Saints Finish Perfect Run with 4th Title

March 16, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Saturday’s Class D Final at the Breslin Center lined up to finish with another celebration for Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes, and one that would be etched into MHSAA history as the Lakers aspired for a fourth-straight title. 

But St. Ignace also has been a regular in East Lansing the last four seasons. And the Saints had a little bit of history to contend with as well.

St. Ignace, owners of three MHSAA titles, had never finished a season perfect – until Saturday, when the Saints outlasted the Lakers for a 59-44 win to finish this winter 27-0.

“I kinda had a little worry there because we’ve never been a state championship team with an undefeated season,” St. Ignace senior Sarah Cullip said. “We’ve always had that pain of a loss, and we didn’t want that to happen again. We had a lot of inspiration from outside ourselves, and even within ourselves, I think.”

St. Ignace entered the postseason ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press’ Class D poll, while Our Lady (21-5) was No. 9. This was the Saints’ fourth straight trip to East Lansing; they made the Class C Semifinals a year ago, beat Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett for the title in 2011 and lost to Flint Hamady in overtime in the 2010 Final.

In fact, St. Ignace was the only team in East Lansing this weekend that could match Breslin experience with the Lakers. Cullip played in her seventh tournament game at MSU, while senior Morgan LaVake and juniors Kelley Wright and Emily Hinsman all played in their fifth Saturday.

Coach Dorene Ingalls has coached all four champions during her 14 seasons running the program.  

“Any time you win, it’s like the first time,” she said. “It’s a new group, with different reasons, different themes. It’s just like the first time. It’s been a journey. We’ve all grown together. I’m just thankful.”

Waterford Our Lady finished 21-5 and 88-19 over the last four seasons. Seniors Lexie Robak and Ava Doetsch started for all four of those teams, and in all four Breslin championship game appearances.

For much of Saturday’s game and especially the start, it looked like they and their teammates would join Flint Northern’s 1978-81 teams as the only ones to win four straight MHSAA girls hoops titles.

The Lakers opened in a fullcourt press that forced four straight turnovers to start the game. Robak hit two 3-pointers and senior Jessica Parry completed a three-point play as Our Lady jumped to a 9-5 lead a little more than five minutes in.

But St. Ignace soon figured out the press – and responded with a similar strategy that eventually would lead to the Lakers’ undoing.

A few plays in particular got Ingalls thrusting a fist in the air. The first came on the last shot of the first quarter. The Saints broke the press, and Wright found Cullip crossing to the basket behind the defense for an easy lay-in. St. Ignace ended the first quarter up 15-12.

The next came 3:35 into the third quarter. Hinsman broke through the defense, scored, was fouled and finished the three-point play while Ingalls gave an approving nod from the bench. Those points pulled the Saints within one of the lead, and Hinsman’s bucket a minute later gave them their first lead since the first minute of the second quarter.

“They’re good at what they do. They’re here for the fourth time for a reason,” Ingalls said of Our Lady’s defense. “We were trying to get Emily to come to the middle and execute strong. When we tried to get up the right side and pass it up the right, it didn’t turn out well for us.

“The kids were able to keep their composure, keep at it.”

And turn the tide. Riding a matchup zone with halfcourt pressure, St. Ignace made it 38-38 with a quarter to play and then opened the fourth on a 9-0 run. The Lakers never recovered.

For the game, St. Ignace had only 11 turnovers to Our Lady’s 27, and scored 30 points off those turnovers to Our Lady’s 11 after takeaways. 

“Looking at my players, they didn’t necessarily look open. That was the pressure they were putting on me,” said Doetsch, who mostly ran the point. “I didn’t have to pass, but nobody looked open. So it made it difficult to get the offense going.”

Hinsman finished with 20 points for St. Ignace, with Cullip adding 16 and grabbing nine rebounds and Wright scoring 10 and dishing five assists.

Lexie Robak led the Lakers with 25 points, including six 3-pointers – which tied her for second-most in an MHSAA girls basketball championship game. Parry added 10 points and six rebounds.

She also played in all four championship games, and the rest of the team’s six seniors – Brianna Topolewski, Marina Anderson and Haley Howell – all made their second title game appearances Saturday.

“My shot was going in, so I was kinda happy throughout the game. We had a good four years,” Robak said. “I just wanted to come out and have fun, and that’s what I did. It was a good last game with these cats.”

“That’s what it comes down to,” Our Lady coach Steve Robak agreed. “Of course, we all wanted to win. We left our hearts out there in the fourth quarter, gave it everything we had. At some point there are some tears, and you’re upset. But I feel a lot like Lexie; while it’s sad we didn’t win, and I wish we’d done some things differently, I’m just so proud of this group.

“To get here four times in a row, and win three, I don’t know how you could feel too much sadness for too long.”

Click for a full box score.  

PHOTOS: (Top) St. Ignace players celebrate during the final seconds of their Class D championship game win over Waterford Our Lady. (Middle) St. Ignace's Sarah Cullip (left) attempts to drive around the Lakers' Ava Doetsch. (Top photo by; middle photo 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.