Hughes can't stop

By Jeff Yoder
Posted 1/5/22

There is no offseason for Hillcrest senior Esther Hughes. 

From volleyball to basketball, from soccer to softball — Hughes is always active. And that’s the way she likes …

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Hughes can't stop

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There is no offseason for Hillcrest senior Esther Hughes. 

From volleyball to basketball, from soccer to softball — Hughes is always active. And that’s the way she likes it. 

“Growing up, I loved playing outside and I was always doing something,” she said. 

“Going into high school, I knew I wanted to try a lot of sports. I wasn’t really sure which ones I would end up doing, but a lot of the people at Hillcrest invited me into their sports and were like, ‘oh, you should do this.’ And I was down for it.”

Hughes just can’t stop. 

Sometimes literally.  

“I broke like four or five bones just being outside — messing around skateboarding and riding bikes,” she said about her childhood. 

Her father, Noah Hughes, panicked on one occasion as he was switching insurance companies and came to an alarming realization.

“I was like, Esther, there’s a gap here in the insurance,” he said. “You can’t ride anything for a month!”

Esther was fearless, never afraid of a challenge. In middle school, she begged her dad to let her play football. But Noah was hesitant, because a female cousin of Esther’s suffered a bad knee injury on the football field. 

“He decided it wasn’t a good idea, which I understand now,” Esther said. “But I was really disappointed because I love football and I really wanted to play.”

Esther grew up in an athletic family. 

Her mother, Anna Hughes, was a first cousin to University of Iowa and NFL tight ends George Kittle and Henry Krieger-Coble. 

Anna’s other first cousins included broadcaster Jess Settles, who was first-team All-Big Ten for the Iowa basketball team in 1996, Iowa baseball All-American Brad Carlson, who had the most home runs in team history and was second in total bases when he graduated in 2002, as well as Levi and Jesse Ney, who played on Iowa Mennonite’s state runner-up basketball squad and won a state baseball title in 2007. 

Esther’s maternal grandparents were both athletes at Truman State. Chuck Reighard was on the football team and Susan played basketball. Esther’s dad wrestled at Iowa State. 

Competition is in her blood. 

Hughes plans to play soccer at the collegiate level. She is considering several options, including Central College. 

Hughes has played her high school soccer at Mid-Prairie, which co-ops with Hillcrest Academy during the girls soccer season. The Golden Hawks finished with a program-record 11 wins last year, and Hughes was a big reason why.

“She’s a tremendous athlete, but what makes her a great player is her work ethic,” said her soccer coach, Justin Barthelman. “She gives 110 percent in every practice and game — sometimes I need to tell her to take it down a notch in practice.

“When Esther is on the field, every team has to know where she is at and have multiple people try and play defense on her, because she doesn’t get tired and is constantly attacking.”

Despite all the attention from opposing defenses, Hughes finished the season with four assists and a team-high 21 goals — nearly a third of Mid-Prairie’s total. 

“Besides being a great athlete, Esther is one of the best players and people I have coached,” Barthelman said. “She always has a positive attitude, and is willing to do whatever is best for the team.”

As a junior, Hughes played basketball in a co-op with Mid-Prairie as well. She averaged 5.5 points and 4 rebounds per game and led the Golden Hawks with 12 points in a postseason loss at Central Lee. 

Hughes said that wearing a Golden Hawk jersey was definitely a different experience, playing with teammates that she didn’t know as well, but the Mid-Prairie teams were very welcoming to her. 

This year, Hillcrest had enough players to form its own basketball team, and Hughes is leading the Ravens with 15.3 points and 2.7 steals per game through nine games. 

Golden Hawk head coach Danny Hershberger enjoyed coaching Hughes for one season.  “Esther was a big part of what we were doing,” he said. “And, you know, just how hard she plays — the rest of the team can feed off that. 

“I got to watch her play one game and it was fun to watch her continue to do the things that she did for us, for Hillcrest this year. It would be nice to have her, but at the same time, we’re happy that she’s able to have a team at Hillcrest this year as well.”

Hughes’ favorite sports are basketball and soccer, but she’s there for her teammates all year round in volleyball and softball too. 

Even in her ‘secondary’ sports, Hughes excelled because of her athleticism and competitive nature. She led the Raven volleyball team with 177 kills and led the conference with 49 blocks in the fall. Last summer, she was in the top two for the Ravens in hits (20), runs (8), and stolen bases (5). 

“The environment is awesome,” Hughes said about Hillcrest Academy. “I’ve made such good friends there and the teachers are super helpful. And really, being in so many sports, the relationships I’ve made with my coaches are so strong, even ones that have coached me in the past like Kari (Heusinkveld) and Tanna (Boshart). I’m still holding on to those relationships, and there’s just such a strong bond from playing for them.”

That environment was also essential for Hughes during the toughest time in her life. Her mother Anna, passed away in 2019 after a battle with cancer. And her friends at Hillcrest were there for her. 

“Honestly, the community was amazing during that time, everyone around me was supporting me,” Esther said. “Sports was a great escape for me, but also a great way to put my energy into something I loved, while I was going through stuff.

“Coaches, friends, teachers — they were all supporting me through that. If I’d been maybe at a different school or in a different situation, I wouldn’t have come out of that grief as well as I did.”

After a record-breaking season for the Mid-Prairie soccer program, Hughes is looking for an even better finish for her senior soccer season. 

“We lost the COVID year, you know,” Hughes said. “So a bunch of people, (last year) were new to soccer and had hardly even touched the ball. So I think they’ll be more up to speed. For me personally, one year of experience takes you so far. So I think having all of our teammates have one more year of experience is going to help us a lot going forward. 

“I’m really excited for the season. I think we’re going to play well and it’s going to be really good.”

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