When Shots Don't Fall, Arbor Prep Turns to Defense to Lock Up Latest Title

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

March 23, 2024

EAST LANSING – Ypsilanti Arbor Prep experienced one of its worst shooting performances of the season in Saturday’s Division 3 Final.

But instead of dwelling on missed opportunities, they relied on the one thing they know they do well – play defense.

Arbor Prep held Niles Brandywine to its lowest scoring output of the season in earning a gritty 33-30 win at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center.

“We have very good athletes and every single one of these girls is tough,” Gators coach Scott Stine said. “And they are committed to playing defense. They are committed to doing what we do as a system, and we don't win this game without defense.

“These kids are special, and even on our worst offensive day, they stuck to the Arbor Prep way. They played defense and rebounded the ball, and they are state champions.”

Arbor Prep (25-4) won its second Division 3 Final in the last three seasons despite shooting a dismal 25 percent (12-48) from the field, including 11 percent (2 of 19) from 3-point range.

Senior Taylor Wallace struggled to find her shooting touch, but had four steals to go with eight points.

Stacy Utomi (24) tries to get up a shot over the Bobcats’ Adeline Gill. “I had good looks and they just didn't go in, so I knew I had to find other ways to help people out,” Wallace said. “I started anticipating and got some pretty good steals on defense. People say defense wins championships, and as you can see defense won us a championship.” 

The Utomi twins, seniors Stephanie and Stacy, combined for 16 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Gators. Stephanie Utomi had nine points, five rebounds and a game-high six steals, while her sister grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds and chipped in seven points.

“We knew this was our last game in our high school career, and the whole message from Coach was ‘be tired tomorrow,’” Stacy Utomi said. “Be tired later, because this is it. I just wanted to make sure I gave my team extra possessions.”

Added Stephanie Utomi: “We took a deep breath before the second half and just took what was there. It was about trusting our teammates, and we had a few key plays here and there. It took all of us to win.”

Stine was pleased with this team’s ability to value each possession. The Gators registered only seven turnovers.

“They took care of it against a very good defensive team, and if we don’t do that then we don’t win the game,” Stine said. “We forced 18 (turnovers), and that’s the stat I was looking at. We won that battle.”

Arbor Prep’s shooting woes had a lot to do with Brandywine, according to Stine.

“We didn’t shoot the ball well, but I’m going to give them credit for that,” he said. “They have good athletes, and they play sound man-to-man defense. I truly believe it was the two best teams in Division 3 that got to play today.”

Brandywine held a slim 7-6 lead after the first quarter despite four turnovers and giving up five offensive rebounds.

Gators coach Scott Stine presents the championship trophy to his team.Back-to-back steals and ensuing layups by Wallace gave the Gators a 10-7 advantage early in the second quarter.

Wallace  knocked down a corner 3 during the final seconds of the first half to help Arbor Prep to a 15-9 edge at the break. It was the Gators’ first 3-pointer of the half after 12 straight misses.

Arbor Prep extended its lead to 18-9 early in the third quarter, but Brandywine closed the gap to 21-19 later in the quarter after five straight points from junior Adeline Gill.

The Bobcats wouldn’t get any closer, though, and a 9-1 run by Arbor Prep and stout defense during the final quarter gave them a cushion late.

The Gators led 31-21 with 58 seconds left before Brandywine made three consecutive 3-pointers over the final 32 seconds.

Poor free throw shooting (2-10) and turnovers led to the Bobcats’ demise. They also allowed 13 offensive rebounds.

Their previous low for points was 38 against Vicksburg in their only other loss of the season.

“It was a defensive slugfest,” Brandywine coach Josh Hood said. “We had our opportunities, and you got to be able to make free throws, and I have to do a better job of putting our players in situations to be able to score.

“I’m really proud of our girls and their effort against a really good Arbor Prep team that has been here five times since their coach arrived there.”  

Junior Adelyn Drotoz knocked down three 3-pointers for Brandywine and finished with nine points, while senior Kadence Brumitt added seven points and nine rebounds.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Arbor Prep’s Taylor Wallace (5) brings the ball upcourt Saturday with Brandywine’s Ellie Knapp (1) applying pressure. (Middle) Gators coach Scott Stine presents the championship trophy to his team. (Below) Stacy Utomi (24) tries to get up a shot over the Bobcats’ Adeline Gill. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.)