No Disappointment for Arbor Prep

March 17, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

EAST LANSING – She needed about a month. But by the end of last April, Nastassja Chambers got over Ypsilanti Arbor Prep’s loss in the 2015 Class C Semifinals.

This weekend, she and her teammates are one step closer to avoiding disappointment – and then some. 

The Gators set themselves up for a first championship in school history Thursday by returning to the Semifinals and downing Ithaca 72-44 at the Breslin Center.

Arbor Prep learned its share of lessons from last season’s four-point loss to eventual runner-up Flint Hamady. And they played all season to earn Saturday’s opportunity to face Traverse City St. Francis for the Class C title. 

“That motivated us a lot. We’ve been talking about it all year,” Chambers said of the Hamady loss. “Every game we scheduled this year was to prepare us for now. So we made the schedule even harder than last year so we’d be ready this year. (And) we’ve been here before, so we’re not that nervous.”

Top-ranked Arbor Prep did play, arguably, the toughest schedule of any team in Class C this season. The Gators (23-2) beat two top-five teams in Class B and filled the schedule with larger schools including the reigning champions in Class B and Class A. 

After a first quarter Thursday played nearly to a draw – Arbor Prep led at the end by one, 16-15 – the Gators unleashed what they’d learned over the last 12 months and a lot of what they’ve become known for over the last few seasons.

Arbor Prep outscored Ithaca 50-15 over the second and third quarters, taking advantage of 20 turnovers over those 16 minutes by scoring 30 points off those takeaways. 

“That’s our style of play,” Chambers said. “We get the ball up the court, push it and run. We do good on the 3-on-2 fastbreak, the 2-on-1 fastbreak – that’s our bread and butter.”

Ithaca also suffered an unfortunate loss during the second quarter that surely affected ball security when senior point guard Brooklyn Dolloff was sidelined with a painful sprained ankle. 

She had totaled four points – making both of her shots – two rebounds and an assist in her seven minutes, numbers that would’ve translated well over an entire game. Her absence also forced Ithaca – playing in its first Semifinal after also winning its first Regional title – to shift players into less familiar positions and roles.

“It was very upsetting. My coach even said, when it first happened, that I was more upset that I was going to be out than (because of) the pain,” said Dolloff, a three-year varsity player. “I really wanted to be there for my team.” 

Arbor Prep, meanwhile, hit its stride. Although Ithaca made 50 percent of its shots for the game, it got off only 34 – half as many as the Gators.

Arbor Prep coach Rod Wells said his team focused on shooting this winter after making only 33 percent of its attempts from the floor during the 2015 Semifinal. This time, the Gators made 42 percent in addition to cutting their turnovers from 12 last season to seven. 

“Energy, anticipation and just playing together. The ladies trust each other now,” Wells said. “We’ve been talking about trust all year. When you put pressure on the ball you can feel like you’re on an island. But the ladies understand that someone’s got your back.

“They remember the pain last year. I remember waking up Saturday morning and I didn’t know what to do. That feeling, they were feeling the same way. We just put it into our practices. Every time they ran a sprint or something, and didn’t reach our goal, we talked about it. Our goal was to get to Breslin, but not just get here – we’ve seen how it looks. But to win it.” 

Chambers had 24 points, six assists and seven steals, making 10 of her 15 shots from the floor. Junior guard Ro’zhane Wells added 11 points, and junior guard Adrienne Anderson had 10 points, four steals and three assists.

Sophomore center Kayla Belles had 16 points, seven rebounds and three assists to lead the Yellowjackets (24-3), and junior center Maddie Brock added 11 points. 

Ithaca entered the postseason ranked No. 7 and had its best season despite finishing only 5-16 three years ago, and then losing coach Bob Anderson midseason this winter when he retired due to health issues.

“We talked about it in the locker room; we said this feeling is not a good feeling. It kinda stinks,” said Ithaca coach Jessie Rayburn, who took over for Anderson after assisting him prior to his departure. “However, all the feelings leading up to it were pretty cool. And our community is awesome.” 

Click for the full box score.

The Girls Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System. 

PHOTOS: (Top) Arbor Prep’s Cydney Williams pushes the ball upcourt during Thursday’s Class C Semifinal. (Middle) The Gators’ Kayla Knight (24) and Ithaca’s Kayla Belles grab for the opening jump.

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.