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Oct. 15—Roger Hodge said from the start when he was hired as WVU Tech's new women's basketball coach that he wants the program to take the next step.
Recognition of the team's sustained success came Thursday when the Golden Bears and Rio Grande tied in voting atop the River States Conference preseason coaches poll. Both programs finished with 161 points, while Tech garnered eight first-place votes to Rio Grande's six.
Tech was picked as the East Division favorite with 80 points, two ahead of the RedStorm.
The Golden Bears defeated Rio Grande 86-74 in the conference championship game last season to earn their third consecutive automatic bid to the NAIA national tournament. The RedStorm also advanced to national play.
Hodge was introduced as Tech's new head coach in August to replace Anna Kowalska, who resigned in June to become the head coach at Life University. Hodge, a Hinton native with endless ties to the area, has a history of building winning programs. He spent the last five seasons at Coastal Georgia, where he compiled an 80-63 record.
In 16 seasons as a head coach, Hodge has a career record of 262-198. He spent eight seasons at Armstrong Atlantic in Savannah, Ga., and became the program's all-time winningest coach (138-97), guiding the team to a pair of NCAA Division II National Tournament appearances.
Between those stops, he spent three seasons as the head coach at Lincoln Memorial, leading the Rail Splitters to an overall record of 44-38.
In Tech, he sees an opportunity for success beyond the conference level. At the same time, he labels the upcoming season as one of rebuilding because of the unfamiliarity between coach and players.
"Even though this team has had a lot of success, we are still in a rebuilding mode because it's new," Hodge said. "And we are not trying to build from a bad position, off to a better position. We are trying to build from a good position to take the next step forward with these kids. That's kind of our mantra, is we want to get better every day and we want to give best effort, make sure that we're giving it our best shot."
Twin sisters Brittney and Whittney Justice are back for a second senior season that was awarded to all athletes after the effects of Covid-19. Both were voted to the preseason all-conference team.
Brittney Justice was the 2021 River States Conference Player of the Year after averaging 15.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists. Tech's all-time leading scorer with 1,616 points, Justice is a two-time All-American.
"I think we're where we need to be," she said. "We've put in a lot of new things and everyone seems to be picking up on it pretty fast."
Whittney Justice reached the 1,000-point plateau last season. She averaged 12.7 ppg and was seventh in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage (47.4 percent). Her 3-pointer at the buzzer helped Tech beat Asbury in the RSC tournament semifinals and ensure the team a national tournament bid.
"My favorite part about competing is I love doing it and I love competing just so we get better each day and we can compete with the higher levels," she said. "And I love learning. This year it's been a lot of learning, and I like to get better each day."
The Golden Bears will have an exhibition game against WVU in Morgantown on Oct. 28 before getting the regular season started Nov. 1 at Thomas More in Crestview Hills, Ky.
Hodge's first home game as head coach will be Nov. 13 vs. Campbellsville at 2 p.m.
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