Caro Closing In on Historic Title Claim

February 12, 2020

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

With three seniors who had played at least parts of the last two seasons on varsity, and a standout freshman making her debut, the Caro girls basketball team had plenty of reasons to make winning its league the goal this winter.

But with Reese coming off its 12th-straight conference title – and Caro seeking its first since 1985 – history was not on the Tigers’ side.

That’s changed quite a bit over the last month. Caro has set itself up to make history, with a chance to head into the Feb. 20 rematch with the Rockets already owning a share of the Greater Thumb Conference West championship.

The MHSAA/Applebee’s Team of the Month for January moved to 14-1 overall and 9-0 in league play Tuesday night, a far shout from the three games the Tigers won three seasons ago and 2-19 record they posted when that current trio of seniors were sophomores.

“I’ve learned more history this year (than ever before),” Riley said Monday, a day before picking up win 14 over Vassar. “That it’s only the third winning season in 24 years. And if we hold on to our first place in the league, it would be the first time in 35 years we’d win a league championship.

“It’s been a fun experience. My first two years we won five games combined, and last year we won 10. And if we win both games this week, we’ll match three years of wins in just 16 games this year. That’s kinda special.”

And pretty incredible.

Caro indeed finished 3-17 in 2016-17, with current senior forward Kaitlyn Arebalo a freshman on the varsity.

Now-senior point guard Ellie Hornbacher joined the mix for that 2-19 run in 2017-18 before an injury ended her season six weeks early. Classmate Raegan Ball also came up to varsity for a handful of games at the end of that winter, picking up some valuable experience.

While not necessarily historic, last season certainly was an improvement. The Tigers were at points 7-4 and 10-8 before settling in at 10-11 after losing their final three games – including 63-23 to Reese.

That has to be something of a distant memory at this point. Caro’s only loss this season came in its third game, to Sandusky (13-3). The Tigers handed the only defeat to GTC East leader Ubly (14-1) and also picked up a 23-point win over Croswell-Lexington (10-7) in their first game of calendar year 2020.

Two weeks later, Caro beat the Rockets 46-37.

“Before Reese, I just told them the pressure was still on Reese. They’re the 12-time defending league champs, and we don’t have anything to lose,” said Riley, who served as the junior varsity coach for five years before taking over the program prior to 2016-17. “That’s kinda been our chip on our shoulder all year. The girls came up with the slogan at the beginning of the year of ‘Respect all. Fear none.’ And that’s the mindset they’ve taken.”

Freshman Adelyn Moore is a player area teams likely will fear for the next three years. She’s Caro’s leading scorer (17 ppg), rebounder (10.6) and also averages the most steals (5.6) for a defensive effort giving up 34 points per game.

Arebalo adds 14.6 points and 7.4 rebounds game, and Ball has sharpened her shooting this winter and is averaging 8.4 points per game. Hornbacher, last year’s leading scorer, made a decision this season to become more of a distributor instead – and while she’s down a few points to 6.4 ppg, she’s grabbing 8.2 rebounds per game at 5-foot-6 and dishing a team high 4.4 assists per contest.

That defensive average is a definite difference this season – and has been one of Riley’s points of emphasis from the start. But just as impressive are the 54 points Caro is scoring on average – up from the low 30s of the last few winters.

Riley multiple times Monday threw complete credit to his players, who have bought into the heightened defense and cultivated the offense it has produced. Combine those improvements with strong senior leadership and a freshman standout, and ending the title drought hasn’t seemed at all far-fetched.

“It was just going to be how we blended together,” he said. “I wasn't sure necessarily how that would take off. But the seniors have mentored the other players, and those other players have had some pivotal roles for us.”

Past Teams of the Month, 2019-20

December: Hartland girls basketball - Report
Bridgman girls cross country - Report
Allegan boys tennis - Report
September: Ishpeming Westwood girls tennis - Report

PHOTOS: (Top) Caro's Adelyn Moore pulls up for a shot during her team's 46-37 win over Reese on Jan. 23. (Middle) This season's Caro girls basketball team. (Top photo courtesy of Sports Finest Magazine; middle courtesy of the Caro girls basketball program.)

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

July 10: Nightingale Embarking on 1st Season as College Football Head Coach - Read
June 28:
 E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage - Read

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.)