Performance: Bellaire's Lexi Niepoth

January 12, 2018

Lexi Niepoth
Bellaire senior – Basketball

Bellaire’s 5-foot-8 forward added another memorable accomplishment to a high school career she expects to finish this spring with 11 varsity letters across three sports. Niepoth, a Class D all-state honorable mention a year ago, grabbed 27 rebounds to go with 24 points in a 54-21 win over Johannesburg-Lewiston on Friday to set a school record for rebounds and earn the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”

Niepoth is averaging 15 points, 14 rebounds (including six offensive), 3.8 steals and 2.2 assists per game, and her 27 rebounds made the MHSAA record book tying for 17th-most grabbed in one game. Niepoth is a four-year varsity basketball player, and this season’s team is 8-1 and ranked No. 2 in Class D by The Associated Press. Niepoth’s impact on both ends of the floor is obvious; she’s the best passer on the team to go with her scoring and rebounding, and she’s a “ball hawk” defensively able to guard every position while helping key the Eagles’ press. Niepoth also was a four-year varsity volleyball player and all-area selection as an outside hitter, and she’ll play her third year of varsity softball in the spring – she had to miss last season after injuring an ankle near the end of basketball season.

Her athletic successes go hand in hand with her classroom performance. Niepoth has a 3.945 grade-point average and is leaning toward studying psychology at Ferris State University after graduation. She has worked as a teacher aide in a special education class and would like to work with children in the future. She serves as a fine example to players coming up in Bellaire’s program, and she’ll be back on the court Friday against Pellston – before a matchup Wednesday against rival Gaylord St. Mary that likely will pit the first-place teams in the Ski Valley Conference.

Coach Brad Fischer said: “From day one she has made us a better team. Flat-out, she is a game changer, a tenacious player that never quits on a play. She can and often does dominate the game by her relentless effort rebounding and controlling the boards. The defensive pressure she puts on our opponents makes us go. … Her impact on the entire program may be immeasurable. For the past four seasons she has given her team, the program, and me as her coach the belief and confidence that no matter who we play we have the chance to win each contest. Not every program can say that, and I can without hesitation. Belief and confidence plays an important role in athletics, academics, and in life. With her that belief and confidence has made it throughout our entire program by her peers watching her and the constant positive examples we use of her for our younger players to emulate. That has made such a positive flow of influence from the high school level all the way down to our youth program. Lexi has been one of the main reasons for our recent success through her dominance, reliability and being a great teammate and role model on and off the court.”  

Performance Point: “I don’t really think about it as I play. I just go for the ball. At halftime, my coaches kept telling me to rebound, and I could just tell; they were like, ‘You’re pretty close to the record.’ So I just kept rebounding and didn’t want to think about it a whole lot, so I didn’t freak out. When I was sitting on the bench, the JV coach that was sitting on the bench came to me and said, ‘You’re really close. Just keep playing, and keep rebounding.’ During the game, I don’t really think about how much I score or how much I rebound, so it’s rewarding – and it shocked me, to be honest.”

Own the boards: “My coach says sometimes in practice how I’m falling in love with just jumping for the ball instead of boxing out. But I feel like when they shoot it, I just assume it’s not going to go in, because obviously I like to rebound. But I also try to watch where the ball is going to bounce off the rim. I don’t really box out, to be honest. I just kinda run around the people – and then just jump as high as I can to try to get the ball.”

Finish strong: “We’re senior-based. I’ve been with Tally Goodwin all four years too, and I think her and I probably work the best just because we’ve had that experience. … Ever since freshman year, I never really thought senior year would come. I think it’s kinda cool: We were good freshman year. We were good sophomore year. We struggled junior year, and this year I feel like everything is clicking and the teamwork and team chemistry is probably one of the best I’ve had all my four years.”

Be the example: “I love the younger kids, and actually last year I was the coach and helped out with one of the youth programs. I just hope that I’m a good role model for them to become and do their best – (to teach them) the work ethic, or always trying your hardest even if you’re down by 15 or you’re up by 20, to try to still go after every ball, try to still make every lay-up, every shot. And also how you work with your teammates and how you work with the other teams, your sportsmanship and your attitude.”

On a mission to help kids: “I went to Belize on a mission trip with my youth group (over Christmas her freshman year), and it kind’ve all started there. You do things for them, say things to them. You teach them, and it sticks. It’s rewarding to see what you taught them and their growth.”

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2017-18 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard will recognize a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.

The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster. 

Previous 2017-18 honorees:
November 30: La'Darius Jefferson, Muskegon football - Read
November 23: Ashley Turak, Farmington Hills Harrison swimming - Read
November 16: Bryce Veasley, West Bloomfield football - Read 
November 9: Jose Penaloza, Holland soccer - Read
November 2: Karenna Duffey, Macomb L'Anse Creuse North cross country - Read
October 26: Anika Dy, Traverse City Central golf - Read
October 19: Andrew Zhang, Bloomfield Hills tennis - Read
October 12: Nolan Fugate, Grand Rapids Catholic Central football - Read
October 5: Marissa Ackerman, Munising tennis - Read
September 28: Minh Le, Portage Central soccer - Read
September 21: Olivia Theis, Lansing Catholic cross country - Read
September 14: Maddy Chinn, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep volleyball - Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Bellaire's Lexi Niepoth (13) blocks a passing lane during a game this season. (Middle) Niepoth makes a move to the basket. (Photos courtesy of the Bellaire 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.)