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Athlete Of The Year - Ben There, Done That - Hodges Named Best Of 2010-11
Don't tell 2011 Riverbank High graduate Ben Hodges 'the sky is the limit'... because he may just pop into outer space.

The three-sport Bruin star and class valedictorian is one of the brightest young men The City of Action has ever produced. He was an all-state cross country runner, a Division V Wrestling Championships place winner and D-IV/V Track and Field Championships qualifier.

And that's just what he's done on land.

On June 22, Hodges will depart for the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The same student that soared past a 4.4 grade point average his senior year expects to be commissioned as an officer when he graduates the academy. His goal is to one day join the Special Forces or pilot ranks.

Hodges upped the bar for all future multiple sport Bruin competitors this year and was an easy selection as the 2010-11 Riverbank News Male Athlete of the Year.

"I will miss Riverbank High, but I will be kept pretty busy at the Air Force Academy, so I will have to put that in the back of my mind," Hodges said on Saturday. "I learned so much from my teachers and coaches. It takes a lot of practice and patience to succeed."

Despite some terrific seasons on the wrestling mat and the Bruin track, Hodges' biggest performances came during postseason races in the prep cross county season. He qualified for the California Interscholastic Federation Championships as a sophomore, and matched the same honor by placing second and third in back to back Division IV races his senior year. His impressive 17 minute, 22 second time on the 3300-meter course at Willow Hill in Folsom ensured his right to tackle the best runners in the state at Woodward Park in Fresno on Nov. 27.

With 11 stitches still in his knee from a prior injury, Hodges gutted through five kilometers to best over 40 participants and land one of the best times (18:19) of any small school runner to qualify for state.

"Not everything comes to you an instant," Hodges said. "It's taken at least four years for me to get where I am as an athlete. You have to stick with what you've got, stay dedicated to what you are doing and develop from there."

An injury kept Hodges from tackling the 2009-10 wrestling playoffs his junior year, adding to the hunger Hodges showed during a valiant postseason push this past season. Facing the possibility of early postseason elimination after taking just fourth at the TVL championships, Hodges erupted through the D-V bracket by pinning the Golden Empire League title winner to open his tournament. A round later, Hodges upset the Southern League runner-up with another pin to reach the D-V semi-finals.

Consecutive losses from there forced Hodges to finish sixth, just one win short of reaching the SJS Masters tournament. It was Riverbank's best individual performance at divisionals in several years.

"Ben did a great job, and he shows such leadership and determination," Riverbank coach Martin Ugalde said after that tournament. "I would like to have 14 of him."

Hodges followed his big wrestling postseason with another solid year around the dusty oval. He medaled at tournaments throughout the season before a tight conference meet with Ripon brought about one of the more memorable moments of his prep career.

With the Indians pressing for the team lead, Hodges knew he needed to split apart Ripon's top two runners in the 1600 and force one of them to finish third. He nearly lost the opportunity to do this on the final stretch when he stumbled and fell short of the finish line. As one Ripon runner passed him for the lead, Hodges rolled to his feet and threw himself across the finish line to just edge the other for second place.

"Because I split their top-two runners we were able to win the meet, and I was glad I could give my team some inspiration with the way we finished," Hodges said. "It was pretty special to make a difference for the team in one moment like that."

Hodges credits a lot of his success to the support of his family, but getting some athletic genes certainly didn't hurt either. His mother Jennifer runs triathlons and was a successful basketball player and swimmer. His father Jesse came to Riverbank High when the school first opened and became involved in several sports. He was best known for the 100-meter school record he set that lasted around 40 years until Donovan Wallace emerged and set a new school best a few seasons ago.

His older sister (Jill) and brother (Jake) also competed for Riverbank High, and younger sister Lydia (soon-to-be eighth grader) is already on the cusp of a talented track and field career.

Ben is currently with his family in Canada, but probably won't let a little thing like vacation keep him from his routine of three to five miles of running each day.

It's just the Hodges way.