Lansing Catholic Starts Rolling Late, Never Stops in Clinching Title Game Trip

By Tom Kendra
Special for

March 17, 2023

EAST LANSING – It took Lansing Catholic nearly three quarters to get going Saturday, but the Cougars flipped the switch just in time.

They never led until the closing seconds of the third quarter, but a 3-point barrage to open the fourth proved to be the difference in a 62-41 victory over previously-unbeaten Grand Rapids West Catholic in a Division 2 Semifinal at the Breslin Center.

“These kids are fighters,” said 10th-year Lansing Catholic coach Kacee Reid. “They take punches and they take punches and it looks like they’re down and out, but they come back. I never doubted that we were going to make a comeback tonight.”

Lansing Catholic (23-5) opened the final quarter with three consecutive triples from Gabby Halliwill, Anna Richards and Hannah Pricco to quickly turn a one-point deficit into an eight-point lead.

That run was just the start of a 32-10 scoring edge in the fourth quarter – turning that one-point deficit after three quarters into a 21-point victory.

The Cougars, who were in the Semifinals for the first time since 2004 and are seeking their first title since winning Class C in 1995, said playing one of the state’s most difficult regular-season schedules helped them prevail.

“Those tough games really prepared us,” said Lansing Catholic junior Anna Richards, who scored 17 of her game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter. “We’ve been down at halftime quite a few times, so we’ve learned we can come back from that.”

The Cougars’ Leah Richards (22) and West Catholic’s Reese Polega (32) contend for the opening tip-off.The Cougars, who won the Capital Area Activities Conference White, advance to take on Frankenmuth in the Division 2 title game at 6:15 p.m. Saturday.

West Catholic bolted out to a 15-4 lead early on and 17-6 by the end of the first quarter, but the Falcons struggled offensively for the rest of the night – scoring just three points in the second quarter, 11 in the third and 10 in the fourth.

One of the turning points came when Lansing Catholic switched to a 1-3-1 zone defense, which threw the Falcons out of rhythm.

West Catholic, which finished 26-1 with just three seniors, went through its longest power outage of the entire season at just the wrong time – going nearly 6 minutes without a point to open the fourth quarter.

“Those shots usually fall, and then they stopped falling,” said ninth-year West Catholic coach Jill VanderEnde, whose team is now 90-5 over the last four seasons. “We were unable to stop the bleeding fast enough.”

Senior Cadence Dykstra, who is headed to Division I Toledo next season, finished with a team-high 13 points and four rebounds. Reese Polega and Elisha Dykstra both scored nine points, and Emma Tuttle added six points and six rebounds.

Once the Cougars grabbed the lead early in the fourth quarter, they put the game away with an impressive showing at the free-throw line. Lansing Catholic made 27-of-33 free throws (82 percent), compared to 7-of-14 (50 percent) for West Catholic.

Another key to the win was rebounding, as the Cougars held a 32-22 edge on the boards and allowed very few second chances.

Lansing Catholic has now won 22 in a row, with its last loss coming in the sixth game of the season against Grafton Midview (Ohio). West Catholic hadn’t lost in almost a full calendar year, dating back to last year’s Division 2 title game against Detroit Edison.

The Cougars showed that remarkable composure and focus despite being a junior-led team. Five of the six players that Reid brought to the postgame press conference were juniors, with the only senior being Pricco.

“These girls are pretty composed,” Reid said. “We don’t get rattled too often, and that really showed tonight.”

Leah Richards scored 14 points with a game-high nine rebounds, Halliwill scored nine points and Pricco added five points and eight rebounds.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Lansing Catholic celebrates its Division 2 Semifinal victory Friday night at Breslin Center. (Middle) The Cougars’ Leah Richards (22) and West Catholic’s Reese Polega (32) contend for the opening tip-off.

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.)