St. Charles North's Ludwig making triumphant return from ACL injury
St. Charles North made it through the first half of the DuKane Conference race in first place thanks in no small part to the return of Emma Ludwig and the development of Alyssa Hughes.
The starting backcourt features the 5-foot-8 junior Ludwig, who missed her sophomore season with a torn ACL, and the 5-6 Hughes, whose impact has made a major difference in the 7-1 start.
Ludwig comes from a "legacy family," as North Stars coach Mike Tomczak puts it. Her older brothers Zach and Jake were four-year varsity players.
Emma grew up watching them play at North and playing against them in the driveway.
"We would play low rim in the yard," Emma said. "They would dunk repeatedly on me over and over. It was never fair but I never complained because I loved it, I loved competing with them. I feel like that's where I get some of my toughness from those two pounding on me. I wouldn't be anywhere near as good as I am without those two."
Emma Ludwig made an immediate impact as a freshman at St. Charles North in 2019, earning all-DuKane honors. Everything changed as she was preparing for her sophomore season that August.
Going up for a layup during a workout, Ludwig came down and heard a pop. She felt pain in her right hamstring, not realizing the severity. When her leg still hurt weeks later, her parents Mark and Linda -- both suburban athletes at Dundee-Crown and Glenbard West, respectively -- took her for an MRI.
Two days later she got the bad news, and two days after that had surgery.
"I'll never forget my doctor asked how serious I was about basketball," Ludwig said of learning the MRI results. "He told me and immediately tears to my eyes and even my dad who never cries was crying a little bit so I knew it must have been bad. I let the team know and we were all crying -- it was just not a good day."
Tomczak also took the news hard.
"First, I love the kid and love the family," Tomczak said. "You aren't going to find a family or a kid who is more invested in our team or our program than the Ludwigs are. I tried to stay positive for them but the truth was I was devastated and they were too. Basketball means so much to her and her family."
Doctors told Ludwig she would have to rehab two or three times a week; Emma went five days. By March she was cleared to play.
Because of the pandemic, it has taken longer to put her North Stars jersey back on. Tomczak said Ludwig is better than ever, stronger as she attacks the basket and defensively.
"In some respect for her having that extra time (from the pandemic) was a blessing because Emma only knows one speed and is going to go hard the whole time," Tomczak said. "Having those restrictions in place might have saved her from herself in some ways and allowed her body time to heal. She looks as good as she ever has. She's got a maturity to her game. She's a calming presence, a floor general."
Ludwig is averaging 10 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds. Her best game might have come against St. Charles East when she drew 2 chargers and hit 8 straight free throws in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
"It's great having her back," Hughes said. "This is the first time we've really been able to play together and she's a player who almost is like having another coach on the court. You can hear her on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. She's always super intense and always communicating. She is an amazing person to play with."
Hughes and Ludwig have made quite a pairing. Hughes is shooting 40% from 3-point range, averaging 12 points and 4 assists.
She's come up big in some of the North Stars' key wins including 16 second half points against Geneva and three third quarter 3-pointers vs. Lake Park.
"She has been a revelation," Tomczak said. "She's a gym rat. She's in training, she's working out, and it's paid dividends immediately. She sees the floor, the angles on passes, understanding what the other team is trying to do. She's been outstanding for us on both sides of the ball."
Like Ludwig, Hughes has an older brother who has helped her game. Justin is a junior on the St. Charles North boys team.
"When we go to the gym together we are pushing each other to be the best," said Alyssa, who plays at M14.
Tomczak said Ludwig and Hughes have the potential to be one of the best backcourts in the state next year when they both return.
That's high praise, and the bright future is something Hughes certainly has thought of.
But first things first.
"Our main goal is to bring home a DuKane Conference championship for our seniors," Hughes said. "This is their last chance."