Granite roots run deep for UNC’s Hodgson, Banghart

  • Eva Hodgson of Rindge will play on the University of North Carolina women's basketball team this season as a redshirt junior transfer. Photo by Jeffrey Camarati / University of North Carolina—JEFFREY A. CAMARATI

  • Eva Hodgson of Rindge will play on the University of North Carolina women's basketball team this season as a redshirt junior transfer. Photo by Jeffrey Camarati / University of North Carolina—JEFFREY A. CAMARATI

  • Eva Hodgson of Rindge will play on the University of North Carolina women's basketball team this season as a redshirt junior transfer. Photo by Jeffrey Camarati / University of North Carolina—JEFFREY A. CAMARATI

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 8/27/2021 8:19:37 AM

Eva Hodgson’s not just along for the ride.

The Rindge basketball star’s journey has taken her from the courts at Conant and New Hampton to NCAA Division I fieldhouses, and now, all the way to one of college basketball’s most prestigious programs – the University of North Carolina. Along the way, Hodgson has taken control of her destiny as she helps usher in a new era of student-athlete empowerment.

“We’re always the underdog”

Hodgson’s come a long way from the high school freshman sitting at center court at Southern New Hampshire University, soaking in the moment after she and her Conant teammates won the state championship in 2015. Now, she’s in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, at the hallowed halls of UNC, where Ivory Latta, Stephanie Watts (and yes, Michael Jordan) made names for themselves. Even down on Tobacco Road, there’s still plenty of New Hampshire in Hodgson’s heart.

“[New Hampshire] is where my root system is,” Hodgson said. “I mean, to grow up around Conant basketball? I remember going to my brothers’ games, winning my own championship – it’s been in my blood for so long...New Hampshire is my roots and I’m going to show everyone else what New Hampshire basketball is capable of.”

Hodgson kept constant reminders of the Granite State with her as she moved down south, first to William and Mary, where she was conference Rookie of the Year in 2019 and First-Team All-Conference in 2020, and now to UNC. She made it a point to keep New Hampshire license plates on her car (“I see it every day, so there’s no way to ever forget that’s where I’m from”), hang on to her Red Sox hat, and travel with her Bible, the one book she’s had with her since she was a kid growing up at her parents’ Toah Nipi religious retreat center in Rindge.

If that isn’t enough, Hodgson gets a daily dose of New Hampshire every day in practice, where Souhegan alum and second-year head coach Courtney Banghart runs the show. Banghart, whose parents live in Jaffrey, had her eye on Hodgson for years; as Princeton’s head coach, Banghart made a run at recruiting Hodgson out of high school, and now, fate has brought them together at UNC, after Hodgson entered the transfer portal and moved to over to Banghart’s program.

“Eva’s been remarkably consistent in terms of she’s such a relentless worker,” Banghart said. “Skill is a part of the game, but yet so too is that relentless doggedness, and that is as rare as someone that is super-skilled. She’s always had that high motor; she’s not afraid to be great and put in the work to get there.”

Banghart hasn’t coached a New Hampshire recruit since leaving the Granite State after serving as an assistant coach at Dartmouth from 2003-2007. New Hampshire isn’t exactly a “high-yield” state for basketball prospects, she said, and it takes a particular combination of skill, hard work and circumstance to make it to the next level.

“You come from a small state, you learn the value of community, you learn the value of handouts,” Banghart said, “because there’s not a lot to be handed out...You have to be dogged, you have to have the intangible, because it’s a lot harder to find the tangible.”

While athletes in other states might grow up playing their high school games in front of thousands of spectators and hone their skills facing off against McDonald’s All-Americans, New Hampshire-born players don’t generally get that experience.

“There is something in New Hampshire – we’re always the underdog,” Hodgson said. “No one ever expects a New Hampshire kid to show up and show out.”

Rising through the ranks, taking control

Hodgson defied all expectations immediately upon arriving at Division I William and Mary for the 2018-19 school year. The freshman guard played 33 minutes a game for the Tribe and was named Colonial Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year. The following season, she improved in every statistical category, doubled her scoring output to 20.7 points per game, and landed on the All-Conference First Team. And as much as she improved on the court that year, she bettered herself off it, finding the self-confidence and courage to take control of her career.

