Al Hughes named Big Eight's girls basketball player of the year
JANESVILLE—Kerry Storbakken believes Al Hughes brings the perfect recipe to the basketball court.
“She's what I call a coach's dream,” the Janesville Craig girls coach said Monday. “She's the first one in the gym, the last one to leave the gym, and she hates to lose.”
The rest of the Big Eight coaches agree with Storbakken.
They voted Hughes, a junior point guard, as the league's Player of the Year for the 2013-14 season. She is the first Janesville Craig girls player to win the honor since Alicia Pelton in 1987.
“Whether you're her teammate, her coach, average 'Joe Fan' who likes high school games, you cannot not like Al Hughes,” Storbakken said. “My daughters played for Craig, and they just love watching her and the way she carries herself and the way she plays the game.
“She's always been a good 3-point shooter and ball-handler. She's expanded her game to drive to the basket.”
Hughes finished in the top five in the league in scoring at nearly 15 points per game, and she saved her best games for some of the Cougars' most important matchups.
She had 23 points when Craig handed Big Eight champ Middleton its only conference loss of the regular season. Hughes also had 24 in a holiday tournament finale when the Cougars beat then state-ranked Division 2 opponent Oregon. And she had a season-high 27 points in the first of three meetings—all victories—against Janesville Parker.
“She just always wants to win,” Storbakken said. “She was very excited (about the award), kind of a little surprised. There are some good players and good teams in our conference.”
Hughes made the league's first team along with Janesville Parker junior Paige Smith and seniors Lexy Richardson (Verona), Amelia Grahn (Madison La Follette) and Liz McMahon (Middleton).
Smith stepped up her role in a big way when the Vikings lost a solid group of seniors and were searching early for a scoring threat. She was second in the league in scoring with more than 16 ppg.
“With the loss of the kids that were there before her, she had to step up,” Parker coach Tom Klawitter said. “She took the ball to the basket, and that's always going to get you something, when you're going forward and not relying on the outside shot. Usually good things happen when you're aggressive like that.”
Craig senior forward Alli Calkins was named third-team all-Big Eight.
Parker's 12-12 season ended with a buzzer-beater loss to Craig in a WIAA regional final game. Craig went 20-5 and lost its next playoff game, a sectional semifinal, to Mukwonago.
Both Janesville programs will be looking forward to another season with their first-team all-league players.
“(Hughes) was so hurt by that Mukwonago loss that she's just in the gym, working harder,” Storbakken said. “Everything you see on the floor is everything you get from her. I think coaches recognize her attitude and how she approaches the game.
“(The award) just pumped her up to just get in the gym and work harder and do bigger and better things next year.”
An earlier version of this story indicated Al Hughes might've been the first Janesville Craig girls player to win Big Eight player of the year honors, but Alicia Pelton won the award in 1987.