Strong Finish Sends Forest Park to Final

March 13, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Lexi Gusset finally got to smile with about five seconds left in Friday’s last Class D Semifinal at the Breslin Center.

Her frustration melted, she yelled “Let’s go! One more game,” before being enveloped by a similarly relieved group of teammates. 

Crystal Falls Forest Park and this season’s Miss Basketball Award winner were eight minutes from an eight-hour drive two days earlier than expected as they trailed Athens with a quarter to play.

But the Trojans showed they are more than just the best player in the state. And that superstar poured it on when needed most to help her team finish a 49-33 comeback over the Indians. 

Gussert played the final 9 minutes and 31 seconds with four fouls – and despite Athens driving to draw the fifth – but managed to stay on the floor to score nine of her game-high 20 points during the fourth quarter.

 “Obviously being a leader, you don’t want to be sitting on the bench in the Semifinal game,” Gussert said. “But I knew I had be there for my team. That’s the most I’ve sat all year, so I was a little pumped up.” 

Top-ranked Forest Park (26-0) will face Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (21-5) for the championship at 10 a.m. Saturday. Each is seeking its first MHSAA title.

The Trojans advanced to the 2012 Semifinals with Gussert a sophomore and fell to Athens that day 61-48 despite 34 points and 12 rebounds from the eventual Michigan State University recruit. 

Forest Park’s rotation has included nine or 10 players most of this season, and they had the experience of beaten Iron Mountain 74-39 midseason without Gussert, who missed because she was ill. Generally that depth has allowed the Trojans to wear opponents down. This time it allowed them to hang on – while also turning up the pressure enough to hold Athens scoreless during the fourth quarter.

“The girls are comfortable with it, and I’m glad we have that experience. We have the best player in the state on our team, but we have a whole lot of other good players (too),” Forest Park coach Jeff Syrjanen said. “I trust my team enough that I have faith in all of them. … I just didn’t think they would crack. We don’t change what we do; we just don’t do it as well without Lexi on the floor with us.” 

Sophomore guard Maria Stankewicz did the main filling in on the offensive end, finishing with 10 points and five assists. Senior center Kendra Campbell added eight points and freshman guard Abby Nylund had six points and seven rebounds.

Stankewicz also played the role of yeller at Gussert to not foul when Athens got out on a few fast breaks headed her way. 

“It was a lot different because I wasn’t used to it. But overall it wasn’t just me,” Stankewicz said. “I tried to take charge, tried to be a leader when she stepped off. But our posts played tougher and my other guard played tougher. We really were a team together.”

The Indians (22-4) did lead 33-32 heading into the final quarter. But in addition to not stopping Gussert’s final surge, they also struggled to find the hoop. The scoreless period included five turnovers and 11 missed shots.

This was Athens’ third straight trip to Breslin, and that no doubt helped the Indians stay calm when they trailed by 10 just more than six minutes into the game. But they couldn’t summon a final run.

“Sometimes during the season we had spells like that, and I think we started pressing it,” Athens coach Calvin Quist said. “When you start pressing it, it makes it more difficult for those shots to fall.

“We lost three senior starters from last year, and you don’t know what to expect,” he added. “Obviously we had high expectations. And these young ladies exceeded those expectations.”

Athens was ranked No. 5 entering the District tournament. Senior Audrey Oswalt finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds, and junior guard Allison Fuller added eight points.

She’s one of 10, including two starters, who will try to make it four straight trips to finish the season in East Lansing.

“I can’t dwell on this season. We had a great season, and I’m proud of my team, but we’ve got to get ready for next year as soon as possible,” Fuller said. “It comes up quick, and the more we prepare the better chance we’ll have to get here for the fourth time.”

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

PHOTOS: (Top) Forest Park's Maria Stankewicz (10) tries to dribble past Athens' Allison Fuller on Friday. (Middle) Athens' Allysha Beal pushes the ball upcourt with Forest Park's Samantha Nylund giving chase.

HIGHLIGHTS: (1) Audrey Oswalt of Athens completes the long pass off the Crystal Falls miss to Allison Fuller late in the first half of the Class D Semifinal. Fuller finished with eight points. (2) Alexis Gussert starts a 17-0 fourth quarter for Forest Park with a jump shot en route to a 20-point performance. The Trojans won 49-33.

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.