Nouvel Sets Stage for Photo Finish

March 14, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – A photo at the Hengesbach home shows Saginaw Nouvel coach Kris and her then-seventh grade daughter Taylor hugging after the Panthers’ first MHSAA girls basketball championship, in 2007.

They’re hoping to take the same picture Saturday, but this time with mom and daughter celebrating as champions together.

Nouvel earned that opportunity Thursday with a 44-32 Semifinal win over Houghton at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center. The Panthers will play in their fourth championship game under Hengesbach and for their first title since also repeating in 2008.

“Sometimes we drive separately to practice,” Taylor Hengesbach joked about being coached by her mom. “But no, I wouldn’t ask for anything else. It’s the best experience you can have.”

“Like Taylor said, it’s surreal,” Kris Hengesbach added. “I pinch myself every day that we get to share this journey together that we’ve always talked about. It’s pretty cool.”

At that, and in typical mother-daughter fashion, Taylor told her wet-eyed mom to stop before she too broke into tears.

No doubt, Kris Hengesbach could recognize she had this kind of team on the way. The No. 4 Panthers will face No. 3 Manchester at 4 p.m. Saturday for the championship.

And Taylor's had a good idea what it would take as well.

“I remember that (2007) team being so energetic and confident,” she said. “The school was so supportive, and we couldn't have done it without those aspects. The team chemistry and the student section, and everyone being involved.”

Nouvel student cheerers traveled en masse Thursday to see the Panthers jump to an 11-0 lead over the first five minutes. Houghton played Nouvel nearly even the rest of the way, but could get only within seven of the lead.

The No. 7 Gremlins (23-3) nearly pulled closer, just missing stealing the inbounds pass after junior Elisa Jurmu’s basket with 1:34 to play made the score 40-32. Instead, Houghton didn't score again.

Junior center Rachel McInerney had 16 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks to lead the Panthers (25-2), and Hengesbach added 13 points.

Jurmu and senior guard Alexa Johnson led Houghton with 11 points each, but the Gremlins as a whole had a tough time getting established against the 6-2 McInerney in the post. Houghton was outrebounded 44-31 and shot only 20 percent from the floor while often being forced to attack from outside.

“It goes back to shooting. We missed shots we've hit throughout the season. Maybe they blocked a couple, maybe they got into our minds a little bit,” Houghton coach Julie Filpus said.

“The part that frustrated us is we feel good about our inside-outside attack. But their length affected our inside attack, and we had to rely on our perimeter (shooting). When shots don’t fall, we’re going to be in trouble.”

Nouvel has now beaten three top-10 teams during the tournament, in addition to Class B No. 1 Freeland and reigning Class D champion Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes during the regular season.

“With my experience as a coach and going through all of this, to me the key is you've got to have team leadership, and we have it. Talent obviously, and chemistry,” Kris Hengesbach said. “You can’t rely on one person every single night. We've got threats on the floor at every position, and everyone steps up every single game.

“I told them to just soak it up. It’s a special time, and they’re a special team.”

Click for the full box score. 

PHOTOS: (Top) Saginaw Nouvel's Taylor Hengesbach (44) drives around a Houghton defender during Thursday's Class C Semifinal. (Middle) Houghton's Alexa Johnson (13) looks for an open teammate. (Photos by 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.