Fox All-Area Girls Basketball Captain: Alyssa Hughes, St. Charles North
Last summer, St. Charles North girls basketball coach Mike Tomczak installed a new defensive strategy - a full court pressing and trapping style - with the hope it would translate into added offensive opportunities.
"We wanted to try something new," said Tomczak.
Alyssa Hughes entered her senior season as the North Stars' most experienced player, having started several games during her freshman campaign in 2019-2020, and leading the team in scoring during a successful 18-13 season a year ago.
"Alyssa had one of the best single seasons in North Star history last year, and we changed everything we were doing," said Tomczak. "It (style) was not what Alyssa had ever played before. But she bought into it - and her teammates bought into it."
Hughes, who helped lead the North Stars to a school-record 26 victories and their first Class 4A regional championship in 15 years, has been named Captain of the Daily Herald's 2022-2023 Fox All-Area Girls Basketball Team.
The North Stars began the season with 6 consecutive victories, including their title-winning tournament at Burlington Central, where they outscored 4 opponents by a staggering 276-96 margin - highlighted by an 83-20 win over Larkin, and a 68-34 championship triumph over the host Rockets.
One week later, Hughes scored the 1,000th point of her varsity career during the North Stars' 60-30 win over Wheaton Warrenville South.
After earning all-tournament honors at Dundee-Crown in December, which included a 24-point performance against Hampshire and hitting the game-winning free throws during a 39-38 victory over Rockton Hononegah, Hughes rolled into January.
During the MLK Tournament at Batavia, the 5-foot-7 point guard tallied 23 points, including four 3-pointers, in St. Charles North's 52-30 win over Lake Zurich.
Eight days later, Hughes scored 12 of her game-high 30 points in the fourth quarter during the North Stars' 68-49 come-from-behind victory over crosstown rival St. Charles East. In addition to connecting on five 3-pointers, she converted 9 of 10 free throws as the North Stars extended their winning streak to 10.
After scoring 16 points in a 54-46 streak-busting loss to Geneva, Hughes poured in a career-high 31 points during the North Stars' 70-64 road victory over Plainfield East.
Hughes kicked off February in style, draining a pair of free throws with 1.8 seconds left in overtime during St. Charles North's 52-50 win over Lake Park.
"I love those last-second opportunities to help your team win," said Hughes. "Those are situations you put yourself in at practice, stepping to the free-throw line and imagining your team is down one in the final seconds."
That clutch gene came in handy for the North Stars.
"The moment was never too big for her," said Tomczak, who watched Hughes' improvement over the years.
"Every year, we sat down after the season and talked about her growth as a player," said Tomczak. "Every summer, she'd lock herself into the gym and work on her game. We would identify a so-called weakness, and she'd turn it into a strength. It's uncommon to find someone who would dedicate so much to her game."
"My older brother, Justin, was always in the gym," said Hughes. "When I was an 8th grader and he was a freshman, we'd go to North's gym every morning at 6 and spend time shooting."
That hard work paid off, as Hughes closed out her senior season with 590 points (18-point average) and a school-record 103 3-pointers (37 percent from beyond the arc). She also shot 87 percent from the free-throw line.
"I remember being an assistant coach here when Kyla Helsel hit a 3-pointer in a game her senior year that was the 100th of her career," said Tomczak. "Alyssa made more than 100 in one year. She's 120 ahead of Reagan (Sipla) for the career lead.
"Without COVID, she could have scored 2,000 points. She is the second best player ever at North (behind only Kelsey Smith - played at Michigan State)."
Hughes praised her teammates, particularly starters Julia Larson, Laney Stark (Bartlett transfer), Katrina Stack and Sipla, for helping make her a better player.
"It was great to have Laney on our team with all of her energy on defense," said Hughes. "She broke the single-season steals record at North. Offensively, she would look for players and get them the ball in position to score.
"Julia is an incredible all-around athlete, who is going to Illinois State to play softball. She has a great competitive spirit.
"I could rely on Reagan and Katrina to hit shots from the outside and make big-time plays for us. I had great support from my teammates and all the coaches."
For Hughes, who played club ball for Aurora's M14 alongside Geneva's Cassidy Arni and Lauren Slagle, Naperville North's Abby Drendel, Abby Homan and Layla Henderson, York's Lizzie Baldridge, and Downers Grove North's Margaret Fleming, one moment stood out at St. Charles North.
"Winning a regional title was the highlight of the season," Hughes said of her team's 60-27 victory over Wheaton North on the North Stars' home court. "That was a goal of mine since freshman year. I was super happy to do that because it was our first in 15 years."
Hughes will take her talents to Washington University in St. Louis, where she plans on studying chemistry/pharmacology.
"It was at the top of my list of schools," she said. "I love the campus."
"I see her being very successful at the next level," said Tomczak. "It's a great academic school, and she's a gifted student. Their facilities are amazing.
"It's a great fit for her. She has already won."
Hughes will long be remembered by her coach - and others.
"She led our team by nearly every metric statistically," said Tomczak. "Her cultural impact on our program is harder to quantify because you can't measure it by numbers - you measure it by feeling.
"She set the tone for our program."