Alison Hughes hasn’t looked back since trading the oft-frozen plains of Crookston, Minnesota, for the sun-soaked beaches of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The oceanside city is a college student’s dream. If, somehow, there isn’t something interesting happening on campus or nearby, Miami is an easy 30-minute drive straight south.
And, yeah, it’s pretty warm there, too.
“The most opposite,” Hughes said during an interview Tuesday. “The biggest change you could get.”
Nova Southeastern University is the second Division II stop for the 2015 Janesville Craig graduate, known to many as “Al.” Hughes, a junior, spent two years playing for the University of Minnesota-Crookston women’s basketball team before transferring to Nova, a private research school on a campus just minutes from Fort Lauderdale’s pristine beaches.
It wasn’t for lack of on-court success. Hughes was an all-Northern Sun Athletic Conference player both seasons for Crookston and set a school single-season record with 95 3-pointers as a sophomore.
But something wasn’t quite right. Hughes said she wanted a change. Nova coach Leann Freeland-Curry, who had recruited Hughes during the 2014-15 high school season, gave her a chance to start fresh.
“I liked everything when I came down here,” Hughes said. “I was ready for a new atmosphere, warm weather, just a bigger town with more going on.”
That doesn’t mean the transition was easy. Hughes gave up her scholarship with Crookston, moved more than a thousand miles from most of her friends and family and changed majors from elementary education to exercise and sport science. Hughes is back on scholarship with Nova and did not have to sit out a season thanks to a one-time transfer exception allowed by the NCAA, she said.
Freeland-Curry and the rest of Nova’s women’s basketball team helped make Hughes feel at home.
“It was a little overwhelming at first, but the facilities are amazing,” Hughes said. “The gym is beautiful and the coaches … made me feel comfortable.
“The whole process was a little bit of a mess for a while, but it ended up working out.”
Hughes, a 5-foot-7 guard, has adapted nicely to being a Shark. She’s averaging 12.8 points, 2.8 3-pointers, 2.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 32.1 minutes per game this season.
Hughes has made 65 of 141 3s, a percentage (46.1) that ranks seventh in all of Division II. The unmatched work ethic that made Hughes The Gazette’s first-ever girls basketball player of the year and an all-state selection as a high school senior hasn’t gone anywhere.
“The biggest thing is repetition and getting extra shots up, and practicing those shots,” Hughes said. “That repetition really builds confidence so when you’re in the game you don’t have to think about it. It’s second nature.”
The Sharks (11-13) have slumped since starting the season 8-4, and are 1-9 away from Rick Case Arena, the team’s home venue.
“It’s kind of been an up-and-down season,” Hughes said. “We haven’t performed like we were expecting.”
Nova has struggled to recapture the form that saw it win four straight games from Dec. 15 to Jan. 3. Hughes made 7 of 13 3-pointers and scored a season-high 28 points in an 85-59 win over Shaw (N.C.) on Dec. 19.
“We’ve had a few games like that where we play so together and with good chemistry,” Hughes said. “We wish we would play all our games like that. Everything just comes easy.”
Hughes hasn’t decided what she wants to do post-graduation, but she has some time to figure things out. Hughes, the daughter of Janesville’s Ben and Amie, said she might like to become a coach.
For now, she’s making the most of her time in the Sunshine State. Many college students plan spring-break trips to South Florida to escape the long winter. Hughes lives it every day.
“I’m definitely glad with my decision,” Hughes said. “(It was) my first warm winter ever. My family is always telling me what I’m missing.”
And she doesn’t have to worry about shoveling snow, either.
Bryan Wegter is a sports copy editor for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org