When Madison “Madi” Hess crosses the stage at UT Dallas commencement ceremonies this week, she will be participating with magna cum laude honors in theemerging media and communication (EMAC) program.
But she also leaves a legacy as a standout student-athlete. At an institution more known for academics than athletics, Hess has excelled in both — and she has the championship ring to prove it.
As team captain and point guard, Hess led the women’s basketball team last season to its winningest season ever (26-5), the American Southwest Conference (ASC) title and its first appearance in the Sweet 16 round of theNCAA Division III National Tournament.
After transferring here her junior year from Concordia University in Austin, Hess racked up numerous accolades. Last season, she was the conference tournament MVP, and named to the All-ASC first team and the All-South Region second team. Hess also was UT Dallas’ first nominee for NCAA Woman of the Year.
During her senior year, she led the Comets with an average of 12.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, and led the ASC with 5.1 assists per game. She ranked third in NCAA D-III from the three-point range, shooting 45.9 percent from beyond the arc.
And all the while, despite a heavy practice and game schedule, and frequent travel during the basketball season, she maintained an excellent academic record, carrying a 3.8-plus GPA and making the ASC’s All-Academic honor roll.
“She raised the level of intensity for us,” head coach Polly Thomason said. “Madi was committed to being the hardest worker both on and off the court, and she brought a competitive fire for both academics and athletics. She took us to the next level and brought some national exposure for the University.”
“Madi was committed to being the hardest worker both on and off the court, and she brought a competitive fire for both academics and athletics. She took us to the next level and brought some national exposure for the University.”
Basketball fans took notice. During her two seasons with the team, Hess saw a surge in campus support for athletic events as she helped ignite Comet fever among students, staff and faculty.
“I remember playing here at UT Dallas during my sophomore year at Concordia, and it was just really empty. It was mostly parents, not the student body,” Hess said. “By my senior year, people were filling the stands and waving ‘fat heads’ (poster-sized images of players’ faces).”
Fans started to set attendance records two seasons ago, when the men’s team nabbed its conference championship and made it to the Sweet 16. The women’s team did the same last year.
Hess put her EMAC talents to work by helping to design the silver conference championship ring for the team, which features an orange gemstone and the team’s hashtag slogan #allin. Then she helped raise money so her teammates wouldn’t have to pay for their rings.
“One donor ended up paying for all the seniors’ rings,” Hess said.
Team members have kept a close bond off the court. For her senior capstone project, Hess developed a documentary about the journey of teammate Amber Brown, who is the first in her family to graduate from college.
Hess hopes to work in a sports-related industry someday. Her dream would be to emulate the career of Fox Sports broadcaster Erin Andrews, but she’s also interested in designing logos for sports companies.
She’s already had a few “cool internships,” editing reports on the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers for CBS Radio, and interviewing coaches for Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine.
With her winning combination of athletic and academic accomplishments, Hess said coming to UT Dallas is one of the top decisions she has ever made.
“I’m not a small-town person,” she said. “Having more opportunities for academics was really important for me. I saw everything the [Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology] Building had to offer, and it was awesome. Everyone was so welcoming. It just felt right.”
She has one more basketball-related goal. Hess hopes to travel with her parents and Thomason to Knoxville, Tennessee, to see her All-American jersey, while it’s still hanging in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. It will come down in June.
Though Hess admits she sometimes finds it antagonizing to sit in the stands now rather than play on the court, she will always take great pride in what the Comets accomplished during her time here.
“We did so well. I’m just glad for what we did. It’s such a great notch in our belts,” Hess said.