Center Grove’s Hodges eager to return to state meet

Perhaps it’s fitting someone specializing in long distances has a name to match.

Mary Isabella Marie Hodges has been referred to primarily as Bella for as long as she can remember, though the Center Grove senior says there are the occasional exceptions.

“If I’m in trouble, it’s Mary Isabella,” said Hodges, laughing. “Most my family and close friends call me Bells, and everyone else calls me Bella.”

Mary. Bells. Bella.

Whatever the case, Hodges, the lone Johnson County runner in Saturday’s girls state cross country meet, would like nothing more than to cap her high school career by hearing her name called to the awards podium.

Given the competition, it will take the race of Hodges’ young life to be among the top 20 individuals. However, after finishing strong at the Shelbyville Semistate to place 11th in a career-best time of 18 minutes, 53.4 seconds, momentum is definitely in her corner.

“I think I’m just going to go into the race with the same philosophy. I want to get out with the chase pack, the group right behind the leaders, and then turn it on the second half of the race,” Hodges said. “I’m definitely more excited about the race than sentimental.”

Hodges was a student in the Center Grove school system from second through eighth grade, but transferred to Pike, where as a freshman she and her Red Devils teammates qualified for state. Hodges placed 190th individually at the LaVern Gibson course in Terre Haute in a time of 21:39.3, with Pike taking 17th in the team standings.

She didn’t run cross country as a sophomore, transferring back to Center Grove midway through the 2019-20 school year.

“It’s honestly been great,” said Hodges of her prep running career. “I stayed in touch with a lot of my friends from Center Grove while I was at Pike, so the transition of coming back was easy. My best friends are from Center Grove, so they were excited for me to be back.”

The Trojan girls squad twice competed at the Gibson layout this past regular season, with Hodges placing 16th at the Early Bird Invitational in a time of 20 minutes, 26 seconds. A few weeks later, she posted a time of 20:03 at the State Preview to finish eighth.

Hodges maintains a 4.25 grade-point average and is ranked 59th academically in a class of 643 students. She recently committed to Purdue Fort Wayne, where she’ll major in biology and compete for the Mastodons’ women’s cross country and track teams.

Her older brother, JT, a former Center Grove and Pike athlete himself, is a junior runner at IPFW.

Bella Hodges will be Center Grove’s first individual runner at state since senior Val Clark’s time of 20:29.6 earned her 112th place at the 2016 meet.

“Our goal is for Bella to be one of the top 12 seniors, which means she’s Senior All-State,” Trojans coach Wes Dodson said. “I want her to go out on a high note and show she’s one of the elite runners in Indiana.”