Zeinstra Finishing 4-Year Byron Center Run Among School's All-Time Greats

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

February 15, 2024

BYRON CENTER – As an incoming freshman four years ago, Lily Zeinstra was immediately thrust into a starting role on the Byron Center varsity girls basketball team.

West MichiganWhile it was an overwhelming experience, Zeinstra embraced the opportunity, and believes the early demands placed on her helped pave the way for what has become an outstanding high school career – and spot among the best in school history.

“My freshman year was scary,” she said. “Just coming in and starting on varsity. And in our first game, I had to guard Jillian Brown from East Grand Rapids, who was a really good player. I feel I was pushed into a big role on our team at a really early age, but I think that has helped me over the last four years to develop into the player I am today.”

Now a senior standout, the 5-foot-11 Zeinstra has been a mainstay in the Bulldogs’ starting line-up throughout while helping lead the program to four years of success.

She recently became the school’s all-time leading scorer, surpassing 1,500 points for her career.

“I have to give credit to my teammates,” Zeinstra said. “Through the years I've been in different scoring positions, but I've always been on a team that has trusted me with the ball in tight game scenarios.

“I’ve been told by my coaches since I was younger that I'm a scorer and they need me to score, and that's been my role so I feel like scoring all those points is what I needed to do to help our team win. That’s the most important part.”

Zeinstra, who committed to Division I Butler University last spring, has been the focal point every season and has enjoyed her role as a team leader. Byron Center (14-4) is a combined 68-14 over her four seasons.

“I’ve definitely learned a lot about being a leader and having different roles that I can have on teams,” she said. “Coming in freshman year, my job was to work hard and I was one of the top defenders, so I was guarding the other teams’ best players.

“As years went on, our team lacked numbers so I became more of a scorer, especially last year. I worked on posting up down low and scoring all around the basket, and this year even more trying to further my game and score better. I'm playing college basketball next year, and that’s what they need me to do.”

Zeinstra also had the opportunity to play two years at Byron Center with her older sister, Avery, who plays now at Grand Valley State.

Zienstra, left, puts up a shot against Muskegon.“I feel like I didn’t enjoy it enough when I was in it with her,” Zeinstra said. “But I loved her class so much. There were two other seniors who she played with all four years, and they were big leaders and taught me about the culture here at Byron Center. I really enjoyed playing with them.”

Zeinstra is averaging 25 points per game this season and had a career-high 39 points against Grandville in late December.

First-year Byron Center coach Cam Burns, who replaced longtime program leader Jen Slot, knew all about Zeinstra before being hired.

“I saw her on the AAU circuit and I watched her play for a couple years, and I have friends who spoke highly of her,” Burns said. “When I got the job I wanted to check her out, and I saw her pace and how she plays the game was very special.”

Burns said Zeinstra possesses unwavering confidence and the ability to score several ways.

That mentality has come from countless hours in the gym and a strong work ethic.

“She’s one of the hardest working kids in practice, and she just wants it,” he said. “And she’s a sponge, always looking at different skills and movements to try and get a better look at the rim.

“And it’s about the time and effort she puts into the little details. She makes plays, and I’m not surprised when I see something from her on the court when others are taken back by it. She continues to show why she is so good.”

The adjustment period for Zeinstra was difficult at the onset of this season.

She was getting accustomed to a new coach, as well as a new group of varsity players after the loss of several seniors.

“It was hard at the beginning because I had been running Coach Slot’s plays and offense for three years, and I knew what to expect going into every game and every practice,” Zeinstra said. “When Coach Burns came in, he brought a different vibe and a different culture, and it was the first year I had to get used to playing with new players and a new coach. I was learning things all over again.”

Zeinstra has adapted well to her new surroundings.

“It’s been going pretty good, and we had a couple big wins last week and we are in first place in our conference,” she said. “We should be able to pull another conference championship out – fingers crossed.”

The Bulldogs are chasing their fourth straight conference championship and have a one-game lead entering Friday’s Ottawa-Kent Conference White game against Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central. Their only conference loss was against Forest Hills Northern.

“It would be such a great accomplishment to win another one,” Zeinstra said. “We have had this winning culture in our program for so long, and with getting a new coach I was worried we were going to lose some of that. But I really feel like this team is buying into everything that Coach is saying and we are finally putting the pieces together and starting to win some big games.”

After a rocky start, Byron Center has adjusted well to its new coach and made giant strides. The Bulldogs dropped their first two games of the season to East Kentwood and reigning Division 1 champion Rockford, but since have won 13 of their last 15 games.

“We started out 0-2 against two of the top teams in the state, and it was just learning a new system and a new process and feeling each other out,” Burns said. “As weeks have gone by, they are starting to trust in each other and trust me. They’ve started to trust in the process.

“After that first win we got to celebrate that, and it was special. From then on we started rolling, and we’re getting better day by day, continuing to trust in one another.”

The Bulldogs also will seek a third consecutive District crown when the postseason begins in a few weeks. Zeinstra is looking forward to a potential rematch with East Kentwood.

“I want another stab at them, and we like challenges,” Zeinstra said. “We feed off that, so I feel like we have a shot to win (Districts) again.”

Dean HolzwarthDean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTOS (Top) Byron Center’s Lily Zienstra considers her options during a game against Rockford. (Middle) Zienstra, left, puts up a shot against Muskegon. (Photos courtesy of the Byron Center girls basketball program.)

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

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)