Built for this Moment, Western Arrives

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

January 16, 2018

McKenna Walker was a fourth grader when her dad, Tim, returned for his second stint as coach of the Bay City Western girls basketball team.

At that point, she didn’t realize what she and her friends were building. She simply was having fun playing basketball.

But her dad saw the future of his program.

“They were successful at a young age,” Tim Walker said. “I could see the athletic ability. I could see they were competitive and willing to learn at a young age. You could kind of see it coming with putting these pieces together.”

Now, as McKenna enters the second half of her senior season, she and her teammates are proving her father right. The Warriors are coming off their first back-to-back winning seasons since 1998-99, and were 9-0 heading into Tuesday night’s matchup with rival Midland. They’re ranked No. 6 in Class A by The Associated Press, and No. 8 by the Detroit Free Press.

“We have some really strong leadership with my daughter, McKenna – she’s been a big part of the turnaround since her freshman year,” said Tim Walker, who took over the program five games into the 2009-10 season, and also coached the Warriors from 1994-2004. “Also, we have kids in her class that have stuck with it and have been very committed since third and fourth grade. We have a strong group of juniors that have also been committed. They’re all competitive athletes, and I’ve been blessed to have kids who are dominant in other sports and have really meshed well together, accept their roles and play hard. It’s been very enjoyable to be a part of.”

This season, Bay City Western is winning with an uptempo style, sometimes driven by a five-guard lineup. McKenna Walker, who signed with Northwood University in November, leads that charge. She averaged 19 points and 8.4 rebounds per game as a junior, and started this season with 1,120 career points. In a recent game against Saginaw, she set a career high with 39 points.

She is one of two four-year players on the team, as Kylie Lukowski also has been playing varsity ball since her freshman year. Lukowski stands at just 5 feet, 6 inches tall, but she finds a home in the post when it’s asked of her.

“I try my hardest because I’m not very tall, obviously,” she said. “So I just have to push them around a little bit and see if it bothers them at all.”

Despite the lack of size, things seem to be working, as the Warriors are keeping teams off balance and taking advantage of the matchups their smaller lineup creates.

“Let’s just say if there were a shot clock, we would not have a hard time getting a shot off,” Tim Walker said. “It’s not that we’re making them all, but we’re playing uptempo and forcing turnovers.”

The hope is that style can translate to victories in the postseason, which have been elusive for Bay City Western. The school won District titles in 1997 and 1998, but none since.

“(Winning a District title) would just be so cool,” McKenna Walker said. “It’s been one of my goals since coming in, because it’s been such a long time, and I just wanted to change that.”

When looking at the competition for a District title, one easily can forgive the Warriors’ current drought.

This season, like most, the bracket includes Bay City Central, Midland, Midland Dow, Mount Pleasant and Saginaw Heritage, which would be a tough path for any team.

“As these kids (were) developing at a young age, we’ve been having to set the bar awfully high,” Tim Walker said. “Because the Midlands have always been good, the Saginaw teams have always been good. You really have to get the kids to buy into the offseason work and just work hard.”

Two seasons ago, Western found itself leading Saginaw Heritage at halftime in a District Semifinal. Heritage came back to win the game, however, and eventually advanced to the Regional Final.

It was a tough loss, but also served as a confidence builder and teaching moment for the young Warriors.

“We definitely learned that every team is beatable,” McKenna Walker said. “Even if we’re playing a team that we’re supposed to beat, you never know, because every team is beatable. You never want to think that it’s UConn playing you. We’re all high school girls. We’re all the same age. Anything can happen.”

The Saginaw Valley League helps prepare the Warriors for this postseason gauntlet, although it’s preparing everyone else in the District as well. The league includes the six teams from the District, plus Davison, Flint Carman-Ainsworth, Bay City John Glenn, Flint Powers Catholic, Saginaw, Saginaw Arthur Hill, Flint and Lapeer all forming one division this winter.

The schedule can be a grind, but it also helps the team stay focused on the day-to-day routine needed to be successful and reach the goals it set at the beginning of the season – and the promise Tim Walker saw in this group so long ago.

“What I have noticed is, mentally, each night they’re in a pretty good place right now,” Tim Walker said. “They just have a really good grasp on what it takes to play with effort, team play and execution.”

Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Bay City Western’s McKenna Walker gets to the basket during Bay City Western’s opener against Frankenmuth. (Middle) The Warriors defend the post against the Eagles. (Photos by Chip DeGrace.)

JoBurg 3-Sport Great Capping Career Filled with All-State Honors, Team Trophies

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

April 5, 2024

It won’t be hard for Jayden Marlatt to remember opening day on the softball field from any of her four years at Johannesburg-Lewiston.

Northern Lower PeninsulaAs a freshman, she missed the opener due to needing to quarantine. Her sophomore and junior years started on the road because the Cardinals’ field was under construction.  

This season the Cardinals will open up — weather permitting — on their brand-new field, hosting Mio on Monday, April 8.  Marlatt is slated to be the starting pitcher again and add to her school record collection.

While Johannesburg-Lewiston is looking forward to playing on the new diamond, Marlatt and her teammates have high hopes of finishing the season almost 200 miles south. They’re looking to get back to Michigan State University – the site of the Division 4 Semifinals and Final.

The Cards have had their sites on that goal since they fell 4-2 to Mendon in last year’s Semifinal at Secchia Stadium. The loss ended a 30-4-1 campaign that saw the Cardinals play every game on the road for a second consecutive year, but come up only one victory short of a first championship game appearance.

The trip to East Lansing also came after the Cards won the program’s first District title since 2008 and advanced to the Semifinals for the first time since 1981.

