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Eva Hodgson and Carlie Littlefield balance basketball and MBA studies

Eva Hodgson and Carlie Littlefield are among five current student-athletes enrolled in the UNC Kenan-Flagler MBA program, along with Chris Gray from men's lacrosse, Filippo Zattarin from men's soccer and Tom Watson from men's track and field.

Eva Hodgson and Carlie Littlefield in front of Kenan-Flagler Business School.
Eva Hodgson (left) and Carlie Littlefield are working toward MBA degrees at Kenan-Flagler Business School.

On the evening of Dec. 1, junior Eva Hodgson scored 11 points off the bench to help the North Carolina women’s basketball team earn a win at Minnesota in Big Ten/ACC Challenge play.

About 12 hours after that tip-off, back in Chapel Hill, Hodgson was again at work as part of a five-member cohort, this time presenting a marketing plan in her Introduction to Consulting Skills and Frameworks class. (Her team was tasked with coming up with ways Chipotle could increase revenue.) That, too, was a win. “It went really well,” said Hodgson, who got about 90 minutes of sleep between the 4 a.m. arrival at home and the pregame prep with her presentation group prior to the 8 a.m. class.

Such is the life of a student-athlete/MBA student, a once almost unthinkable double that’s becoming more common with the rise of graduate transfers. Hodgson is one of two members of the Carolina women’s basketball team, along with Carlie Littlefield, currently enrolled in UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s MBA program. Both completed their undergraduate degrees – Hodgson from William & Mary and Littlefield from Princeton – before arriving in Chapel Hill last summer.

They’re the first to play for the Carolina women’s basketball team while also working toward MBA degrees, and they’re among five current student-athletes enrolled in the Kenan-Flagler MBA program, along with Chris Gray from men’s lacrosse, Filippo Zattarin from men’s soccer and Tom Watson from men’s track & field.

“The fact that Eva and Carlie are balancing this as successfully as they are says so much about them as workers and competitors,” coach Courtney Banghart said. “They’re both so diligent and responsible about doing what they need to do in order to succeed in basketball and business school at the same time, which is a huge undertaking. I think ultimately the focus this requires makes them better in both realms – they’re doing a great job for us and I’m sure this balancing act is going to be impressive to future employers.”

While their schedule sets them apart from their teammates a bit, their ages set them apart from their classmates.  The norm for business school is at least a few years of work experience following undergraduate studies, so most of their classmates are significantly older than Littlefield (23) and Hodgson (21). But while others bring professional experience into the classroom, Littlefield has found some advantages to diving into her MBA studies just a few months removed from her undergraduate classes, which culminated in May with an economics degree from Princeton.

“In Mod 1 we had a microeconomics course and I had just come out of the classroom, so I was used to working with those equations and concepts, whereas our classmates were used to working with real-life business problems,” she said. “I’ve found I bring the number-crunching into the group and my other group members bring the real-world applications.”

Their first-year cohort is now in a recruiting-heavy time of the schedule, interviewing for summer internships and future jobs. Both are in the hunt for internships for the coming summer, Hodgson in consulting or internal strategy and Littlefield in finance, then hope to play professionally overseas before working full-time, ideally in the sports realm.

They already made big recruiting decisions when they decided to use their remaining eligibility at Carolina following standout careers at their first schools. Hodgson was the 2019 Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Year and earned first-team All-CAA honors in 2020 when she averaged more than 20 points per game. Littlefield was a two-time All-Ivy League selection. Both had previous ties to Banghart: Hodgson, like her coach, is a New Hampshire native, and Littlefield was recruited by Banghart at Princeton and played two years for her there.

“Welcoming them both here has meant the world to me, honestly,” Banghart said. “With such a young team I knew their leadership and experience was going to be critical, but I also knew that we were getting consistent and relentless competitors that were going to do whatever it took to get this program to where it is now. They have so much to be proud of already, and they are loving it here as much as we love having them.”

While at Princeton, Littlefield participated in team networking events, initiated by Banghart when she was the coach there, in which women’s basketball alums talked about their career paths, and for some that meant business school. “It was kind of always in the back of my mind,” she said. “But after Covid happened and changed my plans a little bit [the Ivy League did not compete in 2020-21, leaving Littlefield with another season of eligibility], I thought, ‘Why not get it now instead of getting it further down the line?’ It lined up perfectly.”

For Hodgson, the path wasn’t as clear. She took the 2020-21 season off from basketball but continued classes to complete her degree in business analytics in three years. After that, she started evaluating graduate transfer options, with an eye toward business school. Once she picked Carolina, Kenan-Flagler has proven to be a great fit. “The relationships you’re able to form, the way the professors support you, the people you meet, not only in your class but at so many networking events … it’s a lot of fun,” Hodgson said.

Littlefield agrees. “It’s been cool,” she said. “The Kenan-Flagler Business School is big on building community so it’s awesome to see how excited our classmates are for us to be in there with them, just learning from them and doing different group projects. I feel like I’ve learned so much already. I’m really happy and just feel blessed to get into such a great program.”

Same goes for basketball. A month into the season, Carolina was 8-0 and broke into the top 25 of the coaches’ poll for the first time since the preseason in 2015. Hodgson and Littlefield are both captains, along with fifth-year senior Jaelynn Murray, and had played in every game. Littlefield is starting at the point, averaging 9.5 points and a team-best 3.4 assists per game. Hodgson provides a spark off the bench with 10.8 points per game and a 52.9 shooting percentage, the best among the guard group.

“These two are unique, on and off the court,” Banghart said. “Special players, special people, and special leaders. It’s an honor to coach them and I’m so proud of all that they’re doing with everything on their collective plates. They are just perfect representatives of Carolina athletics and they make us better on the court every day.”

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