Calling Bean Hughes a natural is both accurate and not at all telling the full story.
A three-sport athlete the last four years at Upper Moreland, Hughes has made it look easy on a tennis court, basketball floor and softball diamond yet looks can be deceiving. Sure, the senior has plenty of natural talent and ability but it’s the countless hours she put in that have gotten the most out of it.
While Hughes didn’t get a final high school softball season, it won’t detract from the remarkable career she had as a Golden Bear.
“I’ve just always had a desire to be the best,” Hughes said. “I need to be the best and if I’m not, I get annoyed. Especially in sports when I know I can do more and if I’m not doing all I can, that’s when I get irritated.”
Hughes’ real first name is Brianna, but practically nobody calls her that. When they were very young, her little brother couldn’t quite pronounce her name, so he eventually started calling her “Bean” and the nickname just stuck because Hughes felt like it set her apart.
She got into athletics early on, at first playing soccer, basketball and softball before an injury forced to put soccer aside and pick up tennis. Starting out as a catcher, Hughes quickly found a connection with the way softball blended team and individual accomplishments and decided it was going to be her main pursuit.
“I like that softball is a big team sport but it also has a lot of individuality in it,” Hughes said. “If you have a terrible game one game, your teammates are there to pick you up, but if you have a good game, it just reflects well on you.”
While Hughes didn’t neglect the other sports, most of her time was focused on softball. Still, she didn’t really get serious until she was about 10 and started travel ball a few years after her peers. By the time she reached high school, she was playing up an age group and more than holding her own.
Her very first game at Upper Moreland would be the final bit of proof she’d picked the right sport. Initially, Hughes started out on JV as a swing player.
That lasted all of two innings.
“I was given an opportunity to prove myself and when I did that, I saw I could hang with these high school players and it connected then,” Hughes said. “We were playing at Neshaminy and the varsity team was kind of getting massacred so the coaches decided ‘let’s pull Bean up.’ My first time up, I had a pretty good hit, then played shortstop and had a couple plays in the field but being able to get a hit off a Neshaminy pitcher was an accomplishment for Upper Moreland in general I guess at the time.”
Getting indoctrinated to high school basketball was a different story. More of an athlete than a basketball player as a freshman, Hughes had skill but needed experience and work to tap into it.
Golden Bears girls basketball coach Matt Carroll, who took over the program prior to Hughes’ freshman year, quickly learned what that would mean. Despite having no designs on playing hoops past high school and trying to balance a fall sport on top of her all-in focus on softball and school, Hughes was a constant presence in the gym working on her basketball game.
“I’m proud of how far I was able to come with basketball,” Hughes said. “Softball was always something I was extremely passionate about my entire life and basketball was for the most part, another sport I played. As I continued to play and practice, it was something I got more passionate about and I started to enjoy how I was able to progress.”
Upper Moreland went 0-22 in Carroll’s first year. They made the District 1 playoffs each of the past two seasons where no coincidence, Hughes earned first-team All-SOL American honors.
It became commonplace for Carroll to get to the gym for a game and find Hughes had been there since school let out and in the offseason, for the forward to show up in softball gear to put up shots or work on skills for hours.
“I have to thank Coach Carroll,” Hughes said. “Coaches always say ‘if you want to take extra time to practice, let us know,’ but he has put in more time and effort than any coach I know, period.”
For the program’s younger players, being able to see and experience Hughes’ work ethic on a daily basis was as valuable as anything Carroll could say or teach them.
“It’s been a lot of work over the years,” Hughes said. “For softball, it was hours per week practicing when I was younger to be able to keep up with the older girls I was playing with. Basketball was countless hours in the winter and offseason while I was playing other sports.
“The sports reflect on each other, which is strange because you’d think basketball, tennis and softball wouldn’t have anything to do with each other but they all connect and help each other.”
Versatility is Hughes’ game in softball and she could probably play any position in the field deftly, but she settled in as the Bears’ shortstop, making first team All-SOL American as a junior and second team as a sophomore. Last year, Hughes tore the cover off the ball all season, hitting for a .561 average with eight home runs, nine doubles, 23 RBIs and 30 runs scored as UM chased a conference title into the final week of the season and made districts.
