Summer Strides, Preseason Confidence Showing in Escanaba's Excellent Start

By John Vrancic
Special for

January 27, 2023

ESCANABA — So far, so good for the Escanaba girls basketball team. The Eskymos are 13-0 after rolling to a 65-36 triumph at Bark River-Harris last Friday, with three more wins already than all of last season.

Coach Tracy Hudson said everything started in a cornfield in Carney during the summer.

“We lost to Ewen-Trout Creek, West Iron County and Bark River-Harris in summer tournaments,” he added. “We were taking a step back and a step forward. We kind of found ourselves in a small gym at Carney-Nadeau. We had to go through some growing pains, but played real well at Michigan Tech and Marquette. We came out of the summer feeling we could be all right.”

They’ve been outstanding.

Coming off a 10-10 finish last season, Escanaba has won nine of its games by double digits under Hudson, who took over the girls program this season after leading the varsity boys from 1997-2022.

The Eskymos improved to 5-0 in the Great Northern Conference with a 62-46 triumph over Menominee on Jan. 16 and have a two-game lead in the league standings with three GNC games to play.

“It feels great to be where we are,” said senior forward Mari Bink, who averages 15.1 points a game. “We were confident coming into the season, but you never know what can happen. We enjoy playing together, and we’re having fun. It’s crazy, but we get excited.”

Hudson is happy with all the success as well but knows the Eskymos will be tested in the days to come. They visit Calumet (10-2) tonight and Houghton (12-1) on Feb. 3.

“The teams in the Keweenaw are very good,” he said. “We’re going to have to bring our A game. Our team motto is ‘All In.’ Coach (Lisa) Maki and the girls came up with it. We have to bring it every day. I think we still have a lot of room for growth.”

Still, Escanaba will enter those games having handed the lone loss to another of the elite teams from the Keweenaw. Sophomore center Grayson LaMarche scored the game-winner on a layup in the final 12 seconds of a 50-49 win over Hancock (11-1) on Jan. 13.

Eskymos coach Tracy Hudson talks things over with his team during last Friday's win over Bark River-Harris.“They definitely have some good teams in the Copper Country,” said senior point guard Carney Salo, who was forced out of that game after hitting her head on the floor late in the third quarter. “I had a rough couple days, but it felt good playing in the Menominee game (three days later).

“I didn’t have any hesitation. We were able to take away (Menominee’s) passing lanes. Defense is the one thing you can control.”

Escanaba is giving up just under 46 points per game against a schedule that’s included wins over four teams with at least 10 wins and eight teams .500 or better. Rival Marquette would be a ninth over .500 if not for a sweep by the Eskymos.

Salo, who didn’t play last season due to an ACL injury, is averaging 7.3 points, 3.5 assists and 2.4 steals per game.

“A personal highlight is just getting a chance to play after missing last year,” she said. “I think that makes me more motivated, although you always want to give it your all.”

Junior forward Keira Maki, a 49-percent field goal shooter, scored 24 points and LaMarche added 13 at BR-H.

“That has become a good rivalry,” said Maki. “They’re quick, and they put a lot of pressure on you. They don’t give up. They’re definitely well coached.”

Maki is averaging 17.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.9 blocked shots, four steals and 2.8 assists per game. She went down with an ankle injury during a 49-33 triumph at Alpena on Dec. 13 but returned in time to help the Eskymos post a 74-44 triumph at Gladstone two weeks later.

“Gladstone definitely has a good freshman (Lillie Johnson), but we put it all together and got the ball moving a lot,” said Maki. “They had a few other players we also had to stop. I felt I wasn’t as well prepared as I could have been if I hadn’t gotten injured at Alpena.”

The Eskymos opened this season with a 65-50 triumph at Marquette, then defeated Gaylord St. Mary (60-45) and the host Ramblers (50-42) in the McBain Invitational.

“We felt we needed to get a win at Marquette,” said Hudson. “Gaylord St. Mary and McBain were polar opposites and got on a little bit of a roll after that. The game with Sault Ste. Marie (a 62-57 victory) was a very big game here. That was similar to Hancock. We couldn’t relax for a moment.

“We’ve separated from the rest of the GNC teams a little and found a way to win the close games. We’re excited about where we’re at. It’s like whipped cream right now, but we’ve told the girls to keep the eye of the tiger and keep improving.”

Junior guard Saylor Henderson has provided timely shooting from outside, hitting 37 percent of her shots from 3-point range and 44 percent inside the arc. She’s averaging 7.2 points.

“The 3-point shot is a big part of our game, and Saylor is a green-light shooter for us,” said Hudson. “Because we play uptempo, we get good looks in transition. We’re also a good free throw shooting team (averaging 67 percent).”

Hudson said he also appreciates the help from the assistant coaches.

“Coach Maki has done a real good job,” he added. “She understands the girls, and our younger coaches (C.J. Barron and Darren Landis) absorb everything like a sponge.”

John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTOS (Top) Escanaba's Keira Maki (12) leads a break against Menominee during a Jan. 16 victory. (Middle) Eskymos coach Tracy Hudson talks things over with his team during last Friday's win over Bark River-Harris. (Photos courtesy of

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.)