Lenawee Christian Earns Saturday Return

March 21, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

GRAND RAPIDS – When Division 1 Ann Arbor Pioneer made a last-second 3-pointer to force Adrian Lenawee Christian to overtime a little more than a month ago – and the Cougars still prevailed – junior Elizabeth Miller knew her team was on the way to another special finish this winter.

Only a season removed from the team’s first MHSAA girls basketball championship, there no doubt were recognizable signs.

“We really just played with heart in overtime and ended up winning, and that was a really big win for us,” Miller said. “That kinda motivated us to work really hard the rest of the season. I think that’s what pushed us to get here today.”

After winning Class D led by an all-state freshman and without a senior in the starting lineup, it may have seemed inevitable Lenawee Christian would return to Calvin College and the final day of this season.

The Cougars took the last step Thursday with a 57-36 Division 4 Semifinal win over Fowler, setting up Saturday’s 10 a.m. championship matchup with undefeated St. Ignace.

By looks of their scores this playoff run, Lenawee Christian (25-2) barely has been challenged – Thursday’s win was the sixth straight by at least 15 points since opening the tournament with an eight-point victory over Pittsford.

But it’s hardly been that easy, as the Cougars again prepped for this postseason with a slate of games against larger opponents, losing only to Division 3 top-10 teams Grass Lake and Michigan Center.  

“We know we have to work hard. We know what it takes … just do it as a team to get here,” Lenawee Christian junior Dani Salenbien said. “We know what it takes, and we know it’s not going to be easy.”

Thursday’s start certainly helped.

A year ago, the Cougars needed overtime to get past Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart by two points in their Semifinal. This time, Lenawee Christian built a double-digit lead in just under five minutes, and kept it in double digits for good beginning with a Miller 3-pointer nine seconds into the second quarter.

Salenbien, an all-state second-teamer a year ago, led with 25 points and eight rebounds. Her sophomore sister Bree – the Class D Player of the Year by The Associated Press last season – added 17 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Both made at least half their shots from the floor, and Dani missed making the MHSAA record book by two free throws, connecting on 13 of 16 attempts from the line.

“I just think the target on our back has been extremely big, and the expectations have been really high,” Cougars coach (and Bree and Dani’s father) Jamie Salenbien said. “But a credit to these kids for being as young as they are, being able to handle that night in, day in and out. It’s been amazing to see. Their faith and the support from the community has been amazing, and they’ve been able to handle that.”

Expectations were not as high this season for Fowler – but the Eagles put an impressive finishing touch on an inspiring comeback story with their first Semifinal appearance since 1999.

They play in the Central Michigan Athletic Conference – home of Division 3 top-ranked Pewamo-Westphalia and six-time Class D champ Portland St. Patrick among a host of contenders – and two years ago were down to just a varsity team.

Fowler’s lone team went 5-16 in 2016-17, improved to 10-12 a year ago and put together a solid run over the last three weeks to finish this season 17-8.

“When Coach (Nathan Goerge) broke the news that we were only going to have one team my sophomore year, it was kinda hard for me to take,” Eagles senior forward Alyssa Vandegriff said. “But ultimately I think it was a good decision because it helped everyone who was on that one team come together, and we got to know each other. The people who were on that team with us are on our team today. If we weren’t on the same team together my sophomore year, I don’t think we’d be as close as we were or play as well together.”

Junior guard Kalani Koenigsknecht and freshman guard Mia Riley both scored a team-high 10 points for Fowler. Sophomore Sarah Veale had eight points, five rebounds and three assists.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Lenawee Christian’s Dani Salenbien directs the offense while Fowler’s Kalani Koenigsknecht defends. (Middle) The Eagles’ Josie Koenigsknecht defends against Salenbien.

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.