Lady 'Lander standout bound for Lees-McRae

By: Wes Holtsclaw
SPORTS CORRESPONDENT

   Taukia Hughes is officially hanging up the blue and gold, but not her career.
   After a strong senior season in which she was named the Watauga Valley Conference Player of the Year and District 1-A MVP, Hughes signed an intent to play basketball for the Lees-McRae College Lady Bobcats, during a ceremony at Cloudland High School Thursday afternoon.
   It will be a big step for Hughes, who enters last year's CVAC Co-Conference champ, joining former Hampton standout Alice Peters at the NCAA Division II playing level. After a strong career where she netted over 1,000 points, Hughes is excited about the next challenge.
   "I'm just kinda nervous about moving on and starting with a different basketball program," said Hughes, "I'm really excited, because I know I'll have fun up there, so I'll try really hard to do my best. I'm going to miss high school, high school ball and my team."
   Hughes' dedication to her team and to her future, led Cloudland to a state tournament berth this past season after winning the district and regional championships. If Lees-McRae wanted a player based on determination and willingness, Hughes was an excellent choice.
   "My career was built on hard work and dedication. I'd practice all summer long, i'd practice all week, any time the gym was open, I was there. My coaches always told me what I needed to work on and pushed me and encouraged me through everything and that adds a lot to my success.
   "Also to my family and my teammates. I couldn't do it without them, because they are always behind me. And no matter if i do awful one game, or great the next, they are there to tell me that it's okay, and that it's going to get better.
   "That adds alot my success, but mostly God, without him I wouldn't be here, or have the abilities that I have, or the opportunities that I've had so that's probably the biggest part."
   Taukia's parents were ecstatic about their daughter's opportunity to extend her career.
   "I'm very excited for her," said her mother Pam Hughes. "I'm feel a little lonely that she's going to be leaving me, since she's my last child at home. I'm very proud of her."
   "I think all of the hard work has finally payed off," said her father Mike Hughes. "I'm really proud of her. I think she's put in the effort, above and beyond what I could ever expect of her. I tickled to death that she's going be playing for them. I like their system and how it works out, it's pretty nice."
   Two of Taukia's high school coaches, Mike Lunsford and Matt Birchfield, were proud of her career and her upcoming challenge. Mike Lunsford coached Hughes through junior high and was the head girl's basketball coach during her junior season, while Birchfield assisted Lunsford before taking the reign this year.
   Said Lunsford: "I'm real proud of Taukia. She's always been the kind of kid that you respect as a coach and think very highly of. She's just an awesome kid, and if you were always coaching kids like her, coaching would be the best job in the world."
   "She's something to make Cloudland High School proud. As a football coach and basketball coach, I had alot of fun with her, she was just like one of mine, and she always will be."
   "She's been real enjoyable," said current Lady 'Lander coach Matt Birchfield. "I took it over this year, and knew that Taukia was going to be our leader. Shes a great student in the classroom and a great kid on the floor.
   "Whatever you ask of, she did it. And I know from the last year with Coach Lunsford that she did the same thing, and I was real excited to be the head coach, to coach a kid and be a part of a young kid that is like Taukia. Coaches wish for those every day and shes just a great athlete."
   As said by the coaches, Hughes excells not only on the basketball floor, but in the classroom as well. A member of many clubs, she is very active at Cloudland High School.
   "I'm really proud of Taukia," said Cloudland Principal Roger Hollifield. "I think she's a shining example for alot of students coming up, for those girls who want to play basketball and earn college scholarships that way. I think it really works out well for them if that happens."
   Hughes becomes the second Cloudland girl's basketballer, and the third from Roan Mountain to play college ball in the past two seasons, after teammate Ashley Stockton and Elizabethton standout Beth Holtsclaw, who will both be at King College, becomes the third from the small community to make the leap.
   Said Birchfield: "It's good that some of these kids can get out and get the recognition. Last year, we made the substate and Ashley signed at King. She's another great player, so its good for the program. Taukia making the state tournament for the first time in school history, establishing some goals and being close by at Lees-McRae."
   "Colleges can get out and look, so hopefully we can get some more in. It's great for Lady Highlander basketball and the other kids looking up to these, and maybe they'll have a goal and try for their excellence like Ashley's done at King and Taukia will at Lees-McRae."
   Hughes is excited about the challenge of the college level, especially for a team like Lees-McRae.
   "It's a lot more intense than high school basketball," said Hughes. "I've watched them, they play really well, they push the ball up and down the floor, and they went inside alot which was good because that's what we did most of the season. I'm really excited, and the coach seems really excited about the next year and what's going to happen. I'm ready for it, I think it will be fun.
   After playing in three regional tournaments, two sub-state rounds, and a state tournament, anything is possible for this standout. Congratulations to Taukia, her family, her coaches, and Cloudland High School for this big accomplishment.