“Coming in as a freshman, you don’t feel like you have any power,” Hodgson said. “You’re just trying to get yourself established. Once I got to sophomore year, I knew the ropes, I could gauge my teammates, and I realized I’m actually in the driver’s seat – this is my journey. I grew so much there.”

As the 2020-21 season approached, Hodgson, concerned about how her school was approaching COVID-19 protocols, opted out of her junior season, retaining her eligibility but facing a year without college basketball.

“I missed being on the team so much,” Hodgson said. “I missed playing collegiate basketball so much.”

Ultimately, her decision was vindicated; the William and Mary women played only 13 games before shutting down their season due to COVID in January.

“In the end, I’m happy,” Hodgson said. “I kind of dodged a bullet there.”

She missed playing the game, but sitting out the season afforded her new opportunities.

“This past year was a very big year of growth for me because I sat out,” she said.

Hodgson was able to complete her business analytics degree in three years and help out with younger sister Seraphina’s New Hampton team in the meantime, coaching, refereeing and watching more basketball than ever before.

“I literally saw basketball from every single angle and that gave me a greater appreciation to play,” Hodgson said. “I was able to see basketball in a whole new light.”

With her William and Mary degree complete and her stock on the rise, Hodgson entered the transfer portal, which allowed her to move to another school and retain two more years of eligibility. Once Coach Banghart saw the Granite Stater’s name in the portal, she reached out, and the two talked on the phone for over an hour.

“It felt like I had kind of known her for years,” Hodgson said.

Banghart said she’s looking to Hodgson for her on-the-court skill as a floor-stretching high-percentage three-point and free-throw shooter, her toughness, and her experience. While Hodgson was at the top of her game at DI William and Mary, playing at UNC with its Atlantic Coast Conference schedule is yet another step up.

“There’s no bigger stage,” Banghart said. “The strength, the size and the speed of this very high level is like you can’t believe.”

It’s a challenge Hodgson sees as another opportunity.

“I’ve learned that I rise to the level of the players that I’m playing with,” Hodgson said, “and that excites me. There’s so much opportunity to stretch myself.”

And as much as Banghart is looking for Hodgson’s on-the-court experience, she’s expecting just as much off the court and in the locker room, where Hodgson is a natural fit, Banghart said. Growing up at Toah Nipi, Hodgson’s big basketball-playing family was like a team in and of itself (“We always joke that we’re one person short of fives,” Hodgson said, as her family features nine basketball players, from parents Greg and Sherree down to UMaine-bound Seraphina and Conant High sophomore Manny); that dynamic lends itself well to locker-room leadership.

“There’s an independence to those children that I think has boded well for them,” Banghart said. “I think that’s why she’s so good in our locker room.”

Empowerment

Hodgson’s ability to control her own narrative and make the decisions to guide her journey is exemplary of the new era dawning for NCAA student-athletes. Earlier this summer, the NCAA made a long-awaited ruling that granted student-athletes the power to capitalize financially on their name, image and likeness, which up until July were exclusively controlled by the NCAA and the multi-million-dollar industries surrounding it. Before the NCAA loosened its restrictions, something as simple as getting paid to run a youth basketball camp over the summer was out of the question for Hodgson and the more than 460,000 other college student-athletes in her same position.

Just after the ruling, Hodgson appeared in a video for PWRFWD, the “athlete-to-consumer” marketing company founded by another New Hampshire basketball product, Luke Bonner. Hodgson had been working hard interning at the company for some time, but had the video been created even days earlier, she would have risked her eligibility by lending her likeness to the advertisement.

“The work that I’ve put in wouldn’t have been acknowledged,” Hodgson said.

Her own store on PWRFWD will be live soon and will feature gear and designs selected by Hodgson; she’s also in talks with several New England businesses and hopes to partner with Monadnock Region businesses as well.

“I’m looking forward to drawing attention to some great causes and nonprofits,” Hodgson said.

For now, Hodgson’s working on her graduate studies at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, grinding with her teammates, learning from her coach, and readying to live her dream in the Carolina blue this winter. 

“This is the stage I’ve always dreamed about playing at,” Hodgson said, “and that’s what I’m working for right now. All of these hours that I’ve put in over the past 14 years have led up to this.”


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