Grass Lake Caps Thrilling Rise with 1st Finals Title

By Jason Schmitt
Special for

April 9, 2021

EAST LANSING — Though it may very well look like a fun play on words, Grass Lake girls basketball coach Andrea Cabana has established quite a culture in the small town located just east of Jackson. 

And it’s really beginning to pay off.

“It’s a grass-root, fundamental approach to changing the overall culture of the program,” she said. “We’re very in-tune to the younger kids in the Junior Warriors (program), throughout the middle school to JV and varsity. It’s a full program effort to keep everyone involved.”

On Friday, she and her Grass Lake team took another step in keeping everyone involved, capturing the school’s first girls basketball state championship. The Warriors overcame an early seven-point deficit and held off a late charge by Kent City for a 52-50 victory in the Division 3 Final at the Breslin Center.

Trailing by 10 points with just more than five minutes remaining in the game, Kent City went on a 10-2 run to nearly dissolve Grass Lake’s lead. Seniors Kenzie Bowers and Jenna Harrison hit back-to-back 3-pointers to get their team within four points at 46-40. After a Lauren Pongracz layup put it back to a six-point advantage for the Warriors, Harrison hit another 3 and Bowers hit one of two free throws to make it a 46-44 game, in favor of Grass Lake. 

The two teams would trade baskets before Grass Lake junior Lexus Bargesser hit a pair of free throws with 35 seconds remaining to give her team a four-point lead. She added two more with 10 seconds left to essentially seal the victory for her team.

“I feel so proud of our team and how we pulled through and didn’t let the pressure get to us,” Bargesser said. “Truly, this is the best thing that any basketball player could imagine happening to them. To be able to go and say you won a state championship is truly such a blessing.” 

Kent City entered the game unbeaten at 21-0 and jumped out to early leads of 16-9 and 21-17 thanks in part to its 3-point shooting. The Eagles shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc, hitting 11 of their 28 attempts. 

They also played well defensively early on, keeping Grass Lake’s two leading scorers, Bargesser and Abrie Cabana, in check. 

2021 D3 Girls Basketball Final

“The girls executed the game plan absolutely perfectly,” Kent City head coach Scott Carlson said. ”We wanted to take away (Bargesser) and (Cabana) and we did that in the first quarter, the first half really. But they had some players hit some shots that we were going to make them shoot.”

Bargesser finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds and Cabana had 10 points to go along with her five rebounds. Junior Gabrielle Lutchka hit four 3-pointers and scored all 14 of her points in the first half.

Harrison led Kent City with 16 points, while Bowers chipped in 13. 

“We had a great season,” Carlson said. “These girls played absolutely fantastic. They overcame a lot and worked their tails off all offseason on their own when we couldn’t get together. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

For Grass Lake, the championship is a culmination of five years of growth in the program, a program which Coach Cabana took over five years ago. The Warriors faced one of the toughest schedules in the state this season, which helped prepare them for Friday.

“We intentionally had a very tough schedule this year,” said the coach, who now has a 95-18 record in five years with the program. “Our philosophy is we want to see the best. We want to see how good we are. We want to be pushed to our limits. Teams like that will expose every weakness that you have. So we were able to work on the things that needed to be adjusted before big games like this.”

Grass Lake also captured its first Regional title this year, having fallen just short a couple of times under Cabana.

“Our program has definitely been on the rise the past couple of years,” Lutchka said. “We had a team make it to the Regional Final and (it) ended up not winning, so we’ve been trying to get past that point. Every year, we’ve gotten better and better and better.”

And this year, the Warriors reached the basketball summit. 

“It’s huge for the girls within the program, something to build on and keep focusing on,” Cabana said. “It’s huge for the district. We’ve never won a basketball state championship at Grass Lake, and I think it’s huge for the community. We’ve had people who graduated a long time ago show up and give us their support. The amount of people who have reached out wishing us luck is astronomical. It will (someday) become a basketball town. We’re working on it.”

Click for full box score

PHOTOS: (Top) Grass Lake's Lexus Bargesser (1) tries to get a hand on a shot during Saturday's Division 3 Final at Breslin Center. (Middle) Kent City's Lexie Bowers (3) makes her move around the arc with Amber Boomer defending. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.