Team of the Month: Midland Dow Girls Basketball

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

January 13, 2022

Coming off an undefeated regular season and trip to the Division 1 Semifinals, it might seem strange to consider Midland Dow’s fast start this girls basketball season . The Chargers never stopped the steam-rolling that carried them to the Breslin Center last April.

But the start of this winter certainly has been different for Dow – the MHSAA/Applebee’s “Team of the Month” for December – and in a way that could pay off big again this March.

Because of COVID-19 precautions, teams weren’t allowed to play their first games last season until Feb. 8, and Dow ended up with 13 of their 17 games against Saginaw Valley League opponents as teams emphasized their league schedules during the abbreviated season.

A return to a full schedule for 2021-22 has allowed the Chargers to make a trip west to face reigning Division 1 champion Hudsonville, bookended by appearances in the Ice Breaker Classic at Ypsilanti Arbor Prep (against Goodrich) and Best of Michigan Holiday Classic at Belleville (against Grass Lake) – events that annually feature many of the state’s elite teams.

They made the most of those renewed opportunities, having handed Hudsonville and Goodrich their only losses and also defeating Grass Lake – the reigning Division 3 champ. Dow is 8-0, and that’s even more impressive considering the Chargers’ first five opponents this season all have winning records and are a combined 27-13.

“We talked about it before the season started, that we had scheduled a pretty hard December on purpose,” Dow coach Kyle Theisen said. “Pretty much every game was on the road – we’ve only had three home games so far – and all of our tough games are road games.

“That was kinda our focus, getting battle-tested early and figuring out where our weaknesses might be. We definitely found the weaknesses, but we were able to do it with wins.”

Those against Hudsonville and Grass Lake, predictably, were close – Dow defeated the Eagles 56-51 and the Warriors 44-40. No other opponent has gotten within single digits of catching the Chargers.

Dow’s 2020-21 season ended with a 22-1 record and its only loss in the Division 1 Semifinals to Hudsonville, 49-37. So doing the math, the Chargers are a combined 30-1 over the last two seasons, and 51-4 over the last three. Total, Theisen has led the team to a 151-22 records now into his eighth season as varsity coach, with this winter’s success following a similar pattern that has made his team one of the state’s best over his tenure.

Long-range shooting is Dow’s name of the game. Ellie Taylor drained 242 3-pointers – ranking eighth in Michigan history – during her four-year varsity career ending in 2017. Molly Davis also is on that record book list having made 174 from 2016-19. Maizie Taylor – Ellie’s younger sister – is on the single-season 3-pointers list after connecting on 65 as a senior in 2018-19. Jada Garner was among the team’s sharpest shooters and its leading scorer last season, and like those three has moved on to play in college. Leading the way this season are seniors Abby Rey and Alexa Kolnitys, who both are averaging 19.8 points per game with plenty of sting from the arc – Rey has made 23 3-pointers at a 39-percent success rate, and Kolnitys has 21 connecting on 35 percent of her attempts.

As a team, Dow averages 8.5 3-pointers per game on 30-percent shooting success. The Chargers’ 66 points scored per game are among the best outputs of the Theisen era, and the team’s 17 3-pointers in Tuesday’s win over Lapeer were a school record and tied for sixth-most in state history made by one team in a single game.

The team doesn’t work much in practices on set plays, but spends an hour or more daily on shooting. Future Chargers learn early. Theisen and his former assistant (and former college coach) Bob Taylor (also Ellie and Maizie’s father) created TRUE Shooting camps about five years ago, and their sessions draw students as young as kindergarteners who “get to high school having a pretty good foundation of shooting.”

“It’s definitely a feedback loop of girls see the success of it, and girls come in and want to improve (on the team’s past records),” Theisen said. “It’s just that cycle of the young kids see it, and we preach at the youth camps that if you want to play college basketball, you’ve got to be able to shoot. And they definitely buy in. … It’s cool to see when you’ve been here long enough to have the next group, and the next group, and the next group, and everybody keeps coming in and doing well."

Past Teams of the Month, 2021-22 

November: Reese girls volleyball - Read
Birmingham Groves boys tennis - Read

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.