'Ultimate Competitor' Collins Catalyzing Blissfield's Championship Pursuit

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

March 7, 2023

BLISSFIELD – Avery Collins has played with a broken nose, ankle sprain and a sore back. 

Southeast & BorderEarlier this season, the Blissfield junior was in the emergency room one night and on the basketball floor the next day. 

“She texted me first thing in the morning and said, ‘I’m ready to play Coach,’” said Royals head coach Ryan Gilbert. “I said, ‘No, you’re not.’ She was cleared to play, so she played. It’s hard to tell her no.” 

Collins is the catalyst behind Blissfield’s 23-1 record heading into tonight’s Division 3 Regional Semifinal against Hanover-Horton at Concord. Already a three-year starter, Collins is a ballhawk on defense, expert dribbler on offense and a competitor all the way. 

“I’m constantly talking basketball with people, either my dad, my coach, or even family friends,” Collins said. “I want to make this season so memorable and with the team we have, I knew it was possible.” 

When it comes to intensity, Collins has an extra gear. Opposing coaches quickly recognize that. 

“Avery is hands down the best player on the court night-in and night-out,” said Onsted head coach Brandon Arnold. “She’s tough. She does so many things for them.” 

Blissfield started the season 7-0 before being tripped up by Grand Blanc in the Motor City Roundball Classic. The Royals haven’t lost since, running off 16 straight wins, including in the District championship game Saturday.  

Defense has been the key.  

Opponents are averaging just 26.5 points a game against the Royals. Seven opponents have scored 21 or fewer points. 

Offensively, Blissfield averages four 3-pointers a game, shoots 60 percent from the free throw line and has four players with at least 150 points on the season. 

Collins averages 11.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 4.0 steals a game. She’s sat out several fourth quarters this season as the Royals have had big leads. In the District Semifinal against Erie Mason, she didn’t see the court in the second half.  

Collins gets to the basket; she’s averaging 11 points per game.Gilbert said she sits out more fourth quarters than she would like, but she also knows it makes the team stronger the more experience others get. 

“What you wouldn't know if you don't come watch her play is how her energy transfers to the rest of the team and the crowd,” Gilbert said. “Her grit and determination rubs off on everyone around her. I can’t tell you how many times the opponent turns it over because of her defensive pressure. She has pieces around her. She doesn't have to score 20 a game for this team to be successful. She could, but she doesn't have to.” 

If the game is close, the ball is in her hands. She shoots 70 percent from the free throw line and has become quite adept at dribbling away from opponents so they can’t foul her with the clock winding down. 

“She has the ability to change a game without scoring,” Gilbert said. 

Collins missed her AAU season this past summer due to a collarbone injury sustained during soccer season. She missed the early part of soccer with a broken nose that happened in basketball, although she never missed time on the court for it. 

The downtime, she said, helped keep her motivated when she was able to get a ball in her hands again. 

“I was extra ready to get back,” she said. “We all knew what this team could have in store this season, and that made me want to get better even more.” 

Collins put in a lot of work to get ready for this season. Her shooting has improved. She’s made 22 triples, but the bulk of her points come on steals and layups. 

“Before the season, my dad and I were doing a strength and conditioning workout almost every night, then after the workout, I’d go shoot at least 500 shots in the gym,” she said. “My dad has pushed me to be the best me that I can be. I’m always looking to put the work in to be better, because not only does it make me better, but it also helps my team as well.”

The Royals have just two seniors, 6-footers Julia White (10.0 points and 10.0 rebounds a game) and Sarah Bettis, a Division 1 volleyball signee with the University of Akron. June Miller leads the team in 3-pointers with 32, and Abrie Louden has been steady all season at both ends of the floor. Freshman Leigh Wyman and sophomore Peyton Tennant have come off the bench all season, ready to provide a spark, especially on defense. The combination has the Royals tied for the lead in Division 3 with 23 wins and ranked No. 3 in the final Associated Press poll.  

“Coming into this season, we knew we’d have a real shot at getting the league title,” Collins said. “I believe we will carry this energy as far as we get because of what our possible outcomes are in the state tournament.” 

The Royals play well together. They average about 19 field goals made a game – and 14 assists. 

Gilbert, in his 15th season as Blissfield coach, calls Collins the ultimate competitor. 

“She has a fiery chip on her shoulder,” he said. “She plays her best during the biggest of games. There is an edge about her that few have. She's just wired differently.”

Doug DonnellyDoug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Blissfield’s Avery Collins directs her team’s offense this season against Adrian Lenawee Christian. (Middle) Collins gets to the basket; she’s averaging 11 points per game. (Photos by Deloris Clark-Osborne.)

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.)