, but has Amber Haggerty and Karla Pineda back.
Haggerty scored eight goals last season, including the game winner in the Mean Green’s 1-0 victory over Florida International in the Sun Belt tournament final. Pineda added seven goals.
Texas transfer Vanessa Ibewuike and freshman Rachel Holden are also expected to play key roles for UNT offensively.
“Holden will come in and do a great job for us,” Hedlund said. “She has picked up what we are trying to do up front and is reading the correct runs and playing off the other players.”
While UNT should be solid offensively, a defensive backline led by Hodges and goalkeeper Jackie Kerestine should be the Mean Green’s strength.
“We have our whole defense coming back and have mainly a veteran team,” senior defender Tori Adame said. “We all played together last year. Our chances of reaching our goals of going deep into the NCAA tournament and winning another title are very high.”
Having Hodges to guide its defense and provide another offensive threat is one of the big reasons why. The local standout has developed into a star and put herself in position to continue her career on the pro level.
Before she turns her attention to reaching that goal, Hodges will try to finish her UNT career off on a high note.
“It’s bittersweet right now,” Hodges said. “I am trying to enjoy it as much as possible. It’s going to be a fun year. I am looking forward to ending it with these girls in Conference USA.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.
23 at Texas Southern 7 p.m.
25 Houston Baptist 1 p.m.
30 at Wake Forest# 1 p.m.
1 vs. Virginia Tech# 1 p.m.
6 Sam Houston State 7 p.m.
8 at TCU noon
13 McNeese State 7 p.m.
15 at Oklahoma noon
20 at Baylor 7 p.m.
22 Oklahoma State 1 p.m.
27 Southern Miss * 7 p.m.
29 Louisiana Tech * 1 p.m.
4 at Rice * 7 p.m.
6 at Colorado College * 1 p.m.
11 UTSA* 7 p.m.
13 Charlotte * 1 p.m.
18 at Tulsa * 7 p.m.
25 at Middle Tennessee * 7 p.m.
27 at UAB * 1 p.m.
31 UTEP * 1 p.m.
6 C-USA Tournament First Round, Houston
# Wake Forest Invitational
* Conference USA