Longtime Friends 'Living Dream' Leading Top-Notch Brandywine Hoops Teams

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

March 5, 2024

NILES – Niles Brandywine’s Josh Hood and Nathan Knapp spend countless hours in the gym shaping the lives of young people.

Southwest CorridorAnd the two long-time Bobcats basketball head coaches, along with their respective family members, wouldn't have it any other way.

Not only have Hood and Knapp, both Brandywine alumni, built a winning culture within the program, but their passion and enthusiasm have sparked pride and support from the community as well.

Hood is 318-36 over 15 seasons at Brandywine as varsity girls coach following successful stints in the boys programs at Coloma and Cassopolis.

Brandywine, which hosts a Division 3 District this week, has won 10 titles between the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph League and Lakeland Conference, 10 Districts, seven Regionals and advanced to the MHSAA Semifinals twice (2010, 2016) under Hood.

The Bobcats, 20-1, suffered its lone loss in early February to Vicksburg, a Division 2 school, 46-38. They were No. 1 in The Associated Press state rankings for a few weeks before finishing in the No. 2 spot behind Ypsilanti Arbor Prep.

Brandywine has played a difficult schedule and owns wins over 2023 Division 3 runners-up Blissfield (45-43) at the Michigan Hardwood Classic in Romulus over holiday break and last year quarterfinalist Hart (62-52) at Brandywine on Jan. 2. Brandywine’s regular-season schedule included five conference champions and 12 Division 1 or Division 2 opponents.

"We built our schedule this year to be the toughest in the state and get us well prepared for what could be a magical run," Hood said.

Just like any other coach, Hood says a successful program just doesn't happen overnight.

All 14 of Brandywine's varsity girls players began by participating in the Kiddie 'Cats Youth Basketball Program. 

"This year we had 102 girls in K-6th grade in our youth program. Our current varsity girls are all primarily multi-sport athletes, and their success has been a body of work since they were in second grade. Our commitment in the summer and offseason since we lost to No. 1 Buchanan last year in Districts is unlike anything I've ever seen since I've been here," Hood said.

Niles Brandywine varsity girls' basketball team members and coaches pose for a photo during the Bobcats’ annual Pink Game on Cancer Awareness Night.This year before the girls basketball season began, each member of the team was required to put up 27,000 shots.

"This is a talented group, but make no mistake it's because these girls have put in the hard work to get themselves to this point. We've ran into a buzzsaw the last few years. Fortunately, we get to host Districts and this team wants to get their name on a banner. We know it's not going to be easy though," Hood said.

Brandywine is averaging 58.2 points per game while allowing just 29.6 at the defensive end.

"Our top 10 girls on this team have been on varsity since they were freshmen. Practices are a real brawl and very competitive,” Hood said. “We have former players who are successful women on our staff that our kids can look up to. Not many coaching staffs can say that.”

Mackenzie Cass, Hood's younger sister, coached the Brandywine junior varsity to a record of 18-0 this season. Hood's varsity staff also consists of former Brandywine playing standouts Tammy Lee, Kalie Wieger and Nicole Price, along with Frelen Gowen, Mike Troup and Dave Roeder.

Senior point guard Ellie Knapp, Nathan's daughter, leads the Bobcats at 14.2 points, 4.7 assists and 4.1 steals per game. She has verbally committed to play basketball at Holy Cross College, an NAIA school, in South Bend, Ind.

"Freshmen year was difficult because Brandywine had lost its entire starting lineup. Right away I had to be a leader and learn the offense and defense. That wasn't easy," Ellie Knapp said. "As a sophomore we were still young, but we matured a lot as juniors. Buchanan ended our season in Districts the last couple years. This year we're more experienced and everyone has bought in and worked hard for the success we've had. The last three years were tough, but I feel like you must lose first before you can learn how to win. It takes a lot of heart too."

Senior Kadence Brumitt, a Valparaiso University volleyball commit, averages 8.7 points and eight rebounds at the post position.

"I wasn't really a basketball player when I came in as a freshman. I stuck with it and I progressed,” said Brumitt, who plans to study nursing. “We struggled early on. This group of girls have played together for a real long time so there are no issues with chemistry."

While only two seniors in Ellie Knapp and Brummit, Hood says their contributions to the program the last four years have been immeasurable.

"Ellie and Kadence are both fierce competitors who come from great families and do things the right way. We've been very blessed to have such great role models in our program for future players," Hood said.

Another key player for Brandywine is junior Miley Young, who averages 8.8 points and 3.1 assists per game.

"It's great to have people like Miley who get even better going up against players like Ellie and Kadence every day in practice," Hood said.

Niles Brandywine senior Byron Linley (11) drives between Buchanan defenders during last week's District game at White Pigeon. Hood, who is Brandywine's Middle/High School assistant principal, didn't work in the same building his first six years in the school district.

"It's nice to be able to be here in the building now everyday and building those relationships with the students. Now I can also read the pulses of my players better. If one of them is having a bad day, I can pull them in and find out what's going on," Hood said. "Just being here now and being able to build the community support, it's like no other place. We call our gym the 'Bobcat Den.' It's a special place and is packed every Tuesday and Friday night. That's a tribute to the community. There's no city of Brandywine; the epicenter is Brandywine High School. This community does a great job of supporting our kids, and we're very grateful for that. It's a family here, and we support all the sports and the kids see that."

Hood and his Bobcats make a point to give back to the community each season.

