Class A Preview: Stars Sure to Shine
March 14, 2018
By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Class A – made up of the largest high schools in Michigan – also has the most star power to offer this weekend at Calvin College’s Van Noord Arena in Grand Rapids.
This season’s Miss Basketball plus two more finalists, not to mention some of the likely contenders in 2019, all will take the floor during Friday’s Semifinals and Saturday’s championship game.
And much is at stake, of course. Three of these teams have won MHSAA titles, but none since at least 2010. The fourth will compete during the final weekend of the season for the first time.
Class A Semifinals – Friday
Grosse Pointe North (20-5) vs. Saginaw Heritage (25-1), noon
East Lansing (25-0) vs. Wayne Memorial (22-4), 2 p.m.
Class A Final – Saturday, 12:15 p.m.
Tickets cost $10 per pair of Semifinals and $10 per two-game Finals session (Class D and Class A). All Semifinals will be streamed live on MHSAA.tv and viewable on a pay-per-view basis. All four Finals will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Detroit and streamed live on FoxSportsDetroit.com and the FOX Sports Go! app. Free radio broadcasts of all weekend games will be available on MHSAANetwork.com.
Below is a glance at all four semifinalists. Click on the name of the school to see that team’s full schedule and results from this season. (Statistics are through teams' Regional Finals.)
Record/rank: 25-0, No. 2
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference Blue
Coach: Rob Smith, 16th season (record N/A)
Championship history: Class A champion 2010, runner-up 2008.
Best wins: 63-45 over No. 8 Muskegon in Quarterfinal, 54-40 over No. 6 Coldwater in Regional Semifinal, 50-38 (District Final) and 52-51 over No. 4 DeWitt, 63-43 over Class B honorable mention Williamston.
Players to watch: Jaida Hampton, 5-11 sr. F (15 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 57 3-pointers); Aaliyah Nye, 5-11 soph. F (13 ppg, 4.6 rpg).
Outlook: After getting stopped in Quarterfinals three times this decade, East Lansing broke through to make its first Semifinal since the championship season of 2010. The Trojans have won four of five postseason games by at least 12 points. Hampton is the recently honored Miss Basketball Award winner, and she’s got plenty of help not only from Aaliyah Nye, but also senior guards Aazhenii Nye (11.7 ppg) and Amelia McNutt (9.5 ppg), among others. All four of those players also had connected on at least 24 3-pointers entering this week.
GROSSE POINTE NORTH
Record/rank: 20-5, unranked
League finish: Tied for first in Macomb Area Conference Red.
Coach: Gary Bennett, 35th season (576-221)
Championship history: Class A champion 2008.
Best wins: 47-44 over Detroit Martin Luther King in Quarterfinal, 53-51 (Regional Semifinal) and 66-63 over No. 9 Macomb Dakota, 44-32 over St. Clair Shores Lakeview in District Semifinal.
Players to watch: Julia Ayrault, 6-2 jr. G/F (19 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 4.4 spg); Christina Braker, 5-9 soph. F (6.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg).
Outlook: North will be returning to the Semifinals for the first time since the title-winning season of 2008, when it defeated East Lansing in the championship game. Ayrault is considered a contender for next season’s Miss Basketball Award and helped her team navigate what annually is one of the state’s strongest leagues. Lakeview (20-2) was another league champion North had to get past along the way. This could be a preview of next season as well; the Norsemen have only one senior.
Record/rank: 25-1, No. 3
League finish: First in Saginaw Valley League.
Coach: Vonnie DeLong, fifth season (105-14)
Championship history: Class A champion 2002, runner-up 2001.
Best wins: 63-40 (Regional Final) and 60-44 over No. 7 Flint Carman-Ainsworth, 59-49 over Class B No. 1 Detroit Country Day, 51-35 over Class B No. 5 Freeland.
Players to watch: Moira Joiner, 5-9 jr. G (14.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 4.2 apg); Shine Strickland-Gills, 6-1 jr. F (12.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg).
Outlook: Heritage has won 20 or more games the last four seasons and made the Semifinals again to go with its 2015 appearance. The Hawks’ only loss was by a basket in overtime to reigning Class C champ Detroit Edison, and no other opponent got closer than 10 with wins as well over Clarkston (20-5), Hartland (20-6), Midland Dow (17-6) and Bay City Western (17-4). Joiner is another highly-regarded junior who could be in the Miss Basketball conversation in 2019. Four players average at least seven points per game, with senior guard Jessica Bicknell also in double digits at 10.8.
Record/rank: 22-4, No. 10
League finish: First in Kensington Lakes Activities Association Black.
Coach: Jarvis Mitchell, fourth season (55-34)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 54-44 (Quarterfinal) and 45-40 over Hartland, 50-46 over Howell, 73-70 over Class B No. 2 Detroit Country Day.
Players to watch: Camree’ Clegg, 5-5 sr. G (23.7 ppg, 6.4 apg); Jeanae Terry, 5-10 jr. G (Statistics not submitted).
Outlook: Wayne went 0-20 in Mitchell’s first season, then won a league title his second, league and District championships his third and added the Regional title for the first time in program history this winter. Clegg was a Miss Basketball Award finalist and has led the Zebras to double-digit wins in every postseason game. The losses came twice to Detroit Edison – including by just two points the second time –Williamston early when it was full strength and considered a Class B favorite and Ohio semifinalist Toledo Rogers (25-3).
PHOTO: Saginaw Heritage's Moira Joiner (4) works to get past a Flint Carman-Ainsworth defender during last week's Regional Final victory. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
Little Provides Major Stride as 1st Woman to Officiate Boys Hoops Final since 1995
By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com
April 13, 2023
Delonda Little was already a trailblazer to many before this year’s MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals.
But 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 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 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.