Hall Sisters' Daughters Giving Hartland Next-Generation Boost

By Tim Robinson
Special for MHSAA.com

February 11, 2022

HARTLAND — Hartland girls basketball coach Don Palmer chuckles now when he talks about facing the Hall sisters 30 years ago, when they were at Walled Lake Western and he was at Milford.

“I never could beat them,” he said, recalling facing Valerie, Dianne and Michelle Hall, all of them 6 feet tall or taller. “That in itself was a rarity, and they were so athletic. We played against the Halls when I had some of my best teams (at Milford). We never beat them, and they never cease to remind me of it.”

A little less than 20 years later, Val and Dianne and their families moved to Hartland about the time Palmer was taking over the Eagles program.

“Whitney was in the third or fourth grade,” Dianne Sollom recalled. “He was like, ‘Oh, the Hall girls! I could never beat you guys!’ And I said, ‘I have Whitney and another one coming in. They’ll be playing for you one day.’”

Whitney Sollom played four years for Palmer and is now a sophomore on the University of Michigan basketball team, a second-generation part of the program as Dianne also played for the Wolverines.

Whitney’s younger sister, Lauren, is a senior starter for the Eagles. One of her teammates is her cousin Sarah Rekowski, Val’s daughter.

“I played with my sister and now I’m playing with Sarah,” Lauren Sollom says. “I know my family is out there with me on the court going through the same thing I am. It’s very special to me.”

Lauren, who has signed to play at Saginaw Valley State, is a senior starter, while Sarah is a sophomore.

They are both from a college sports background. Lauren’s father, Ken, was a quarterback at Michigan and Sarah’s father, Stephen, was a defensive tackle for the Wolverines during the 1990s.

Dianne, who graduated from Western in 1989 and played basketball for Michigan State, met her husband when visiting Val at U-M.

“They grew up in it,” Dianne Sollom said. “If I’m not telling them, (Val) is telling them.”

Like their mothers, Lauren and Sarah are tall. Lauren is a 6-3 forward, while Sarah is a 6-2 post player for the Eagles.

Dianne says she’s 6 feet tall, “but I’m as tall as you want me to be,” she jokes. Val, a 1985 Western grad, was 6-4 in her playing days, as was their younger sister, Michelle.

Val played all four years at Michigan, and Dianne three years at Michigan State.

Walled Lake Western basketball“With my mom being a post player and my being a post, it helps me to know what to do in certain situations, and she gives me pointers,” Sarah said. "She’s always helping me with my game.”

But both moms have their limits.

“We do watch film together,” Val says of her time with Sarah, “but not a lot. I let Coach Palmer handle all that. I know Dianne and Ken have that ongoing conversation and try to help when they can. But you have to back off. A lot of the time they don’t want to hear you at all. You have to give them some time, that 24 hours or whatever.”

Sarah enjoys the physical portion of the game and showed her potential in the season opener, when she had 13 points and eight rebounds. Lauren will get inside for rebounds, but plays mostly on the perimeter, hoisting up 3-pointers, something Sarah hasn’t done yet.

“Coach Palmer has not given her the pass yet,” Lauren pronounced as both giggled.

“Coach Palmer would probably lose his mind,” Sarah said, grinning.

“He definitely would,’ Lauren said, to more laughter.

Sarah played on the JV team as a freshman last season, although her winter was interrupted by 10-day COVID-19 quarantines on a couple of occasions.

“She’s a little behind in her development,” Palmer said of Sarah, “but she really is a talented kid. She’s a big kid who, when she gets a rebound, it really is a rebound. We’re working on her constantly on her footwork.”

Sarah has been alternating with 6-4 senior Kate Jacobs in the post.

“It’s been up and down,” she says, “but I’ve gotten a lot of experience. I’m getting a decent amount of playing time.”

Lauren, meanwhile, is a team captain.

“Lauren’s a team-first player,” Palmer said. “She’s having a great year for us, she’s our leading scorer, leading rebounder and she’s having an MVP kind of year.

“They’re good kids,” Palmer said of the cousins. “They want to win, and they don’t care about how they do it. That’s the thing about this team. They’re all unselfish kids; you know, if they get 15 one night and get two the next and the team won both, they’re fine.”

In addition, Lauren’s fraternal twin brother, Brad, plays for the Hartland boys basketball team and will suit up at Concordia University in Ann Arbor next year, where he will play football.

For now, Lauren and Sarah are enjoying their year of varsity basketball together.

“We talk a lot,” Lauren said. “Basketball brings us together. Practices are fun, and I drive her to school in the morning and home in the evening. That’s good cousin time, family time.”

Speaking of family time, when Dianne (for MSU) and Michelle (U-M) played against each other in college, it was not unheard of for one sister to let the other have the occasional free lane to the basket, or for one to congratulate the other on a good shot while both were on the floor.

Once, castigated for complimenting her sister, Dianne said to her coach, “But she’s my sister!”

Walled Lake Western basketballNow, Dianne and Val sit in the stands at Hartland games, cheering their daughters on.

“I enjoy watching her play,” Val said. “We’ve been watching Whitney and Lauren since they were young, and Sarah’s coming along. It’s fun to watch the light bulb come on and everything starts clicking. It’s really great when it all comes together for them.”

“I was on the court my entire life,” Dianne said. “I want to sit in the stands and watch my daughter and son. My husband is in the same boat. We’ve done it. We don’t have to shine.”

Hartland has been one of the top teams in the state this season, and the Eagles are looking toward a long run in the MHSAA Tournament, not unlike last year, when they reached the Division 1 quarterfinals.

To do so, the Eagles (14-1) are combining talent with togetherness, with nine seniors, including Lauren Sollom, looking out for themselves and a big sophomore in Sarah Rekowski who could play a key role down the stretch.

“She’s a very hard worker in practice and always has a smile on her face, even when Palmer is yelling at her,” said Lauren, joining her cousin with more giggles in a postgame interview, another shared moment in a season that already has produced memories for a lifetime and a special bond within a bond.

PHOTOS (Top) Dianne Sollom, far left, and Val Rekowski, far right, stand with daughters Lauren Sollom (25) and Sarah Rekowski (34) after a Hartland game. (Middle) Dianne Sollom, second-from-right, takes the opening jump against Canton while playing for Walled Lake Western. (Below) Val Hall (52) gets her hand on a shot while also starring for Walled Lake Western in this Novi-Walled Lake News clipping. (Top photo by Tim Robinson, middle and bottom photos provided by the Sollom and Rekowski families.)

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.)