Performance: Mancelona's Eileene Naniseni

January 22, 2017

Eileene Naniseni
Mancelona senior – Basketball

The 6-foot-3 center has had a monumental impact on the Ironmen girls basketball program over the last four seasons, and recently reached an individual milestone as part of that team-elevating effort. Naniseni scored her 1,000th point (and 32 in the game) during her team’s 54-40 win over Fife Lake Forest Area on Jan. 11 to earn the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.” 

Mancelona had lost 41 straight games before Naniseni took the court for the varsity for the first time and helped the Ironmen to a streak-breaking win in the 2013-14 season opener. Her team is 6-6 this winter, but Mancelona won only four games both last season and in 2014-15 and led during the fourth quarter of four of this winter’s losses. Naniseni is averaging 21.5 points, 13.9 rebounds and 5.6 blocked shots per game making 51 percent of her shots from the floor – she has five triple-doubles over the last four seasons including two this winter. She’s approaching the MHSAA record book list in rebounds with 878 over her career, and her 332 career blocked shots already rank 12th all-time. 

Naniseni – whose first name is pronounced “I-lee-nay” in nods to her maternal great-grandmother Eileene and her father’s Tongan roots – became the third in school history and first since 1996 to reach 1,000 points. She made the all-Ski Vally Conference first team last season after making the second team both of her first two seasons, and she also has earned all-league honors in volleyball and will compete again this spring in track & field running the 400 and participating in discus and high jump. She’s also built a 3.98 grade-point average in earning a basketball scholarship to Lake Superior State University, serving as a basketball team captain for three seasons in addition to providing leadership as well as part of National Honors Society, student council, the school’s peer leaders group and SAFE (Substance Abuse Free Environment).

Coach Ben Tarbutton said: “Eileene has been a great leader and captain for this basketball program. E is one of those players that every coach wishes everyone could be like on a team. Not because of her scoring or rebounding ability, but her determination in building this program up from multiple one or two-win seasons. This is why she has earned the leadership and captain role of the team over the last three years. This year has been one of the most fun years to coach. What is different about this year is we are beating teams that we have not beat in 10 years, and four of our six losses we were leading at one point in the fourth quarter. The only way this is possible is because of the senior group of Eileene Naniseni, Caitlin Ancel, and Jill Smigielski. … Without these three and the leadership of E, our season would not be where it is today. E is a leader in both academics and athletics. She is an individual that exemplifies what a student, athlete, and leader should look like for younger students to follow.

Performance Point: “We don’t normally get a lot of spectators for our games,” Naniseni said. “But the first thing I remember was more people in the stands, more in the student section than I’d seen the past three or four years playing. All my family and friends were there to watch me; that was awesome. And my teammates were so unselfish with the ball – I think I had to get 31 points (to get to 1,000), and whenever they’d get the ball they were thinking ‘E’. I think because it was so close, we wanted to push and get it that night.”

Transformer: “When I first came into (Mancelona) freshman year – I moved to this school in eighth grade (from Central Lake) – I wasn’t aware of how the varsity had been doing, and I didn’t even understand how much that (streak) was until we won our first game. Now that we look back on it, these last couple of years we haven’t been super successful, but I notice right now, I know I’m making an impact. I see it at the younger ages. We do these camps every year … and when I started out there would be two eighth graders or five seventh graders, but this past year the seventh and eighth grade teams have 38 together, and the JV has 12 (players). I want people to get more excited about girls basketball. I want Mancelona to keep growing and progressing. My sophomore year we had six or seven on the varsity team, so it was hard; this year we have nine girls, so that’s the most interest I’ve ever seen and it makes me excited.”

More to accomplish: “We wanted to win more games than in the past, and we’ve already achieved that. We recently beat Onaway and Joburg (Johannesburg-Lewiston), which we hadn’t beaten in 12-15 years. We want to beat them again and beat teams that we’ve been underdogs to for years and that no one expects us to beat. I can tell (from opponents) when we’re warming up that because they’re playing Mancelona, they think it’s going to be an easy win. But I want them to be surprised … because they always underestimate us.” 

Born to lead: “When I was a freshman, I had a really good art teacher who really was into leadership stuff, and the athletic director then let me go to a lot of leadership programs. Those definitely helped shape my leadership qualities and opened my eyes to what a leader should be, and I took a lot of notes. I try to be trustworthy and always try to work hard too – the captain of the team is expected to work hard – and if someone has questions they need to ask or if they need to confide in you, you can listen, but be strong too; you can’t be a pushover. When I was younger, I guess my confidence level, I didn’t realize how much that played a role in being a leader. … I want to build confidence in my teammates to show them that they are good players.”

Dr. Naniseni: “I would like to be a pediatric oncologist, or really anything in pediatrics because I love children. I think I’ll go into biology when I get up to Lake State; I’ve thought about being a teacher, but my family always has been medical-related, and the medical field fascinates me. I like how if (people) are hurting, you can give them something and make them better. That blows my mind sometimes.”

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2016-17 school year, Second Half and the Michigan 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 2016-17 honorees:
Jan. 12: Rory Anderson, Calumet hockey – Read
Dec. 15: Demetri Martin, Big Rapids basketball Read
Dec. 1: Rodney Hall, Detroit Cass Tech football Read
Nov. 24: Ally Cummings, Novi volleyball Read
Nov. 17: Chloe Idoni, Fenton volleyball Read
Nov. 10: Adelyn Ackley, Hart cross country Read
Nov. 3: Casey Kirkbride, Mattawan soccer – Read
Oct. 27: Colton Yesney, Negaunee cross country Read
Oct. 20: Varun Shanker, Midland Dow tennis Read
Oct. 13: Anne Forsyth, Ann Arbor Pioneer cross country – Read
Oct. 6: Shuaib Aljabaly, Coldwater cross country – Read
Sept. 29: Taylor Seaman, Brighton swimming & diving – Read
Sept. 22: Maggie Farrell, Battle Creek Lakeview cross country – Read
Sept. 15: Franki Strefling, Buchanan volleyball – Read
Sept. 8: Noah Jacobs, Corunna cross country – Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Eileene Naniseni, dribbling, works to get past a defender. (Middle) Naniseni, middle, holds up with teammates a banner celebrating her 1,000th point after reaching the milestone Jan. 11 against Fife Lake Forest Area. (Photos by Joanie Moore/

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.)