Playing travel softball after her freshman season, Hughes noticed a lot of the girls on her team and with other programs were concerned about being recruited. For her, the prospect of playing in college wasn’t something she gave much thought to at first.
“I didn’t jump into the process and accept the fact I was getting older and needed to start being recruited until my junior year and I was still really late on it,” Hughes said. “I didn’t know where I wanted to go, what Division level I wanted to play but I knew I wanted to play in college.”
At her dad’s suggestion, she tried out for and made the SOL’s Carpenter Cup squad after her sophomore year. Pressed into service as a catcher, Hughes performed well and started to attend some team camps on top of travel tournaments.
Last summer, she again played in the Carpenter Cup and helped the SOL win the tournament title, capped off by on-field honors at a Phillies game and significant interest from Kutztown. For Hughes, Kutztown presented just what she was looking for.
“I hadn’t thought about Kutztown but their coach reached out to me because she had seen me at the Carpenter Cup,” Hughes said. “The demands of Division I personally, I don’t know if I would want to dedicate my entire life to playing softball and Division III, playing college softball at any level is an amazing accomplishment but I wanted a little bit more of the softball aspect which I felt was right at Division II.
“After my overnight visit and being able to talk to the coaches, it just felt like the right fit.”
Tennis was Hughes’ third sport but it was where she pulled off maybe her best athletic endeavor while at Upper Moreland. Playing as the team’s No. 1 singles player, Hughes was locked in a tight duel against Upper Dublin’s top player in the fourth match of the season when she fell and broke her right wrist.
Instead of calling it a season, the right-handed Hughes came back in doubles and played the rest of the fall left-handed with her right arm in a cast.
“For the first time in four years, I was holding my own but I knew with it being my senior season, there was no way I was going to be able to just sit there and watch,” Hughes said. “I think that’s where softball reflects to tennis. It’s my pull-through hand and my glove hand, so my backhand in tennis was pretty strong. I guess all the years of using my left hand in softball and the hand-eye coordination made it easier to adjust to using my left hand.”
Moving to the college level will mean a new adjustment for Hughes as she transitions from a three-sport athlete into just a softball player. She’s eager to see what a college practice looks like and how it feels to play in a college game but it’ll different not having to go from a tennis match to a softball practice or come from a game to a basketball workout.
“It’s going to be kind of strange now that I think about it, but I also think it will be a good thing for me,” Hughes said. “It will give me a lot more time to grow in softball. But, I’m also going to miss it so much.
“It’s nice playing the three sports because each season brings something completely different. The sports are different, so every three to four months; I got to experience something totally different.”
When she got to Upper Moreland, Hughes initially wanted to leave her mark by way of accomplishments. Seeing the banners in the school’s gym with all the players to have made all-conference, she wanted to gather more first-team honors than any of them.
“There’s so much I missed not having a senior season,” Hughes said. “Being with the girls is first of course, but also seeing the teams we’ve been super-competitive with like Hatboro-Horsham and Plymouth Whitemarsh, the league games are always the best.
“Seeing everyone’s first team (conference) accomplishments on the wall, I always wanted to have the most or get as many as this kid did or that kid had because I always thought it was really cool but that kind of got taken away, having that chance again.”
Now an official Upper Moreland graduate on her way to becoming a college student-athlete, her legacy at UM is much more than that. Teammates have told Hughes how much they admire her work ethic and her commitment.
For her part, Hughes tried to help her teammates in any way she could, whether it was something as extreme as coming back from a broken wrist to play tennis or something small like offering a tip or technique on a softball swing. Especially at a smaller school like Upper Moreland, not every player was going to play year-round like she did but to Hughes, they were still her teammates and if she could help, she wanted to.
Hughes said she’s also greatly missed bus rides with the softball team and was glad they at least got a scrimmage together before the season was cancelled. She recalled their final ride together having a bit of a depressing feel to it and the inevitable end of the season leaving the wrong ending to an otherwise fulfilling career.
“I’m going to miss playing for Upper Moreland,” Hughes said. “It was just the greatest experience.”