Performance: Bellaire's Lexi Niepoth

January 12, 2018

Lexi Niepoth
Bellaire senior – Basketball

Bellaire’s 5-foot-8 forward added another memorable accomplishment to a high school career she expects to finish this spring with 11 varsity letters across three sports. Niepoth, a Class D all-state honorable mention a year ago, grabbed 27 rebounds to go with 24 points in a 54-21 win over Johannesburg-Lewiston on Friday to set a school record for rebounds and earn the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”

Niepoth is averaging 15 points, 14 rebounds (including six offensive), 3.8 steals and 2.2 assists per game, and her 27 rebounds made the MHSAA record book tying for 17th-most grabbed in one game. Niepoth is a four-year varsity basketball player, and this season’s team is 8-1 and ranked No. 2 in Class D by The Associated Press. Niepoth’s impact on both ends of the floor is obvious; she’s the best passer on the team to go with her scoring and rebounding, and she’s a “ball hawk” defensively able to guard every position while helping key the Eagles’ press. Niepoth also was a four-year varsity volleyball player and all-area selection as an outside hitter, and she’ll play her third year of varsity softball in the spring – she had to miss last season after injuring an ankle near the end of basketball season.

Her athletic successes go hand in hand with her classroom performance. Niepoth has a 3.945 grade-point average and is leaning toward studying psychology at Ferris State University after graduation. She has worked as a teacher aide in a special education class and would like to work with children in the future. She serves as a fine example to players coming up in Bellaire’s program, and she’ll be back on the court Friday against Pellston – before a matchup Wednesday against rival Gaylord St. Mary that likely will pit the first-place teams in the Ski Valley Conference.

Coach Brad Fischer said: “From day one she has made us a better team. Flat-out, she is a game changer, a tenacious player that never quits on a play. She can and often does dominate the game by her relentless effort rebounding and controlling the boards. The defensive pressure she puts on our opponents makes us go. … Her impact on the entire program may be immeasurable. For the past four seasons she has given her team, the program, and me as her coach the belief and confidence that no matter who we play we have the chance to win each contest. Not every program can say that, and I can without hesitation. Belief and confidence plays an important role in athletics, academics, and in life. With her that belief and confidence has made it throughout our entire program by her peers watching her and the constant positive examples we use of her for our younger players to emulate. That has made such a positive flow of influence from the high school level all the way down to our youth program. Lexi has been one of the main reasons for our recent success through her dominance, reliability and being a great teammate and role model on and off the court.”  

Performance Point: “I don’t really think about it as I play. I just go for the ball. At halftime, my coaches kept telling me to rebound, and I could just tell; they were like, ‘You’re pretty close to the record.’ So I just kept rebounding and didn’t want to think about it a whole lot, so I didn’t freak out. When I was sitting on the bench, the JV coach that was sitting on the bench came to me and said, ‘You’re really close. Just keep playing, and keep rebounding.’ During the game, I don’t really think about how much I score or how much I rebound, so it’s rewarding – and it shocked me, to be honest.”

Own the boards: “My coach says sometimes in practice how I’m falling in love with just jumping for the ball instead of boxing out. But I feel like when they shoot it, I just assume it’s not going to go in, because obviously I like to rebound. But I also try to watch where the ball is going to bounce off the rim. I don’t really box out, to be honest. I just kinda run around the people – and then just jump as high as I can to try to get the ball.”

Finish strong: “We’re senior-based. I’ve been with Tally Goodwin all four years too, and I think her and I probably work the best just because we’ve had that experience. … Ever since freshman year, I never really thought senior year would come. I think it’s kinda cool: We were good freshman year. We were good sophomore year. We struggled junior year, and this year I feel like everything is clicking and the teamwork and team chemistry is probably one of the best I’ve had all my four years.”

Be the example: “I love the younger kids, and actually last year I was the coach and helped out with one of the youth programs. I just hope that I’m a good role model for them to become and do their best – (to teach them) the work ethic, or always trying your hardest even if you’re down by 15 or you’re up by 20, to try to still go after every ball, try to still make every lay-up, every shot. And also how you work with your teammates and how you work with the other teams, your sportsmanship and your attitude.”

On a mission to help kids: “I went to Belize on a mission trip with my youth group (over Christmas her freshman year), and it kind’ve all started there. You do things for them, say things to them. You teach them, and it sticks. It’s rewarding to see what you taught them and their growth.”

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2017-18 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard will recognize a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.

The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster. 

Previous 2017-18 honorees:
November 30: La'Darius Jefferson, Muskegon football - Read
November 23: Ashley Turak, Farmington Hills Harrison swimming - Read
November 16: Bryce Veasley, West Bloomfield football - Read 
November 9: Jose Penaloza, Holland soccer - Read
November 2: Karenna Duffey, Macomb L'Anse Creuse North cross country - Read
October 26: Anika Dy, Traverse City Central golf - Read
October 19: Andrew Zhang, Bloomfield Hills tennis - Read
October 12: Nolan Fugate, Grand Rapids Catholic Central football - Read
October 5: Marissa Ackerman, Munising tennis - Read
September 28: Minh Le, Portage Central soccer - Read
September 21: Olivia Theis, Lansing Catholic cross country - Read
September 14: Maddy Chinn, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep volleyball - Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Bellaire's Lexi Niepoth (13) blocks a passing lane during a game this season. (Middle) Niepoth makes a move to the basket. (Photos courtesy of the Bellaire girls basketball program.)

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.)