Nouvel Takes Next Step as Class C Champ

March 15, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Saginaw Nouvel holds daily school Mass in its gymnasium, allowing Rachel McInerney and her teammates to reflect on a few things – including photos of the Panthers’ 2006 and 2008 MHSAA championship teams staring back at them.

“And every day in practice, we’d say our picture is going to be up there no matter what,” McInerney said.

In her final opportunity Saturday, Nouvel’s 6-foot-2 senior center more than did her part to make that true.

With lingering regrets from last season’s Class C championship game defeat to Manchester, McInerney seemed to take them out on St. Ignace with one of the most impressive statistical performances in MHSAA Finals history – 22 points, 23 rebounds and five blocked shots – as the Panthers broke away for a 62-40 win and the their third title.

“I just left it all the floor. I wanted to remember this game as a great thing,” McInerney said on the topic of redemption. “We more than achieved that.”

But it wasn’t as simple as a reigning runner-up returning to take the final step.

Nouvel entered this tournament ranked only No. 10 and after assistant Mary Jo Skiendziel was promoted to head coach with only two games left in the regular season.

But she couldn’t be more familiar. Skiendziel also is a Nouvel graduate and coached the freshmen basketball team for six seasons in addition to helping the varsity at the start of this winter. And she inherited some key leaders, including three who started in the 2013 Final.

“From the beginning, we knew our team would stick together through anything,” said Nouvel sophomore guard Laurel Jacqmain, one of the other two returning starters. “Our goal was to get back here, and we knew we could with each other. That’s what we were going to do.”

After handing Gobles its only loss of the season in Thursday’s Semifinal, the Panthers faced an even more imposing obstacle in St. Ignace – last season’s champion in Class D, which brought four starters back this weekend and was playing in its third championship game in four seasons.

That’s what made how Nouvel won a little shocking. Aside from 4-2 after the first minute, the Panthers never trailed – and led by as many as 26 after holding a one-point advantage at halftime.

“We came out in the second half on fire, and that’s exactly what we’ve done all season,” Skiendziel said, the championship trophy sitting beside her. “Nothing’s different except we have new wood to take home.”

McInerney also did her part as a leader, making sure her teammates soaked in the value of the moment during the game and reminding them to have fun. “Just because I experienced it last year, I know what it’s like to let it go by. I did not have fun last year,” McInerney said.

And her 23 rebounds were the third most in an MHSAA Final, fewer than only Kelly Rose’s 25 for St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic in the 1988 Class C championship game and Paula McGee’s 24 for Flint Northern in the 1979 Class A Final.

“She just intimidates,” St. Ignace coach Dorene Ingalls said. “She had maybe struggled a little bit, didn’t score like she usually does in the Semi (three points). But we knew what she was capable of, and she showed it today.”

McInerney had only four of her points during the 24-7 third-quarter run, but did grab six rebounds and block four shots during that 8-minute span. Jacqmain did most of the offensive damage during the period, scoring 13 of her game-high 23 points.

Junior guard Margo Brown scored a team-high 16 points for St. Ignace, and with sophomore center Abbey Ostman will attempt to lead the Saints back to Breslin for the sixth straight season in 2015. Senior Kelley Wright, who set an MHSAA record playing in her 102nd varsity win Thursday, had eight points and four steals in her final high school game.

“I don’t take losing very well, and I don’t know how long it will be before I take a look at these last two films,” Ingalls said. “But I wouldn’t want to be up here with another group of kids. It’s not the stuff on the floor. Everyone who meets them, gets to know them when we visit people, they become Saints fans for life. They wear their uniforms from the inside out.”

Click for a full box score and video from the press conference

PHOTOS: (Top) Saginaw Nouvel’s Rachel McInerney (30) looks for an open teammate as St. Ignace’s Margo Brown defends. (Middle) Brown looks to drive against Nouvel’s Lindsay Stroebel on Saturday.

HIGHLIGHTS: (1) Lindsay Stroebel of Saginaw Nouvel makes a steal with time running out in the first quarter and beats the buzzer to give her team a 13-9 lead against St. Ignace. (2) Margo Brown led St. Ignace with 16 points. Here she cans a 3-pointer late in the first half to pull her team to within a point of the lead.

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.