Carney-Nadeau Starts Strong, Building Toward Big Finish

By John Vrancic
Special for

March 5, 2021

CARNEY — This basketball season has been well worth the wait for the Carney-Nadeau girls as they’re off to an 11-0 start.

The Wolves continued to roll Tuesday night in a 67-22 win at Crystal Falls Forest Park.

C-N is led by 6-foot-3 junior center Tessa Wagner, who averages 22 points and 17 rebounds a game.

She collected 22 points, 15 boards and four blocked shots in Tuesday's contest, three days after scoring a career-high 27 points in a 64-24 victory over Munising.

"The fact that we're 11-0 is special," said coach Ken Linder. "Our ability to shut other teams down is also special.

“This is as good a team (as) I've been around. … It's hard to believe we're already more than halfway done."

Tuesday's triumph also enabled the Wolves to improve to 8-0 in the Skyline Central Conference.

"This is really awesome," senior point guard Haley Ernest said after Monday's 61-42 victory over Felch North Dickinson. "We're super happy with our season. We're a well-balanced team. When one is having an off night, another is ready to step up. It's hard to go an entire season without having an off night, especially with games packed in."

Due to the condensed season, the Wolves are playing or practicing 6-7 days a week.

"When we don't have a Saturday game, we take that day off," said Ernest. "Otherwise, we're playing or practicing every day. Sunday is game film day. After we're done with that, we have a shoot-around which is part of the easiest practice all week."

The Wolves, like other teams, had to endure numerous delays due to COVID-19.

"We're just happy to be playing,” Wagner said. “I actually love wearing the mask. I also have a little mouthpiece to keep from sucking it in."

Wagner says Coach Linder often reminds them to stay focused. The Wolves have been especially impressive defensively, as C-N is giving up only 28.6 points per game.

"He tells us not to look at the scoreboard and play the game," she added. "Our defense has definitely been a key, and I think we have good ball movement. We're definitely a fast team."

Sophomore forward Shae Linder also noted a variety of reasons why the Wolves are successful.

"We work together," she said. "We're like a machine out there. Our defensive intensity is a key, and our guards have good court awareness. Tessa is an amazing player. We know she's going to play hard overtime and she works for every rebound. A lot of people focus on her.

"Nobody is selfish on our team. We don't care who's putting up the points, just as long as somebody is putting them up. Our opponents have nothing to lose, and we have everything to lose. We're going to give it our all overtime. I think Haley is our (floor) leader. She brings our defense together and runs our offense."

Shae Linder said the Wolves decided to stay committed despite the extensions.

"We were looking forward to our first game," she added. "We agreed we were going to work hard every day (during the extensions). We love the game. All we could do was keep getting better and hope for the best. We were real excited when we found out we could start playing. We felt we had a pretty good chance to start 11-0.

The Wolves resume at home against Stephenson on Saturday.

John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTO: Carney-Nadeau's Tessa Wagner, here last season against Rock Mid Peninsula, is averaging 22 points and 17 rebounds per game. (Photo courtesy of the Escanaba Daily Press.)

Little Provides Major Stride as 1st Woman to Officiate Boys Hoops Final since 1995

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

April 13, 2023

Delonda Little was already a trailblazer to many before this year’s MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals.

Greater DetroitBut what happened last month at Breslin Center made her even more of one on a statewide level.

A referee and assigner for 20 years in the Detroit area, Little is a female boys and girls basketball official who mentors both male and female referees – no matter the gender or level, as she officiates high school and college games.

Officials often go to Little for guidance, direction and assignments, which has made her respected for years throughout Metro Detroit in the prep basketball community. Then, her status as a trailblazer grew even more.

Little was assigned as an official for the Division 3 Boys Basketball Final between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis, and she became the first female referee to officiate an MHSAA Boys Basketball Final since Traverse City’s Barb Beckett 1995.

“It was a very good feeling to know I was the one selected,” said Little, who officiated the Final with Matt Olson and Zach Porritt.  

In fact, while attending a Semifinal game the Friday before the Final, Little received a phone call from an area code she didn’t recognize.

She answered, and it was Beckett.

“At first I didn’t know the name,” Little said. “I said, ‘No, I don’t know you, but that’s fine.’”

Beckett then explained she was the first female referee to be assigned a Boys Basketball Final, and just wanted to offer support to Little.

At that point, Little became excited and thankful she answered the call.

“It was very nice to hear from her because she wanted to reach out and if not pass the torch, to congratulate me,” Little said.

Little, 51, said she found out she was going to be refereeing the Division 3 boys championship game just before the start of the postseason when she received an email from the MHSAA.

“I’m looking at the email and I’m like, boys?” Little said. “I was shocked.”

But she was shocked in a good way, and obviously excited for the honor.

Little monitors the action between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis.Little didn’t find out until a couple of days before the St. Francis/Beecher contest that she would be officiating that specific championship game, but the Monday of boys championship week was when she really started to receive congratulations from friends and colleagues.

That’s when an article came out in the Detroit News detailing her selection, which led to countless calls, texts and congratulatory messages on social media.

“I couldn’t even (keep up with the comments),” she said. “That’s how overwhelming the actual tags were. It came from all across the state with officials, men and women, because I do women’s college (games). Some of the college ladies were reaching out. I was getting all the hoopla before the game.”

Little said she normally doesn’t get nervous for games, but not having some nerves became a bit harder once so many people knew of her achievement.

However, she settled into a normal routine quickly once the game started.

“I wanted to get it done, get it over with and do well,” she said.

Little did do well, which is no surprise to everyone who knew her before she officiated on the boys championship stage.

It was just another feather in the cap for Little, who in 2016 became the first woman to officiate a boys Detroit Public School League championship game.

“Delonda is one of the top officials in the Detroit area, and our staff doesn’t look at Delonda as a female working a boys game – we see one of the top officials in Detroit working a basketball game,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “There are females officiating in the NBA and female officials in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The aspect that made Delonda’s selection for this MHSAA championship game nearly unique will soon be the norm at all levels of athletics.”     

Little graduated from Detroit Osborn in 1989 and starred on the basketball court at Wayne State, earning induction into WSU’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005.

Her day job is as an officer for the Michigan Department of Corrections, but her passion is officiating. She’s been an MHSAA-registered official for basketball for two decades and also was registered for volleyball for four years. This past fall she registered for football for the first time.

“I get something from it because it keeps me in shape, I love the people I work with and I like the kids,” Little said. “You are always teaching, and I like training the newer officials. I just enjoy it. I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t refereeing.”

Going forward, Little hopes her championship game assignment will now be an inspiration for other female referees.

“There aren’t very many women who would like to work boys basketball or feel comfortable,” Little said. “If that’s something they desire, I’m hoping more women are selected to work the games if they feel comfortable.”

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties

PHOTOS (Top) Delonda Little takes her position on the court during the Division 3 Boys Basketball Final on March 25 at Breslin Center. (Middle) Little monitors the action between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis.