St Francis Stands Tall in Run to 1st Final

March 17, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Regardless of the winner, a team from Thursday’s first Class C Semifinal was going to finish this weekend playing in an MHSAA championship game for the first time. 

And Traverse City St. Francis – especially 6-foot-4 junior Juliana Phillips – was able to reach a little higher for that opportunity during the opener at the Breslin Center.

The Gladiators will play on the season’s final day for the first time thanks to a 53-40 win over Niles Brandywine, which was making its first Semifinal appearance since 2010 and also was seeking its first title game berth.

Phillips stood six inches taller than anyone on Brandywine’s roster, and it showed in her 17 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots – as did her athleticism, which helped her to four steals and allowed her to alter a number of other shots she didn’t reach.

“Both of our teams were struggling a little bit from the outside, so we just played into our strengths,” Phillips said. “They didn’t have a lot of height on their team, so we tried to play a little high-low and in-and-out, and it just started going for us.”

A lot has gone well this season for the No. 3 Gladiators (26-1), who have won 24 straight and will next face top-ranked Ypsilanti Arbor Prep at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Phillips has been St. Francis’ second-leading scorer at 12 points per game, but took on more of the offense Thursday as leading scorer Annie Lyman played through an illness and only a week after spraining both ankles, one each in successive games.

Despite struggles shooting from outside, Lyman still finished with seven points and six rebounds. Phillips scored her first points two minutes into the game and put up nine during the first half as the Gladiators took a 22-18 lead into the break. She made 7 of 12 attempts for the game.

Phillips’ impact was equally significant on the defensive end. Brandywine made only 32 percent of its shots during the first half and 26 percent for the game – partly because the Bobcats didn’t convert as usual on 3-point shots, but also because Phillips made for an obstacle if they tried to get to the basket.

“She’s obviously a tremendous shot-blocker, and after you get a couple (blocks) that does get into your mind,” St. Francis coach Keith Haske said. “I’m guessing they haven’t seen a 6-4 girl that’s athletic like she is, all year, so it’s tough. And she does such a great job of blocking without fouling; that’s just a great gift that she has. 

Brandywine this season made 212 3-pointers – third-most in one season in MHSAA history. But they connected on only 3 of 21 tries in the Semifinal, and even three or four more makes could’ve shifted the game dramatically.

Senior forward Makenna Hartline did make eight of her 17 shots from the floor to lead Brandywine (24-3) with 17 points, and she also grabbed eight rebounds. Senior guard Emily Erwin added 11 points.

“We knew we’d have to shoot the 3 today. When (they) have a 6-4 and 6-1 post player with that kind of size, and with our size, you have to be able to knock them down from the perimeter,” Brandywine coach Josh Hood said. “I think the effort was there. We had more offensive rebounds, more shot attempts; we did a lot of little things we had to do to win the game. (But) we need to shoot the basketball better. We were right there going into the fourth; it just didn’t work out.”

Sophomore Sarah Chouinard added 13 points and seven rebounds for St. Francis, and 6-1 senior center Lauren McDonnell had 10 points and 11 rebounds. The Gladiators led by six heading into the final period before breaking away on a final 16-9 run.

Haske has won 643 games and brought seven teams to Breslin over 32 seasons as a coach, and his Charlevoix girls finished Class C runner-up in 2004 and were one of five teams he’s taken to an MHSAA championship game.

Already the St. Francis boys coach, Haske added the girls varsity this winter and had a feeling early on he might be with them for a long run.

“This kinda fits our year. We won a state championship in cross country, the boys were semifinalists in football, and if you look at our sports right now we’ve got great athletes,” Haske said. “I told the kids at the first assembly this year that this was the year of St. Francis, just because of the collection of people we have. And I think this just goes to that. For whatever reason, this seems to be our year.

“We put a banner up in the gym if you make it to a state final game, so they were excited about that. They’ll live up on our ceiling of our gym forever, which is pretty cool.”

Brandywine will graduate a memorable seven-player senior class that has been part of a 91-7 run over the last four seasons.  

“That says enough, 91 wins. Pretty special,” Hood said. “We’ve been (here) seven years, and I think we’re at 162 wins. So we have a lot of girls coming, but yeah, we lose a lot.

“When you look at our program, we’ve got a lot of kids that take pride in what we do. And we’ll be back.”

Click for the full box score.

The Girls Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.

PHOTOS: (Top) St. Francis’ Juliana Phillips celebrates Thursday’s Class C Semifinal win. (Middle) Brandywine's Emily Erwin shoots a free throw; she finished with 11 points.

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.