'Fire & Ice' Sail Mona Shores into Regional

March 6, 2017

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

Guard play is crucial in girls basketball.

Especially in March, and definitely in the second half of a District championship game against a crosstown rival.

Jordan Walker, a 5-foot-7 Miss Basketball finalist for Muskegon Mona Shores, took control the way a senior guard is supposed to – scoring the first eight points of the second half Friday, including hitting two big 3-pointers, and finishing with a game-high 21 points as the Sailors blew open a relatively close game and held on for a 50-43 victory over host Muskegon Reeths-Puffer for their third consecutive Class A District title.

“You can’t stop her,” Mona Shores coach Brad Kurth said amidst the postgame celebration. “You can slow her down, but she’s going to keep coming.”

Mona Shores, 19-3 and champion of the Ottawa-Kent Conference Black, advanced to face O-K Red champion East Kentwood (22-1) in Tuesday’s 6 p.m. Class A Regional opener at Zeeland East.

Walker, who has signed with Western Michigan University where she will play with her older sister, Jasmyn, has been driving hard toward a big finish all season long. She now has more than 1,500 career points after breaking the Mona Shores girls basketball scoring record in January, held for 22 years by another Miss Basketball finalist, Jamie Ahlgren, who went on to star at Oakland University. Walker scored 39 points in a win over Muskegon and notched a quadruple-double with 22 points, 14 rebounds, 14 steals and 10 assists in a win over Grand Rapid Union.

But as impressive as Walker has been, the reason the Sailors have been able to knock off teams with superior front lines like Reeths-Puffer is because Walker is not alone in the backcourt.

Joining Walker is 5-6 sophomore dynamo Alyza Winston, a duo Kurth has dubbed “Fire and Ice,” and opposing coaches have pulled their hair out trying to contain.

Walker is the “ice” – the refined, composed senior who never gets rattled despite constant double teams, box-and-ones and other gimmicks designed to throw her off her game.

Winston is the “fire” – the energetic, speedy sophomore who breaks down defenses off the dribble (and with an ankle-breaking crossover dribble) and steps up anytime the Sailors’ offense gets stagnant.

The way that dynamic duo interacts and conspires to frustrate opponents was on display in Friday’s District championship game.

Walker caught fire to open the second half, turning a 10-point halftime lead into a seemingly comfortable 31-13 advantage early in the third quarter. That’s when Reeths-Puffer coach Brandon Barry called a timeout and adjusted even more of the Rockets’ defense toward the task of slowing down Walker.

Enter Winston.

For much of the remainder of the game, Shores started its attack with the ball in the hands of Winston, whose dynamic ball-handling skills have brought her plenty of offers from Division I college programs, even though she still has two years of high school remaining. Winston, who finished with 13 points, repeatedly broke through fullcourt pressure and then either pulled it out to run off clock or dished it off inside to fellow underclassmen Nia Miskel, Ryleigh Wehler and Veronica Kastelic.

“Our guards were the difference,” said Walker, whose mother, Danielle Smith-Walker, is a counselor at Mona Shores and a varsity assistant coach. “People say that a basketball team will go only as far as the guards will take them, so we’ll see how far we can go.”

While the District title game was a classic matchup of Reeths-Puffer’s inside strength vs. Mona Shores’ guards, Tuesday’s Regional showdown with East Kentwood will feature two of the top backcourts in West Michigan.

Kentwood went undefeated in the O-K Red behind the guard trio of senior Anaya Powell, defensive stopper Amari Brown and Mauriya Barnes. How that threesome matches up with Walker and Winston could determine the outcome of the Regional showdown, but on Friday night, Kurth was just relieved to finally be playing an opponent outside of the Muskegon area.

Over the past two seasons, the lakeshore “big three” of Mona Shores, Reeths-Puffer and Muskegon High have battled during O-K Black and District action. Shores discovered how hard it is to beat a good team three times in one season Wednesday night, when it needed two clutch free throws from Kastelic in the waning seconds to edge Muskegon, 50-49. Then the Sailors had to turn around two nights later and fend off Reeths-Puffer, which had beaten them by nine points the last time they played at Puffer’s gym.

“I know it breaks their heart to lose this game,” Kurth said, speaking after Friday’s Reeths-Puffer game, though the same emotions applied to Wednesday’s win over Muskegon. “These rivalries have made us all better, and it has made Muskegon-area basketball better.”

Walker is the lone senior starter for Mona Shores, whose season ended last year in a Regional championship game loss to Hudsonville, 45-44.

Hudsonville faces Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern in Tuesday’s second Regional game at Zeeland East.

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Mona Shores' Jordan Walker (22) works to get past a Muskegon defender during a game earlier this season. (Middle) The Sailors' Alyza Winston (3) races for a loose ball. (Photos by Tim Reilly.)

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.)