Westwood Sets Sights on Past Heights

December 20, 2018

By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half

ISHPEMING – The Westwood Patriots do not have a senior on their girls basketball roster and only two players stand as tall as 5-foot-9.

But don’t overlook this team.

Five juniors who played extensively a year ago provide the leadership and experience, while two sophomores and a promising freshman show excellent potential in the challenging Mid-Peninsula Conference. And they play for a team that is steeped in tradition and success, including a 2003 Class C championship.

Kurt Corcoran, a former Westwood cager, is in his seventh season as head coach. His assistant coach is Irv Dieterle, who is second in the Upper Peninsula among boys basketball coaches with 555 wins. Corcoran played for Dieterle in the 1990s.

“Irv is one of my very best friends in life now,” said Corcoran. “At times I was so angry and frustrated with him as a teenage boy. Now we can sit over a cup of coffee and laugh and laugh and laugh.

“I have the best assistant coach possibly in the nation. I feel very privileged to have him as a friend, assistant and mentor.”

Dieterle provides suggestions at halftime or when asked on the bench. “I would be crazy not to heed his advice,” said Corcoran, who is in charge of this team.

With the lack of size, the Patriots use solid defense and rely heavily on the shooting skills of junior Madi Koski, a three-year starter who was all-conference and All-U.P. as a freshman. In their most recent game, Dec. 18, Koski scored 21 points and hit two 3-point baskets to help subdue Gladstone 50-32.

“Madi is a stone-cold killer when it comes to scoring,” said Corcoran. “I’ll put her shot up against anybody (in high school).”

Her sister Jillian is a freshman with outstanding promise playing like most freshmen riding the roller coaster of success and mis-adventures. She did not score against Gladstone but had 17 points against archrival Ishpeming on Dec. 10.

“They are not the same player. Jillian will sacrifice her body, but Madi is a little more reserved diving into those (piles of) bodies,” said Corcoran. “(Jillian) is a real good ball handler, probably one of the best I’ve seen, but she needs to get stronger and catch up to the speed of the game.”

Jillian Koski has been a point guard since forever but is now at shooting guard, with her sister at the point. “(Jillian) is not on anybody’s radar yet (but) she is catching up with the speed of the game. That takes at least 10 games,” said Corcoran. “She lets the game come to her. Madi has to score. Madi facilitates the game. She wears many hats (scoring, passing, defending).”

He said the young sisters “really have just one goal in common, and that is to win.”

Corcoran is trying to restore Westwood to the level of long-ago years when the Patriots were always among the Upper Peninsula’s elite teams under veteran coach Tom Hammar (nearly 400 career wins) and with such standouts as Sarah Stream and Megan Manninen, who both played in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference for Michigan Tech and Lake Superior State, respectively. Jessica Racine also played at Tech, and Chelsea Wealton was another standout.

Two years ago, the Patriots beat unbeaten Norway and all-stater Jordan Kraemer, and last year they beat unbeaten neighbor Negaunee in the District opener. Negaunee and Westwood, two of the best teams in the peninsula this season, will collide in the tourney opener in March after two regular-season league matchups.

“With the guard play we have now and in the future, our goals are set high,” said Corcoran. “But we have to get past that first game to even get out of Districts. I’d be lying if I didn’t say we have our sights set on making a run downstate. They have paid their dues; they want a state championship. That is not a secret, but that is also Negaunee’s goal and West Iron’s goal. That is everyone’s goal.”

Reaching that height would be a big change from where the Patriots were a couple of years ago. The Pats were 5-15 when Madi Koski and fellow junior standout Tessa Leece were in eighth grade.

“As freshmen, they came to a struggling program that had been down in the dumps. They were given the keys to the Cadillac as young teenagers and they really were not ready,” said Corcoran.

But the two frosh made an immediate impact and Corcoran said “from that moment forward the program took a turn for the better. They got to 12 wins and beat 18-0 Norway. (Madi Koski and Leece) are the lead dogs and are really comfortable in their lead roles. They really stepped into a big hole in the program.”

He said his junior aces spend 365 days a year in the gym, and that hard work is catching on with their teammates, such as junior Karlie Patron and sophomore Ellie Miller.

Leece’s sister Mallory is a freshman on the school’s junior varsity. With low numbers (eight varsity players, nine jayvees), the younger Leece stayed with the jayvees but could join the varsity for the postseason.

Corcoran said he is seeing many long-time Westwood fans returning to the gym as they hear about the program’s revival. “We’re turning heads a little bit and people are starting to notice,” he said, admitting that also generates pressure from parents, fans and administrators.

He pointed out the Westwood school district was born in 1974 through a consolidation that brought in students from Champion, National Mine and Michigamme. “Westwood is not a town,” he said of the area west of Ishpeming that covers about 700 square miles of woodlands and water and consists of multiple generational Westwood school families.

With just 17 girls in the basketball program, Corcoran was asked about the future of girls basketball, which in the U.P. has just seven freshmen teams.

He said youth travel programs have made a big impact in recent years – and goals can become misplaced on winning tournaments instead of how many players enjoy the sport enough to continue on into high school.

“They play little (weekend) tournaments and everybody has fun, they have pizza parties at their hotel. Then they get to the high school level and coaches hold you accountable," Corcoran said. "We practice seven days a week, there are no pizza parties, no trophies. They’re in ninth grade and they already have a seven-year career and they’re not having fun anymore.” 

“Basketball is a way of life up here and we take it seriously. With that comes a lot of hard work, too.”

Denny Grall retired in 2012 after 39 years at the Escanaba Daily Press and four at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, plus 15 months for WLST radio in Escanaba; he served as the Daily Press sports editor from 1970-80 and again from 1984-2012 and currently is in a second stint as the interim in that position. Grall was inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and serves as its executive secretary. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for the Upper Peninsula.

PHOTOS: (Top) Westwood's Tessa Leece (2) drives to the basket while Ishpeming's Emma Poirier defends last week. (Middle) Poirier (2) is pressured by Westwood's Jillian Koski as she heads to the basket. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)

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.)