Northwest Draws Closer to Dream Finish

March 16, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

GRAND RAPIDS – Like kids in every community, future Jackson Northwest athletes grow up dreaming of winning championships.

But there’s something more to say about the opportunity earned by the Mounties with their 56-47 Class B Semifinal win Friday over Michigan Center.

A championship Saturday would be the first in program history. It would be the second in school history, in any sport – joining the Division 2 girls bowling title won in 2013.

“It would be good for our community, because everybody has brought so much support,” Northwest senior Sydney Shafer said. “And the fact that we’ve never done this makes it better because we’re making history.

“We’re hanging numbers – that was our thing, kind’ve – and it’s just surreal. Not many people get to experience what we’re going through right now.”

The Mounties already will hang a few “numbers” – maybe a few 18s on the banners in their gym for winning their first Regional and making their first girls basketball championship game this winter.

They’ll get a chance to add one more against Detroit Country Day in Saturday’s 6:15 p.m. Class B Final at Van Noord Arena.

Northwest (25-1) has put together a nice run in girls basketball with a combined 79-17 record and three District titles moving between Class B and Class A over the last four seasons.

The Mounties fell four points shy of claiming that first Regional title in Class A in 2016, losing to East Lansing by four points in the Regional Final.

“This has been our goal the last four years. This year, this team is special,” senior Ella Bontrager said. “We knew that from the beginning. We’ve taken one game at a time, worked hard on offensive and defensively, and this team play together more than any team too. We want it, every single game, and we don’t want to be done.”

Northwest came out Friday draining shots. Bontrager knocked down two 3-pointers during the game’s first two minutes, and sophomore sister Jozie Bontrager’s 3-pointer two minutes later made the score 13-4.

Jozie Bontrager connected on a pair of 2-pointers during the second quarter to keep Northwest’s lead at 31-22 by halftime.

But Michigan Center, a Class C runner-up twice last decade, had some shooting bottled up for the second half. Despite trailing by 17 during the first minute of the fourth quarter, the Cardinals cut that deficit to seven over the next two minutes in part on 3-pointers by senior Brianna Wolvin, sophomore Morgan Morris and senior Masyn Shannon.

The comeback wasn’t unexpected, as the two schools are 14 miles apart and a number of players know each other from the offseason circuit.

“Every game we’ve played, we seem to allow those runs,” Northwest coach Ryan Carroll said. “I know that’s not a strong trait, but we also then respond.

“These guys are fearless. It’s just another game for them, just another run. We knew Michigan Center was very capable of knocking down shots.”

In the end, Northwest knocked down a few more, especially at the line. The Mounties connected on 13 of 23 free-throw attempts, but Michigan Center was only 7 of 18.

Schafer finished with 21 points, along with 13 rebounds and six steals. Jozie Bontrager had 13 points and 12 rebounds and Ella Bontrager added 11 points. Senior Masyn Shannon had 14 points and seven rebounds to lead Michigan Center (23-3) and was the only senior to see the floor for her team.

The Cardinals finished a combined 43-7 over the last two seasons after going 6-15 in 2015-16. They’ve most recently been in Class C, but moved into Class B this school year.

“It was such a journey for us,” Shannon said. “We were excited every single game. Every game we won in this tournament, we bawled our eyes out because we were so happy. It’s something to be excited about, something to be nervous about – a lifetime experience and something me and the rest of the team will never forget.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Jackson Northwest players celebrate Friday’s Semifinal win over Michigan Center. (Middle) Michigan Center’s Morgan Morris works for position in the post with Jozie Bontrager guarding her. 

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

By Tom Spencer
Special for

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.)