Paw Paw Following New Coach, Sophomore Standouts to Renewed Success

By Pam Shebest
Special for

January 18, 2022

PAW PAW — New coach, new attitude and new results have sparked the Paw Paw girls basketball team to success it has not seen in years.

Southwest CorridorThe new-look Red Wolves (7-2) will battle Otsego (10-1) on Friday, with the winner landing atop the Wolverine Conference.

That's been unvisited territory the last few seasons for Paw Paw, which finished with a 5-12 record last season and 6-15 two years ago.

“I thought they’d be better than the five games (they won) last year,” coach Ernie Ramirez said. “They’re exceeding my expectations right now.”

Two sophomores are instrumental in the turnaround.

At 6-foot-1, Katelyn Baney – who was honorable mention all-state last year – has already received a scholarship offer from Western Michigan University. She averages 13 points, 11.2 rebounds, three steals, 2.6 assists and 1.5 blocks per game.

Paw Paw basketballBecause of a broken arm, Addison Roy played just four games during last year’s COVID-shortened season. But the 5-11 sophomore has been putting up numbers on the court this year as well, averaging 11.7 points per game, 12.2 rebounds and 2.5 steals per contest.

Both have tallied five double-doubles, three times posting them together in the same game.

Baney honed her skills practicing with older players, including her sister, Allison, who was a senior when Baney was in third grade.

Ramirez said Baney may be young, but she is long in experience.

“With all the basketball she’s played, travel basketball, multiple games, if you add all those games, it’s probably like a senior’s worth of games,” he said.

“That’s unique. Sometimes all the games outside the school add up to another season.”

The coach said Roy has been a surprise.

“She works hard at her game,” he said. “She’s the one who says, ‘Hey Coach, can I stay 20 or 25 minutes after?’

“She’s going to be that girl who always improves because she works at her game. She is that quiet leader.”

Roy said the way she improves is by listening and watching.

“I try to really focus and be open to what everyone else has to say, take a little piece of advice from everyone because everyone has a little piece of advice to offer to help you become a better player,” she said.

“I also watch my teammates to see if I can do (what they’re doing) too, if it works for them.”

Seniors tasting success

Ramirez is especially happy that the three seniors on the team are experiencing a winning season.

“The girl that’s probably played the most varsity is Taylor Rickli,” he said. “She’s been there through thick and thin, the first girl they had to pull up (to varsity) when she got to high school.

“Jackie Villanueva has always been the ‘rah rah girl’ on the team. Sophia Griffin is also probably tired of having those losing seasons.”

Paw Paw basketballThe five juniors on the team are Hannah Conway, Leah Wilder, Sammi Jurgensen, Avery Vogel and Molly McNitt. Freshmen Grace Mitchell and AJ Rickli join them as well.

Baney said the key to this year’s team is “our team is stronger and has a greater knowledge of our sport of basketball.

“I think we click a little better and we all have the ultimate goal of wanting to win.”

Roy added that team chemistry has a lot to do with the Red Wolves’ success

“We all really do get along on and off the court, which helps a lot with playing as a team,” she said.

“I think we’re all sick of losing in any sport. Coming off a losing season makes you want to work harder.”

Baney said after her freshman year, she knows other teams are aware of her on the court: “I feel I do get targeted a lot and double-teamed, but it makes it even better that I’m seen that way through other people’s eyes.”

Ramirez said the sophomore is one of the team captains for a reason.

“You need one of those young people who can work with the middle school kids,” he said. “They see her as an example, not only on the court but off the court, too.

“I see some of the younger kids gravitate to her. She’s a little bit of a stats-stuffer, too.”

Ramirez said the young players are the future of the team, and that future looks bright.

The junior varsity is currently undefeated.

“The JV team pushes the varsity girls to keep playing the way they are because they want to get on varsity,” he said.

“That’s one of those good things where the program as a whole is getting better.”

Paw Paw a good fit

Ramirez, who is a research and development specialist at Zoetis in Kalamazoo, said he was helping a friend do some offseason coaching that included a few girls from Paw Paw.

Paw Paw basketballThey mentioned the varsity job might be open.

“I juggled it in my head because I was at Comstock,” he said. “Something pulled me over here.

“I already knew they had a core group of girls who were dedicated to the gym. That’s always a must for me.”

He said by June, he knew it was a good fit because “there were already girls lined up to do summer stuff with me, wanting to do a lot of scrimmaging and whatnot.”

Ramirez said the program’s success is a team effort, and not only from the players.

“I have a great coaching staff; it’s not just me,” he said. “Katie Steers is a new JV coach; my assistant coach Montana Martin is new and came with me from Comstock.

“They all played basketball at Trine University, so they’re a good woman example of teaching how to be a good high school and college athlete. I’m only as good as my coaching staff.”

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Paw Paw sophomores Addison Roy, left, and Katelyn Baney are leading a resurgent varsity this winter. (2) From top: Baney, Roy and coach Ernie Ramirez. (3) Roy gets in position for a rebound against Vicksburg. (4) Baney follows through on a free throw. (Action photos by Brent McNitt/1001 Words Photography. Head shots by Pam Shebest.)

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.)