“It has been a long two seasons on the road,” said eighth-year head coach Kim Marlatt, noting the team utilized a Little League field for practices during the stretch. “They’ve been putting in a lot of work in the offseason, so it is excited to get going.”

Cardinals’ 1,000-point scorer Marlatt sets up for a free throw attempt. The new field isn’t the only new things this spring. The Cardinals will have a junior varsity team for the first time during the Marlatt’s tenure. The JV squad is coached by Ryan Marlatt, who has been serving the program the past eight years as assistant coach. He also has been the head girls basketball coach at JoBurg the past two seasons.

The Marlatt coaches are the proud parents of Jayden, who continues to garner recognition as perhaps the greatest athlete in Johannesburg-Lewiston’s history. 

The three-sport star had a huge hand in all that JoBurg accomplished last season leading the team in batting average (.670), home runs (13) and runs batted in (61). As the team’s ace pitcher, she collected 249 strikeouts and compiled a 1.32 ERA.

“Jayden has put in the hard work,” Kim pointed out.  “She is a very humble athlete. ‘She doesn’t like to talk about herself. She likes to compete, and she likes to be on the top of her game for her teammates.”

Jayden has been named all-conference and all-state in softball, basketball and volleyball nearly every season over her four years at JoBurg. She’s led her teams to Ski Valley Conference, District and Regional titles along the way.

She’s also been named Player of the Year by multiple publications. And she’s a front runner to be voted the Most Valuable Player of the Ski Valley Conference in softball. Earlier this year, league coaches voted her the MVP for both basketball and volleyball.  

“The Ski Valley never used to vote on an MVP,” Ryan Marlatt said. “Hopefully she can add the triple crown and get softball this year.”

Jayden Marlatt, who has played all three sports all four years, acknowledged softball is perhaps her most treasured, and she’ll continue in that sport at Ferris State. Her career total of more than 500 strikeouts, and her 14 home runs last season, are both JoBurg school records. "I like them all but probably softball,” she confirmed when asked to name her favorite sport.

She averaged 12 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and four steals per game this winter helping the Cards basketball team to a conference runner-up finish. She was key to JoBurg's ability to put a 12-game winning streak together, and she topped the 1,000-point career mark along the way.

Also a standout in the fall, Marlatt prepares to connect during volleyball season.Her outstanding senior year on the basketball court and this spring’s possibilities nearly vanished as the volleyball season ended.

She suffered what looked to be a serious lower-leg injury in the final game of the JoBurg volleyball season. “She finished in the emergency room,” Kim Marlatt said.  

Diagnosed a high ankle sprain, it was an aggravation to an injury from her junior year in basketball. She wasn’t quite at 100 percent on the basketball court this season until the holiday break. She’s starting the softball season healthy, though.

Before the injury, Jayden led the Cards to their third volleyball conference championship over the last four years. After becoming JoBurg's all-time kills leader during her junior season, and with many of her teammates from her first three seasons graduating, Jayden had to fill a variety of roles while anchoring the offense from her outside hitter spot.

She ended up leading the team in both kills with 421 and digs, with 431, in her final season on the volleyball court. And she is listed among MHSAA’s all-time leaders in kills for a single match and career.

It’s more than Marlatt’s stats that stand out for Kristine Peppin, the school’s volleyball coach the past 15 years.

“It is not about the size of the school or the size of the player, it’s the heart that they have inside,” she proclaimed. “This girl would be a successful player on whatever team she was on. 

“Yes we’re a small school, small town,” she continued. “That kind of leadership and heart and drive to be the best is what’s given her that success.”

Marlatt’s work ethic is second to none, Peppin noted. She never saw Jayden give less than a “1,000” percent in practice or games in her career. 

Marlatt celebrates a trophy win during last season’s Semifinals softball run with parents (and coaches) Kim and Ryan Marlatt.“She’s a super hard worker and extremely modest for the kind of skill she possesses and the success she’s had,” Peppin said. “Her teammates think it’s amazing to be on her team.”

Marlatt’s volleyball skills caught the eye of at least one of her conference opponents’ coaches back in junior high. Ron Stremlow was performing one of his many coaching duties for Fife Lake Forest Area when he first saw Jayden on the volleyball court.

“I could tell then this girl was somebody special,” said Stremlow, who became one of the winningest coaches in state volleyball history with the Warriors. “When she got in high school, it just took off.

“She puts the time into it, and she works hard,” Stremlow continued. “Kids like that get what they deserve – they work for it.”

Stremlow, now retired, also acknowledged he’s enjoyed being able to watch the hard-throwing Marlatt on the softball field the last couple of seasons as Forest Area hosted the Cardinals consecutively due to JoBurg’s lack of a home field.

It’s something he’ll have to travel to do this year though, as JoBurg is scheduled to host the Warriors on April 15.

The Cardinals also will host a Regional on their new field June 8. The winners of District play at Rogers City, Harbor Springs, St. Ignace and Gaylord St. Mary will participate.

To play in the Regional, the Cards will have to emerge from the Rogers City District featuring the host Hurons, Atlanta, Hillman, Onaway, and Posen.

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Johannesburg-Lewiston’s Jayden Marlatt drives a pitch during softball season. (2) Cardinals’ 1,000-point scorer Marlatt sets up for a free throw attempt. (3) Also a standout in the fall, Marlatt prepares to connect during volleyball season. (4) Marlatt celebrates a trophy win during last season’s Semifinals softball run with parents (and coaches) Kim and Ryan Marlatt. (Action shots by Dylan Jespersen/Petoskey News-Review; family photo by Breya Domke.)