Eureka junior guard Kate Hillyer credits her older sister Alex with getting her involved in basketball.
“Alex was my inspiration since I could hold a basketball,” Hillyer said. “I’m not even sure I could count how many games of hers I have been to but she has always pushed me to be better.
“When she was in college, during the summer, she would drag me to every workout and practice. She is such a big reason for me loving the game.”
Hillyer not only loves the game but she plays it very well.
In a recent 67-50 home win over Parkway West, Hillyer scored 32 points. That total pushed Hillyer past 1,000 points in her Wildcats career.
“I was very excited to reach 1,000 points,” Hillyer said. “When your a little girl growing up in a basketball family, 1,000 points is talked about a lot but it has always seemed so far away. When I hit it, it was a weight off of my shoulders.”
It was a double fun night as Hillyer’s teammate Annika Herbert also joined the 1,000-point club at Eureka. Herbert scored 19 points in the win over the Longhorns.
“It was very special for Annika and Kate to do it at home, plus for everyone in attendance,” Eureka coach James Alsup said. “It was our Feeder Program Night and all of the boys and girls high school teams played at home that evening in front of our future players. The varsity girls played before the varsity boys so when Annika and Kate reached their milestones the gym was packed.
“Everyone that I have talked to have said that they have never seen two players get to 1,000 in the same game let alone two from the same team.”
There are seven girls who have eclipsed 1,000 points in their careers as Wildcats and Alsup has coached every one but Molly Quinn, who finished with 1,506 points in 1997. Tiffany Stewart is the leader with 1,605 points set in 2001. Alex Hillyer finished with 1,501 points in 2012 before playing in college at Maryville University.
Hillyer noted her sister was a big reason she wanted to reach the 1,000-point scoring plateau.
“This was most definitely a goal for me,” Hillyer said. “I think it’s a goal for many high school players as it seems to be a milestone that is highly recognized and talked about. With my sister hitting it when I was about 7, it has always been in the back of my head.”
Hillyer, a shooting guard, has started all three years in the program. Starting as a freshman was daunting at first for her.
“I think there is always a little pressure when you come in as a freshman and start because it feels like you have something to prove,” Hillyer said. “I think coming in and having amazing teammates helped take that pressure off and also helped me find my niche where I have been able to grow and excel.”
Her game has improved and grown since then, Hillyer said. She has become a more complete player.
“I started out as just a three-point shooter. Over the years, I’ve had to change my game and incorporate driving, shooting off the dribble, and many more ways to score,” Hillyer said. “I have also become a better passer and defender. I grew 4 inches between freshman and sophomore year which threw me for a loop but it worked out in the end.
“I like the way I can be versatile. I can shoot and drive. There’s really no rules. It’s such a fun position and I’m really thankful for the opportunity to play it.”
“Kate’s all-around game keeps getting better but shooting is her thing,” Alsup said. “Last year she set the season record for made 3’s with 70 of them. She also became the career leader for made three pointers with 128 and counting.”
Hillyer entered the Parkway West game needing 30 points to reach 1,000. She did so by nailing two free throws.
“The basket that got me to 1,000 points was actually pretty anticlimactic. I was going up for a defensive rebound and got fouled, which sent me to the line,” Hillyer said. “In my head I knew I had to make both free throws. It was a little scary because I had time to think about the basket whereas if I were just shooting I wouldn’t be thinking. It was still really fun and a free throw I will never forget. “
The game was stopped to honor Hillyer and Herbert.
“We knew that there was an outside chance that one or both of our players could get there that night so I reached out to coach Allie Boedecker at Parkway West,” Alsup said. “Back in the day when she was Allie Wilhelm, she played basketball for us at Eureka so was more than willing to let us stop the game and honor the accomplishments.
“When we stopped the game Annika and Kate took the ball up into the stands to share the moment with their parents.”
Reaching the milestone at home was important to Hillyer.
“I was really excited and even more excited to do it on my home court,” Hillyer said. “We actually had a pretty large crowd and it was so nice to feel my community celebrating my achievement with me.
“My teammates were amazing. They always are. They gave me hugs which made it that much more special and I again could not ask for better teammates to enjoy this achievement with.”
Getting to 1,000 points with Herbert made the night even more special to Hillyer.
“I think that this is the most special part of the night. A few weeks before this game, Annika and I had joked about hitting it in the same game and how cool it would be,” Hillyer said. “She was 17 points away and I was 30 so we both figured it was a long shot. I felt I would need a couple of games to reach 30 points, so when it happened it was the best thing ever.
“Annika has been so helpful throughout the years and I couldn’t have thought of a better way to hit 1000 than with her.”
The two guards are also good friends.
“Over these last three years, Annika and I have gotten really close. From the very beginning Annika went out of her way to make sure that I was included,” Hillyer said. “Not only do we work together on the court constantly we are also great friends off the court. She is probably one of the funniest people I know and I’m so thankful for the last three years with her.”
Hillyer wanted to give coach Alsup credit, too.
“He has been a huge part of my success. On top of being a great coach and helping me find ways to score, he has always been my fan,” Hillyer said. “No matter how bad of a game I have his confidence never leaves and that has helped so much. He also gave me the opportunity as a freshman to not only be on varsity but to start.
“He gave me a challenge and because of him I am a better player. I will be forever grateful for him.”
Alex is now a nurse at St. Louis Children’s Hospital in the neonatal intensive care unit. Alex did not make it to the game to witness the accomplishment.
“Sadly, Alex was not at this game. We really didn’t have any clue that I was going to hit 1,000 so she did not end up coming,” Hillyer said. “She was obviously very sad but she wrote me the nicest text and it was really fun to talk to her about it.”
Now, Hillyer has her sights on scoring more points than her big sister.
“Well, of course, you always want to be better than your older sibling so I would say yes this is definitely a goal to surpass her,” Hillyer said. “I believe Alex also has this goal for me.”
Alsup said Hillyer could go even higher.
“Kate has a chance her senior year to become the school’s all-time leading scorer,” Alsup said. “The current record it held by the point guard from our state championship team Tiffany Stewart with 1,605.”
What Hillyer wants know is for the Wildcats to finish the regular season on a strong note and then do some damage in postseason play.
“Now that this is all over, it’s time to focus on the team,” Hillyer said. “I want a state run this year and that’s what we have to work on. Every player on this team has something to contribute that really makes this possible. The focus is on districts and a district championship.”