Calumet Steps Closer to Class C Throne

March 19, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

EAST LANSING – Clara Loukus was all jitters when Thursday’s first Class C Semifinal tipped off at the Breslin Center. And her coach Jeff Twardzik knew it.

But he also could tell from the way she launched her 3-point shot with three minutes to play that it would find the bottom of the net – and more importantly, that she was ready to carry the Copper Kings to their first MHSAA championship game. 

Loukus scored one third of Calumet’s points and spearheaded a defensive effort that stopped undefeated Laingsburg cold over the final seven minutes of the fourth quarter.

And the Copper Kings indeed moved on, edging the top-ranked Wolfpack 30-26 to advance to Saturday’s 4 p.m. Final against Flint Hamady.

“Last night I couldn’t sleep. ... The first half I was riled up,” Loukus said. “The second half came, and I calmed myself down, got my got my rhythm. I knew I had my whole team behind me, and I had to do this for them.” 

Stingy defense played a part in both teams advancing to the Semifinals this season for the first time. Laingsburg (26-1) gave up only 25.7 points per game entering Thursday, while Calumet (23-2) wasn’t far behind that pace, allowing 32.5.

And that certainly played out from the opening tip. Laingsburg did make 50 percent of its shots during the first half – but launched only 10 times. Calumet shot 10 percent better during the second half than the first – but only 39 percent from the floor over the final two quarters and 32 percent for the game. 

Although the Wolfpack made only two of 11 shots during the third quarter, the Copper Kings still trailed 23-21 when a Laingsburg turnover at 7:14 of the fourth started a run that will be among highlights of Calumet’s historic trip downstate.

The Copper Kings earned that turnover with their fullcourt press, and tied the score on junior Leah Kiilunen’s basket with 6:26 to play. Calumet then forced another turnover, and then another when Loukus gathered a steal with 5:06 on the clock. 

The teams traded missed shots until senior Alexis Rowe dropped in a layup with 4:22 to play to give the Copper Kings a 25-23 lead. Another miss and turnover set up Loukus for her game-deciding 3-pointer with 3:02 to play.

“She’s that heartbeat that never quits,” Twardzik said. “You never quite now when it’s going to come, but that 3-poiner, I could tell when it left her hands. The kids were nervous coming in, understandably. But I could tell she calmed down, and she took that shot in rhythm.” 

Laingsburg did score its first and only basket of the final period with 1:26 to play to pull within 28-26. But the Wolfpack turned the ball over twice more, the second time on a pass into the middle of the lane that Loukus intercepted. She was fouled and made both free throw attempts with nine seconds to play.

“I turned to my assistant and I said, ‘She’s going to make these two,’” Twardzik said. “That’s the way she’s built.” 

Loukas finished with 10 points and five steals, and Rowe added seven points. Junior 6-foot-2 center Janie Torola came off the bench and became an obstacle in the middle playing all but two minutes of the second half, and she grabbed nine rebounds and blocked three shots to go with seven points.

Freshman Sophie Wilsey led Laingsburg with eight points and four rebounds. 

"For the last four or five games, we've struggled a little bit with our offense. We've been managing to score in the 30s or 40 range, and with our defense that typically gives us the opportunity to win," Laingsburg coach Doug Hurst said. "Tonight it was a credit to their defense as well, a lot of it to their defense, actually. … They're big, they're long, and that kinda changed things a little bit."

Calumet entered the tournament unranked, and traveled 500 miles to East Lansing after making their first Quarterfinal appearance Tuesday since 1977. 

“This is everybody’s dream, to get here. And when you step into the first practice, you talk to the kids; why not dream big?” Twardzik said. “I truly believed in this group of kids. I’ve had an opportunity to be a part since they were very young, (because) my daughter (Ellen) is a senior.

“In my wildest dreams, did I have this dream? Yes. Did I believe it could be true? Absolutely.” 

“We come from a small town. Not a lot of people know about you,” Rowe added. “I remember yesterday, coming down in the gym, everybody’s eyes were wide open. Friday we’ve just got to go back to the mental (preparation), and Saturday just wake up and play our game and be ready.”

Click for the full box score and video of the press conference.

PHOTOS: (Top) Calumet's Abby Bjorn (44) works to get around Laingsburg's Sara Hurst on Thursday. (Middle) The Copper Kings' Alexis Rowe goes up for a shot while Julia Angst (5) works for a stop.

High School 'Hoop Squad' Close to Heart as Hughes Continues Coaching Climb

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

July 11, 2024

Jareica Hughes had a Hall of Fame collegiate basketball career playing at University of Texas-El Paso and has played professionally overseas, but her most prized possession is something she earned playing high school basketball in Michigan. 

