Saints Survive to Earn Repeat Try

March 13, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – St. Ignace senior Kelley Wright set an MHSAA record by being part of her 102nd high school basketball victory Thursday at the Breslin Center.

This had to be one of the ugliest – but could end up one of the most meaningful as well.

Wright and the Saints earned an opportunity to play for a second-straight MHSAA championship and third in her four season with a 34-30 Semifinal win over Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett.

St. Ignace improved to 24-2 this winter after finishing 27-0, 25-1 and 26-1, the last three seasons, respectively. Redford Bishop Borgess’ Aiysha Smith formerly held the record with 101 wins from 1994-97.

“All I know is I’ve lost four times. I never really thought about all the times I’ve won,” Wright said. “I play for a really good team, and I can’t take credit for that just because I moved up freshman year. All of us deserve it, and fortunately we’re all getting the benefits from it.”

Wright said after she expects to “feel sick and little nervous” before her team takes on Saginaw Nouvel in Saturday’s 4 p.m. Final.

Saints coach Dorene Ingalls joked about firing husband Doug as the team’s shooting coach after a performance that left both teams at least in some disbelief, if not feeling a little ill as well.

St. Ignace made a meager 19 percent of its shots from the floor. Liggett connected on 25 percent. Still, the Saints led by seven heading into the fourth quarter – but Liggett tied the score at 30-30 with 2:36 to play.

The Knights (20-4) had an opportunity to go ahead before St. Ignace senior Emily Hinsman gave the Saints back the lead with a put back with 1:37 to play. The teams then traded misses and turnovers as Hinsman stepped in to intercept a pass into the paint with 39 seconds. Junior guard Margo Brown made two free throws seconds later to push the lead to its final margin of four.

“It was frustrating at first. They’d just trap you as soon as you got the ball in your hands,” said Liggett junior Lauren Ristovski, who led the team with nine points. “They’d just jump out and trap you, making you throw the ball away.”

It’s not the kind of game Wright has been part of winning too often during the last four seasons and especially during this current 18-win streak. But the Saints made it go in part with 59-36 rebounding advantage, which included grabbing 28 on the offensive side. The Saints also had only 12 turnovers to Liggett’s 18.

Wright led the Saints with eight points and nine rebounds, while Hinsman grabbed 13 rebounds and sophomore center Abbey Ostman had seven points and 12 rebounds.

“Once we got back in January, our practices when we came back were intense. Just a different level,” Dorene Ingalls said. “Our team took over a different identity at that moment. Kelley and I were on the side, and (I told her) this is going to be really good.

“I’m glad we got an opportunity to show on Saturday that we’re better than we showed tonight. But you’ve got to give Liggett a lot of credit for that.”

St. Ignace also got a helpful and inspiring bucket late from junior Autumn Orm; she had four points total, despite being restricted to only 30-second spurts of playing time because of a neurological disorder that won’t allow her to be active for longer, Ingalls said. “She was getting deflections, getting rebounds. That was our inspiration. That’s why we won,” Ingalls added.

The Knights nearly pulled off the comeback despite all five starters playing all 32 minutes. The team’s rotation got down to that minimum in part because Liggett lost junior forward Haley Neuenfeldt to a knee injury in the final regular-season game.

But three of this season’s starters also started on the 2012 team that finished Class C runner-up. And they helped the Knights improve on last season’s run, which ended during the Regional.

“I expected for us to play hard enough to get through the District and do better than last year. That’s what we preached,” Liggett coach Omar Ahart said. “Once we got to the Regional Final, and got through that one, (I thought) someone has to win state. Why not us?”

Click for a complete box score and video from the press conference.

PHOTOS: (Top) St. Ignace’s Emily Hinsman (34) and Liggett’s Kendall McConico battle for a loose ball Thursday. (Middle) Saints junior Autumn Orm (10) drives against Knights senior Angelia Evangelista.

HIGHLIGHTS: (1) Autumn Orm takes a pass from Emily Hinsman and hits a jumper with 3:37 to play to give St. Ignace a 30-26 lead against Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett. (2) Nia Ahart of Liggett ties the game at 30-30 with 2:36 to go on a nifty runner. St. Ignace won the game, 34-30.

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.