To most people in the sports world, a college athlete’s freshman season is more about player development and adjusting to new schemes and playbooks rather than playtime. Freshmen are typically expected to sit on the bench and learn from their more experienced teammates, especially on talented squads, where in-game minutes may be few and far between.
Don’t tell that to breakout star Kendall Hodges.
The 5’5″ sophomore guard out of Abington Friends School, just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, proved to be a pivotal player for the Montclair State University women’s basketball team last season, which went to the conference championship game.
Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Hodges’ path to Montclair State was far different than any basketball recruiting class before her. Traditional in-person meetings with recruiters were replaced by Zoom calls and film studies with the college coaching staff.
“It was kind of weird,” Hodges said. “I did have [assistant coach Katie Sire] come to one of my games, but [head coach Karin Harvey] didn’t get to see me play until I got to campus. I was recruited off of film and phone calls.”
Once on campus, Hodges had to quickly adjust to the demanding lifestyle that college athletics requires. She described how fans and other students might not realize the commitment and sacrifice required to play for the Red Hawks.
“[Just today], I had a 6 a.m. practice,” Hodges said. “[I] got up at 4:45 a.m., was here at the gym by 5:30 [a.m.], I went to class at 11:15 [a.m.], and now I’m here [at Panzer Athletic Center] for treatment and another workout.”
When the 2021 season tipped off last January, her role quickly went from role player to leader after an opening night loss to Salisbury University. The coaching staff looked to the freshman to create scoring opportunities and bring her high energy to the Red Hawks.
“After the Salisbury game,” Hodges said, “I had a conversation with both of my coaches and they told me about the role I could have on this team. They needed a point guard who could lead the team and take us to where we wanted to go. It was then when I realized [my new role].”
During the basketball team’s next matchup versus William Patterson University, she found her way into the starting lineup and from there, Hodges, as well as the Red Hawks did not look back. Montclair State went on a winning streak that lasted almost the entire season.
Senior captain/guard Julia Sutton was extremely impressed with the way Hodges stepped into such a big role for this team early on in the season.
“Taking on a leadership role as a freshman can be intimidating,” Sutton said. “But once she got her confidence up she became an amazing leader for the other players on the team and even myself.”
Hodges also provides the squad with a reliable scorer on the floor. Out of the 10 contests that were played during the pandemic-shortened season, Hodges averaged 9.8 points per game which was third overall on the team. In a close matchup versus Kean University, she led the team with a 16-point performance. She isn’t afraid to pass the ball either. Hodges lead the Red Hawks with 34 assists, averaging 3.4 per game last season.
Defensively, she led the team in steals.
If you’ve watched a Montclair State women’s basketball game, you know that Hodges is one of the fastest players on the court. Sutton believes that this has allowed for their offense and defense to thrive.
“We rely on Kendall’s speed to create our transition breaks [on offense] as well as on defense,” Sutton said. “The college level is a lot faster and she adjusted well to create [opportunities] for herself and her defense. ”
Beyond the hardwood, Kendall brings life into the locker room. Between the long practices and games, she strives to keep the team in high spirits by getting an occasional laugh out of them.
“I’m the goofy one,” Hodges said. “The minute I walk in [the locker room], I’m dancing, I’m goofing around [and] I’m playing around. I love to make TikToks and all that.”
At the end of the season, the only person on the team who had more minutes played than Hodges was New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Player of the Year Taylor Brown. Not bad for a freshman.
Hodges’ stellar play was recognized across the NJAC. She took home three Rookie of the Week awards that season and was placed on the Second Team All-NJAC lineup.
Although she is honored to receive those awards, Hodges says it’s not enough for her. She still has the Red Hawks heartbreaking 64-60 NJAC Championship loss to New Jersey City University fresh in her memory. During the offseason, Hodges made it her mission to help end Montclair State women’s basketball’s three-year championship drought.
“We could say we’ve all been working in the gym,” Hodges said. “But, so has every other team in the conference. We really focused on our mental toughness [then]. Everyone’s pushing in sprints [or] finishing that layup. We all worked, especially myself, on having that ‘one more push’ when there’s two minutes left in a game.”
Overall, Hodges is just happy to finally be able to experience a season that is closer to normal than her previous season. There’s plenty to be excited about. The full season schedule returns and the restrictions on fans are gone. Not to mention, of course, the prospect of playing in the NCAA Tournament is enticing to Hodges.
“I’m a freshman again,” Hodges said, “[To me], this is my first year of college basketball. I’ve never really experienced the travel, the consistent practices and what it’s really like to be on a college basketball team. I’m excited for it and I’m ready.”