Young Grass Lake Grows Into Contender

March 2, 2019

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

GRASS LAKE – Some coaches go a whole career without ever knocking off a No. 1-ranked team.

The Grass Lake Warriors and head coach Andrea Cabana have done it twice in a month.

“And, we are just babies,” Cabana said of her youthful squad. “I think it really boosts our confidence. It gives us an idea of what we are capable of.”

The Warriors, who have been sneaking higher and higher into The Associated Press Division 3 rankings all season, are capable of just about anything with the MHSAA Tournament beginning this week. They have won 16 consecutive games since a December loss to Division 3 No. 1 Michigan Center. Included in that streak is two wins over a solid 14-5 Manchester squad, a rematch win over Michigan Center on Feb. 1 and a 64-53 win over Division 4’s No. 1 Adrian Lenawee Christian last week.

“It’s exciting,” said Cabana. “We are playing very well right now.”

On Thursday, the Warriors took care of business quickly, racing out to a 31-2 lead over Addison in a game that would clinch the Cascades Conference outright championship. Grass Lake won 64-36 to put the lid on a 19-1 regular season.

Success is certainly nothing new for Grass Lake. But this season’s rise to 19-1 can be considered somewhat of a surprise since the team, coming off an 18-5 season, had just one player returning with a lot of high school basketball experience – sophomore Abrie Cabana. She’s surrounded by two freshmen, a fellow sophomore and a junior.

“We’re not babies at this time of the year,” Coach Cabana said. “We’ve grown up.”

The Warriors have done it with a solid combination of lock-down defense and a high-powered offense. They average 56.4 points a game and allow just 29.6 a contest. The defense has allowed 20 or fewer points in a game seven times this season, and one opponent didn’t reach double figures. On the other end of the court, the Warriors have 11 games scoring above 60 points.

Lenawee Christian won the Class D championship a year ago and has been the No. 1-ranked team in Division 4 most of the season. The Cougars lost to Michigan Center to start the season and Grass Lake last week for their only two losses. Head coach Jamie Salenbien said Grass Lake has all of the pieces to make a long tournament run of its own this year.

“They have a high basketball I.Q.,” Salenbien said. “They are balanced with kids who can shoot it deep, and they get to the basket. They are well-coached and have a lot of weapons.”

Cabana called that win a total team effort.

“Lenawee Christian is a great team,” she said. “They have a handful of great players. We knew it was going to take a great effort. We went in real focused, and things went our way in the end.”

Abrie Cabana, the 5-foot-10 daughter of Coach Cabana, leads the team in scoring and most statistical categories. Although just a sophomore, she verbally committed to play college basketball at Grand Valley State University last fall. She had other offers, including from the Division I level, but chose the Division II Lakers over them all.

“She’s probably our vocal leader,” Cabana said of her daughter. “She’s played a ton of travel ball. She’s the most experienced high school player on the team.”

Her backcourt running mate, Lexus Bargesser, is only a freshman but already plays at a high level.

“She’s almost identical to Abrie,” Cabana said. “She’s a little smaller, but she’s quick and gets to the hole quick. She’s a very sound player. We are very strong at the guard position. They are both strong outside the 3-point line and inside. They are hard to handle.”

Freshman Gabrielle Lutchka (6-0) is also an imposing figure at both ends of the court for Grass Lake.

“She’s been our game changer,” Cabana said. “She handles the other team’s big player. When she is playing well, we play well.”

In the win over Lenawee Christian, Lutchka scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds. She also drew the primary responsibility of guarding LCS’s Bree Salebien, the reigning AP Class D Player of the Year.

Other Warriors, such as Amber Boomer, Faith Patania and Lauren Pongracz, play big roles as well.

“They do a real nice job of playing to their roles, playing to their strengths,” Cabana said.

While young, Cabana said, the girls already have played a lot of basketball.

“A lot of our girls play travel ball,” Cabana said. “They are very experienced players. They’ve played a lot of basketball.”

Cabana is from the Jackson area but has lived in the Grass Lake district for about 20 years. She got her start coaching her oldest daughter – now a sophomore on the Spring Arbor University team – when she was in the third grade. The Warriors are 55-13 during her tenure, and the future keeps looking brighter.

“There was an opening in the middle school, and I coached that for three years,” Cabana said. “Then there was an opening as the JV head coach and I did that for two years, and this is my third year with the varsity.”

Grass Lake will open District play with Lenawee County Athletic Association champion Brooklyn Columbia Central. Looming on the other side of the Napoleon bracket is the likes of Michigan Center and Manchester.

“This time of the year,” Cabana said, “nothing is easy.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Grass Lake’s Abrie Cabana pushes the ball upcourt against Manchester this season. (Middle) Teammate Lexus Bargesser looks for an opening. (Photos courtesy of the Grass Lake girls basketball program.)

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.