'Fire & Ice' Sail Mona Shores into Regional

March 6, 2017

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

Guard play is crucial in girls basketball.

Especially in March, and definitely in the second half of a District championship game against a crosstown rival.

Jordan Walker, a 5-foot-7 Miss Basketball finalist for Muskegon Mona Shores, took control the way a senior guard is supposed to – scoring the first eight points of the second half Friday, including hitting two big 3-pointers, and finishing with a game-high 21 points as the Sailors blew open a relatively close game and held on for a 50-43 victory over host Muskegon Reeths-Puffer for their third consecutive Class A District title.

“You can’t stop her,” Mona Shores coach Brad Kurth said amidst the postgame celebration. “You can slow her down, but she’s going to keep coming.”

Mona Shores, 19-3 and champion of the Ottawa-Kent Conference Black, advanced to face O-K Red champion East Kentwood (22-1) in Tuesday’s 6 p.m. Class A Regional opener at Zeeland East.

Walker, who has signed with Western Michigan University where she will play with her older sister, Jasmyn, has been driving hard toward a big finish all season long. She now has more than 1,500 career points after breaking the Mona Shores girls basketball scoring record in January, held for 22 years by another Miss Basketball finalist, Jamie Ahlgren, who went on to star at Oakland University. Walker scored 39 points in a win over Muskegon and notched a quadruple-double with 22 points, 14 rebounds, 14 steals and 10 assists in a win over Grand Rapid Union.

But as impressive as Walker has been, the reason the Sailors have been able to knock off teams with superior front lines like Reeths-Puffer is because Walker is not alone in the backcourt.

Joining Walker is 5-6 sophomore dynamo Alyza Winston, a duo Kurth has dubbed “Fire and Ice,” and opposing coaches have pulled their hair out trying to contain.

Walker is the “ice” – the refined, composed senior who never gets rattled despite constant double teams, box-and-ones and other gimmicks designed to throw her off her game.

Winston is the “fire” – the energetic, speedy sophomore who breaks down defenses off the dribble (and with an ankle-breaking crossover dribble) and steps up anytime the Sailors’ offense gets stagnant.

The way that dynamic duo interacts and conspires to frustrate opponents was on display in Friday’s District championship game.

Walker caught fire to open the second half, turning a 10-point halftime lead into a seemingly comfortable 31-13 advantage early in the third quarter. That’s when Reeths-Puffer coach Brandon Barry called a timeout and adjusted even more of the Rockets’ defense toward the task of slowing down Walker.

Enter Winston.

For much of the remainder of the game, Shores started its attack with the ball in the hands of Winston, whose dynamic ball-handling skills have brought her plenty of offers from Division I college programs, even though she still has two years of high school remaining. Winston, who finished with 13 points, repeatedly broke through fullcourt pressure and then either pulled it out to run off clock or dished it off inside to fellow underclassmen Nia Miskel, Ryleigh Wehler and Veronica Kastelic.

“Our guards were the difference,” said Walker, whose mother, Danielle Smith-Walker, is a counselor at Mona Shores and a varsity assistant coach. “People say that a basketball team will go only as far as the guards will take them, so we’ll see how far we can go.”

While the District title game was a classic matchup of Reeths-Puffer’s inside strength vs. Mona Shores’ guards, Tuesday’s Regional showdown with East Kentwood will feature two of the top backcourts in West Michigan.

Kentwood went undefeated in the O-K Red behind the guard trio of senior Anaya Powell, defensive stopper Amari Brown and Mauriya Barnes. How that threesome matches up with Walker and Winston could determine the outcome of the Regional showdown, but on Friday night, Kurth was just relieved to finally be playing an opponent outside of the Muskegon area.

Over the past two seasons, the lakeshore “big three” of Mona Shores, Reeths-Puffer and Muskegon High have battled during O-K Black and District action. Shores discovered how hard it is to beat a good team three times in one season Wednesday night, when it needed two clutch free throws from Kastelic in the waning seconds to edge Muskegon, 50-49. Then the Sailors had to turn around two nights later and fend off Reeths-Puffer, which had beaten them by nine points the last time they played at Puffer’s gym.

“I know it breaks their heart to lose this game,” Kurth said, speaking after Friday’s Reeths-Puffer game, though the same emotions applied to Wednesday’s win over Muskegon. “These rivalries have made us all better, and it has made Muskegon-area basketball better.”

Walker is the lone senior starter for Mona Shores, whose season ended last year in a Regional championship game loss to Hudsonville, 45-44.

Hudsonville faces Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern in Tuesday’s second Regional game at Zeeland East.

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Mona Shores' Jordan Walker (22) works to get past a Muskegon defender during a game earlier this season. (Middle) The Sailors' Alyza Winston (3) races for a loose ball. (Photos by Tim Reilly.)

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.

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.