D2 Preview: Past Powers, New Hopefuls Bring Stories to Breslin
By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor
March 16, 2022
This weekend’s Division 2 Finals bracket might have the most pre-packaged storylines of any of the four divisions that will celebrate girls champions this weekend at Breslin Center.
Detroit Edison returns after the last two seasons were cut short, seeking to add a fourth title in six years with another Miss Basketball leading the way. Detroit Country Day owns the most Finals championships in girls basketball history and is seeking its first since 2018.
Grand Rapids West Catholic hopes to follow the Miss Basketball runner-up to its first championship in more than three decades. And Ludington, making its first appearance at Finals weekend, is looking to add more firsts to a historic run.
DIVISON 2 Semifinals – Friday
Grand Rapids West Catholic (24-1) vs. Detroit Country Day (14-7), 5:30 p.m.
Detroit Edison (17-3) vs. Ludington (20-5), 7:30 p.m.
FINAL – Saturday – 6:15 p.m.
Tickets for this weekend’s games are $12 for both Semifinals and Finals and are available via the Breslin Center ticket office. All Semifinals will be broadcast and viewable with subscription to MHSAA.tv, and all four Finals will air live Saturday on Bally Sports Detroit’s primary channel as well as on the BSD website and app. Audio broadcasts of all Semifinals and Finals will be available free of charge from the MHSAA Network.
Here’s a look at the four Division 2 semifinals (with rankings by MPR and statistics through Regional Finals):
DETROIT COUNTRY DAY
Record/rank: 13-7, No. 28
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Coach: Jerica Williams, second season (28-10)
Championship history: Thirteen MHSAA titles (most recent 2018), four runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 59-55 over Marysville in Quarterfinal, 54-39 over St. Clair Shores Lakeview, 47-45 over Division 4 No. 11 Allen Park Inter-City Baptist.
Players to watch: Jaidyn Elam, soph F (13.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.2 spg); Emma Arico, soph. G (8.9 ppg, 3.4 apg); Ari’Yana Wiggins, fr. F (9.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg).
Outlook: Four starters are back from the team that made last season’s Semifinals, with Elam and Arico joined by junior guard Aysia Yokely (8.6 ppg) and sophomore forward Peja Liles (4.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg). The Yellowjackets have all of that experience and still no seniors, with Elam also having made the all-state second team last season and Arico earning an honorable mention. Country Day saw its share of tough opponents, with six of its seven losses coming against teams that ended up with 14 or more wins.
Record/rank: 17-3, No. 1
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Coach: Monique Brown, 10th season (177-40)
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2019).
Best wins: 53-35 over No. 3 Portland in Quarterfinal, 85-43 over No. 2 Redford Westfield Prep, 67-44 over Division 1 No. 3 Farmington Hills Mercy, 60-32 over Division 1 No. 13 Bloomfield Hills Marian, 60-47 over Division 1 No. 11 Parma Western, 68-30 over Division 1 No. 14 East Lansing, 67-48 over Division 1 No. 1 Hudsonville, 60-52 over Division 3 No. 1 Ypsilanti Arbor Prep.
Players to watch: Ruby Whitehorn, 6-0 sr. G (23.9 ppg, 12.1 rpg, 3.9 apg, 4.5 spg, 2.1 bpg); NaKiya Bonner, 5-6 soph. G (8.2 ppg, 5.5 apg); Madisen Wardell, 6-1 sr. F (13.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg).
Outlook: After last season’s undefeated team was sidelined during Districts by COVID-19, Edison is back looking to add to its three straight Finals championships won from 2017-19. Whitehorn, who has signed with Clemson, gave her program its fourth-straight Miss Basketball Award winner earlier this week, and Wardell will continue her career at DePaul. Edison’s only losses were to Division 1 semifinalist West Bloomfield, Indiana state champion South Bend Washington and Illinois power Joliet West. All but one of the Pioneers’ in-state opponents finished with a winning record this winter.
GRAND RAPIDS WEST CATHOLIC
Record/rank: 24-1, No. 8
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue
Coach: Jill VanderEnde, eighth season (119-69)
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 1990), one runner-up finish.
Best wins: 82-27 over No. 6 Edwardsburg in Quarterfinal, 55-29 over No. 20 Newaygo in Regional Final, 55-43 over Grand Rapids Christian in Regional Semifinal, 64-29 over Grand Rapids Catholic Central in District Final, 63-23 over No. 13 Sparta.
Players to watch: Abbey Kimball, 5-10 sr. G (25.1 ppg, 97 3-pointers, 3.0 apg, 4.4 spg); Cadence Dykstra, 5-9 jr. G (8.2 ppg, 4.5 apg); Elisha Dykstra, 5-10 fr. F (8.3 ppg).
Outlook: West Catholic is returning to the Semifinals for the first time since 1995, when it finished Class B runner-up. Kimball was the Miss Basketball runner-up and added three more 3-pointers Tuesday – the Michigan State signee’s 100 are tied for second-most in a single season in MHSAA history and five off the record. Freshman guard Anna Ignatoski adds 7.8 points off the bench and was the team’s leading scorer in the Quarterfinal win over the Eddies. The team’s only loss was Dec. 23 to Division 1 semifinalist Rockford.
Record/rank: 20-5, No. 45
League finish: Tied for first in the Lakes 8 Activities Conference.
Coach: Warren Stowe, second season (34-10)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 30-27 over No. 5 Frankenmuth in Quarterfinal, 34-31 over Negaunee in Regional Final, 54-36 over Standish-Sterling in Regional Semifinal, 38-33 over Muskegon Western Michigan Christian.
Players to watch: Keelyn Laird, 6-3 jr. F (10.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 3.2 apg); RyAnn Rohrer, 5-10 sr. F (10.7 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 3.2 apg, 3.3 spg); Abi Bandstra, 5-9 sr. G (4.5 ppg, 2.8 spg).
Outlook: Ludington will be playing in its first Semifinal since 2004 and has won 17 of its last 18 games. The Orioles avenged an early defeat to league rival WMC and also got good early prep in losses to eventual Division 1 semifinalists Hartland and West Bloomfield, and Muskegon Reeths-Puffer. Only one opponent has put up more than 40 points during the 18-game run – Cadillac, which scored 47 in handing Ludington the lone loss over that stretch. Junior forward Olivia Lynn adds 7.5 points off the bench.
PHOTO Detroit Country Day’s Jaidyn Elam brings the ball upcourt during last week’s Regional Semifinal win over Livonia Clarenceville. (Photo by Douglas Bargerstock.)
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.