"One of the things we talk about in our program is the opportunity to give back. We talk to the girls about servant leadership. Our kids have embraced that and like to thank the community for supporting us. We ring a bell at Christmas time for the Salvation Army and held a food drive at a local church this year," Hood said.

Brandywine held its annual Pink Game and Cancer Awareness Night at its final regular-season game against St. Joseph. The event raised money donated to the Brian Parker Cancer Foundation benefiting the local community.

Hood works well with his counterpart Knapp, Brandywine's boys' coach.

"How many coaches in the state can say that one of your peers was one of your best friends growing up and that you played high school basketball with them. There's nothing else, outside of our families, that we take more pride in than Brandywine," Hood said. "It's unbelievable. We can share the gym, build our schedules and between our two programs we have over 200 kids in our youth programs. I've learned so much from Nate. He's a phenomenal person. We're living out the dream."

Brandywine's boys team (21-3) is looking to return to the Breslin Center later this month after winning Friday's District final against White Pigeon. The Bobcats harbor hopes of duplicating last year's historic run.

Brandywine faces Union City in a Regional opener tonight in Watervliet. The winner takes on either No. 8 Schoolcraft or Watervliet at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Regional Final.

Brandywine lost to Traverse City St. Francis 46-36 last year in its first Semifinal appearance.

Knapp, the Bobcats boys head mentor for 19 seasons, graduated four off a 25-2 team, but returned eight including seniors Byron Linley and Jaremiah Palmer, along with sophomore Nylen Goins.

Linley leads the Bobcats in scoring at 13.7 points per game, followed by Palmer (13.1) and Goins (11.5).

"Byron is our shooter. He does a lot of the intangibles like scoring and plays great defense. He's always going 100 percent and is the last one to leave the gym," Knapp said. "Nylen is very athletic and brings great energy to the floor. He's quick and can get up and down the court. When he does, we're amazing. He's still raw defensively, but he's getting there and can really shoot."

Senior Jamier Palmer, Jaremiah's twin brother, along with classmates Robert Whiting and Ja'Torian Smith play key roles as well, along with senior Brock Dye.

The Brandywine boys basketball team poses with the trophy after defeating White Pigeon."Jaremiah and Jamier are our spark. They do anything we ask of them. They are two of the most unselfish and athletic players I've ever coached. They can score and are lock-down defenders," Knapp said.

Brandywine’s boys, co-champs in the Lakeland Conference with perennial state power Benton Harbor, beefed up their nonleague schedule as well.

The Bobcats' losses this season came to Riverview Gabriel Richard (57-55) in the Motor City Roundball Classic in Ferndale on Dec. 27, Benton Harbor (72-59) and Portage Central (71-67).

Brandywine avenged the earlier-season loss to Division 2 No. 3-ranked Benton Harbor with a 63-57 victory at the “Bobcat Den.” The Bobcats were ranked No. 3 in the final Division 3 AP poll, but were rated No. 1 at one point this season as well.

"Last year we won our first Regional. The glass slipper just really fit. This season we've had a target on our back from day one,” Knapp said. “We put a brutal schedule together for these guys. Our mindset was to play the better competition. We felt like St. Francis was a little long, and they kept getting a piece of the ball. This season we wanted to face teams like that before the tournament begins so we're ready for it. These kids have rose to the occasion every night and are warriors.”

Linley, a guard, feels the Semifinal loss to St. Francis served as big motivation this season.

"Since losing in last year's Semifinals I think that has just made us want to get back there (Breslin) even more. We just have to keep pushing one another in practice," Linley said. "Our coaches do a nice job daily of letting us know how good we can be and what we need to work on."

Jaremiah Palmer, a starting guard, feels his biggest assets on the court are his athleticism and quickness.

"I'm able to finish and get to my spots quick before opponents can stop me,” Jaremiah Palmer said. “Most of us have been playing together since middle school or longer. We have to translate what we learn in practice over to the game and play like it's our last one. Any team can beat you this time of year. No one on this team is selfish. We all work together."

Knapp (1991-1994) and Hood played their high school basketball at Brandywine for Al Westendorp. 

"My senior year in high school we got upset in Districts by Marcellus. I tell our kids you have to be ready to play anyone every night," said Knapp, who runs Brandywine's CTE Program.

Knapp served as Hood's JV coach at Coloma before returning to Brandywine to become the varsity boys coach.

"We have great and amazing people around us here at Brandywine. It's a family atmosphere. My sons Austin and Carson are two of my assistant coaches, along with Brandon Glover, Casey Udell, Zach Livovich and Gabe Gouin. I'm older so when the kids don't get a point I'm trying to get across, the younger coaches help them understand what I'm trying to say," Nathan Knapp said.

The second game against Benton Harbor was a wake-up call and will serve as a big inspiration.

"We were down by 20 in the third quarter," Knapp said, "and the kids just stuck together, believed in themselves, played good defense and came back to win."

Scott HassingerScott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Kadence Brumitt (32) scores inside for Niles Brandywine against St. Joseph. (2) Niles Brandywine varsity girls' basketball team members and coaches pose for a photo during the Bobcats’ annual Pink Game on Cancer Awareness Night. (3) Niles Brandywine senior Byron Linley (11) drives between Buchanan defenders during last week's District game at White Pigeon. (4) The Brandywine boys basketball team poses with the trophy after defeating White Pigeon. (Linley photo by Kelly Sweeney/Leader Publications; all other photos by Scott Hassinger.)

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.)