Seniors Come Up Big Again as Arbor Prep Clinches 1st Title since 2016

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

March 19, 2022

EAST LANSING – Kent City never lost hope Saturday that it could come back and knock off Ypsilanti Arbor Prep in the Division 3 Girls Basketball Final. 

With less than a minute to play, the Eagles’ hope turned into a legitimate chance to do just that, as they had the ball and trailed by just four.

But Kari Woods took it all away.

The Arbor Prep senior guard stole a pass near midcourt and raced for a layup to extend her team’s lead to six points with 30 seconds to play, ending Kent City’s last, best chance, and sealing what ended up a 54-50 win for the Gators.

“I knew the game was tight, and we had been practicing up the line, all day, every day, every practice,” Woods said. “I knew I was there. I saw it and went for it.”

It was the second title for Arbor Prep, which also won in 2016 before finishing as runner-up each of the next two years. 

Arbor Prep/Kent City basketballThis was the Gators’ first trip back to the season’s final day since 2018, and they made sure to make the most of it.

“It’s difficult to get here,” Arbor Prep coach Scott Stine said. “Six years ago, we won on March 19, 2016, the same day. Six years ago, you would have never told me it was going to take six years to get another one. It is difficult. COVID has played a part in that. For our kids coming back, we just have to keep getting better. They know what it takes.”

That group learned from a small but vital senior class that included Woods, Texas A&M-bound Mya Petticord and forward Jazmin Chupp.

“(Kent City) is a great program,” Stine said. “They’re going to be back here again next year. Our goal for the rest of the girls in that locker room is to get good enough to improve enough that we can play them again next year. But I’m just happy. The seniors, all three of these girls at some point made plays to put us where we’re at. Mya, offensively, did what we know she’s capable of. Jazmin made some plays on both ends of the court. Kari Woods made arguably the most important defensive play of the game when she blew up that handoff and took it for a layup. That was a huge play. That’s what she does. Proud of all three of these girls.”

Petticord led the Gators (25-2) with 27 points. She had 20 points at halftime after connecting on seven of her first nine shots, and each of her first three 3-point attempts. 

“It was really all about my focus,” Petticord said. “My nerves didn’t get the best of me today. Knowing this was my last high school basketball game, I just had to end it off with a lot of focus. Knowing it was my state championship game for the team – yeah, I was just focused.”

Woods added nine points and four steals, including the big one at the end. She played airtight defense all game against dangerous Kent City guard Lexie Bowers, who finished with nine points and nine rebounds. Bowers came into the Final averaging 17 points per game. Stine credited Woods, calling her the best perimeter defender in the state.

Arbor Prep/Kent City basketball“I think they play really tight, so (Bowers) had a hard time getting herself open off of that,” Kent City coach Aleah Holcomb said. 

Arbor Prep’s tight defense frustrated Kent City (26-1) throughout the game, and the team that averages 26 3-point attempts per game could get off only 11 on Saturday. The Gators also forced 15 turnovers.

“I thought we had a difficult time handling their pressure,” Holcomb said. “They really made it difficult for us to get into our offense.”

Arbor Prep led by as many as 11 points late in the second quarter, and held at least a two-possession lead for nearly the entire second half.

But the Eagles never let the Gators fully get away, and cut the lead to as few as three when Madelyn Geers, who totaled a team-high 27 points, scored with 2:15 to play.

They never got the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead, however.

It was the second-straight runner-up finish for Kent City, which lost 52-50 against Grass Lake in last year’s Final.

“It’s frustrating, but I think we worked our butts off this season,” Kent City senior Taryn Preston said. “Obviously God got us here for a reason. I think he’s gifted every single person on the team, and we worked hard to get the best that we can out of our abilities. That’s just something that’s really, really cool to see as a member of the team. So, yeah, it’s frustrating at times, but I know that we worked our butts off to get here.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Arbor Prep’s Karianna Woods (3) drives with Kent City’s Lexie Bowers defending. (Middle) The Gators’ Mya Petticord (1) prepares to make her next move. (Below) Stacy Utomi (24) defends against Bowers. (Click for more from 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.