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosA standout at now-closed Southfield-Lathrup High School during the early-to-mid 2000s, Hughes proudly displays a signature symbol of Lathrup’s Class A championship team in 2005. 

“I have my state championship ring on me right now,” said Hughes, now an assistant head coach for the women’s basketball program at UTEP. “I wear this ring every single day. Not so much for the basketball aspect. Inside of the ring it says ‘Hoop Squad.’ It’s more the connection I’ve had with those particular young ladies. Friends that I’ve known since I was kid. Every once in a while when we talk, we go back in time.”

Believe it or not, Hughes and her high school teammates next year will have to go back 20 years to commemorate a run to the title that started when they were freshmen. 

It was a gradual build-up to what was the first girls basketball state championship won by a public school in Oakland County. Lathrup, which has since merged with the former Southfield High School to form Southfield Arts & Technology, remained the only public school in Oakland County to win a state girls basketball title until West Bloomfield did so in 2022 and again this past March. 

Lathrup lost in the District round to Bloomfield Hills Marian during Hughes’ freshman year, and then after defeating Marian in a District Final a year later, lost to West Bloomfield in a Regional Final.

When Hughes was a junior, the team got to the state’s final four, but a bad third quarter resulted in a heartbreaking one-point Semifinal loss to eventual champion Lansing Waverly. 

A year later, when Hughes and other core players such as Brittane Russell, Timika Williams, Dhanmite’ Slappey and Briana Whitehead were seniors, they finished the job and won the Class A crown with a 48-36 win over Detroit Martin Luther King in the Final.

However, the signature moment of that title run actually came during the Semifinal round and was produced by Hughes, a playmaking wizard at point guard who made the team go. 

Trailing by three points during the waning seconds of regulation against Grandville and Miss Basketball winner Allyssa DeHaan – a dominant 6-foot-8 center – Hughes drained a tying 3-pointer from the wing that was well beyond the 3-point line. 

Lathrup went on to defeat Grandville in overtime and prevail against King.

Hughes said the year prior, she passed up on taking a potential winning or tying shot in the Semifinal loss against Waverly, and was reminded of that constantly by coaches and teammates. “I just remember in the huddle before that shot, that just kept ringing in my mind,” she said. “That was special. I cried for weeks not being able to get a shot off (the year before) and leaving the tournament like that.”

Growing up in Detroit, Hughes got into basketball mainly because she had five older brothers and an older sister who played the game. In particular, Hughes highlights older brother Gabriel for getting her into the game and taking her from playground to playground.

“I’m from Detroit,” she said. “We played ball all day long. Sunup to sundown. When the light comes on, you had to run your butt into the house.”

Hughes, second from left, begins the championship celebration with her Lathrup teammates at Breslin Center.Hughes played for the Police Athletic League and also at the famed St. Cecilia gym in the summer, developing her game primarily against boys.

“My first team was on a boys team,” she said. “I was a captain on a boys team.” 

The family moved into Lathrup’s district before she began high school. 

Once she helped lead Lathrup to the 2005 championship, she went on to a fine career at UTEP, where she was the Conference USA Player of the Year twice and helped lead the Miners to their first NCAA Tournament appearance.

Hughes still holds school records for career assists (599), steals (277) and minutes played (3,777). On Monday, she was named to Conference USA’s 2024 Hall of Fame class. 

After a brief professional career overseas was derailed by a shoulder injury, Hughes said getting into coaching was a natural fit. 

“I had to make the hard decision, and I knew as a kid I wanted to be around basketball,” she said. “Once I made that decision (to quit), I knew I was going to coach.”

Hughes started coaching in the Detroit area, first serving as an assistant at Southfield A&T from 2016-20 and then at Birmingham Groves for a season. She then served as interim head coach at Colby Community College in Kansas before being named an assistant at UTEP in May 2023, a month after her former coach Keitha Adams returned to lead the program after six seasons at Wichita State.  

While fully immersed in her job with UTEP, Hughes’ high school memories in Michigan certainly aren’t going away anytime soon – especially with the 20th anniversary of Lathrup’s championship coming up. 

“We are still close friends because we all essentially grew up together,” she said. “They are still my friends to this day.”

2024 Made In Michigan

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PHOTOS (Top) At left, Southfield-Lathrup’s Jareica Hughes drives to the basket against Detroit Martin Luther King during the 2005 Class A Final; at right, Hughes coaches this past season at UTEP. (Middle) Hughes, second from left, begins the championship celebration with her Lathrup teammates at Breslin Center. (UTEP photo courtesy of the UTEP sports information department.)