Freeland Finds Way to Season's Last Day

March 22, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

GRAND RAPIDS – Freeland was doubled up in rebounding, shot 14 fewer free throws and had one more turnover than Hamilton during Friday’s first Division 2 Semifinal at Van Noord Arena.

But the Falcons won out in experience and accuracy – and those made the differences in earning their first MHSAA championship game berth since winning the Class C title in 1998.

Hitting 60 percent of its shots during the second half, and nearly half of its 3-pointers for the game, Freeland was able to come back from a double-digit second-half deficit and down previously-unbeaten Hamilton 71-66.

The Falcons trailed from the 4-minute mark of the second quarter until 5:13 remained in the game. But they were never out, even as Hamilton 6-foot-2 sophomore A.J. Ediger went for 33 points and 17 rebounds while controlling the paint most of the game.

“We always said we would go as far as we can, go out with a bang,” said Alyssa Argyle, who with Autumn Kloha and Lily Beyer will finish her fourth varsity season in Saturday’s Division 2 Final.

“We’ve always had that mentality to finish out hard and not give up.”

That came in especially handy as the Falcons (24-2) played in their second Semifinal in three seasons.

Hamilton (25-1) was playing in its first ever, adding to the best two-year run in program history. And in addition to Ediger’s post power and a team 42-20 scoring advantage in the paint, the Hawkeyes made 9-of-13 shots from the floor during the second quarter to turn a one-point deficit into an eight-point halftime lead.

But that was nothing new for the Falcons. They also had trailed at halftime in both Regional games and the Quarterfinal.

“I can’t say enough about these three girls and this team,” Freeland coach Tom Zolinski said, referring to his four-year seniors. “They have won in their careers 92 games, which is unbelievable, and they just wouldn’t let it happen tonight.

“We fell down quite a bit. We were undersized. Everything was against us. The crowd was huge for them. And (we) did it.”

Hawkeyes senior guard Bria Schrotenboer put her team ahead 34-23 with a free throw 58 seconds into the third quarter. They led by at least 11 as late as 2:48 to go in the period.

But over the next 5½ minutes, Freeland rambled through a 24-11 run with junior Kadyn Blanchard sinking 10 points and Beyer seven.

“Obviously that little run there where they caught fire, that’s what we saw from them every single game we’ve seen,” Hamilton coach Dan VanHekken said. “We knew they’d been down a few games here at halftime and didn’t quit. They again replicated that tonight. They’ve got a lot of heart and didn’t give up. They don’t get rattled. … Their body language, they were not rattled.”

The teams traded leads one more time before Argyle put Freeland ahead for good with a 3-pointer with 4:30 left.

“We worked so hard in the fourth quarter. We came back, and we had our heart in the game,” Kloha said. “And we knew we were down in the first half, but at halftime we needed to pick it up and keep our heads up, and we came back. And we came back strong, and we stayed together as a team.”

Argyle also scored her 1,000th career point during the fourth quarter and finished with 17 on the night. Blanchard led with 23 points, seven rebounds and four steals, and Beyer added 13 points.

Schrotenboer added 13 points and six rebounds, and senior guard Riki Ediger had nine points, eight rebounds, eight assists and five steals.

Hamilton capped a three-year run with a combined 71-5 record, also making its first Quarterfinal in 2018.

“Especially just being a four-year senior, I’ve been playing with these girls a long time,” Schrotenboer said. “It’s sad to go out this way, but we had the best record Hamilton ever had, and I will remember that forever.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Freeland’s Autumn Kloha works to get past Hamilton’s Riki Ediger during Friday’s Division 2 Semifinal at Van Noord Arena. (Middle) Hamilton’s A.J. Ediger gets up a shot on the way to scoring 33 points.

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.