After Injury Brings Past Standout Home, Slack Takes Milan on Historic Trip

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

November 21, 2023

MILAN – Makenna Slack turned 21 in August, just days before she started her first season as the Milan volleyball coach.  

Southeast & BorderLittle did she know that four months later she would lead the Big Reds to their greatest season in school history. 

“I think this season, this run, over the last three weeks, as a Milan player or coach, this was the biggest high I’ve seen from the Milan program,” Slack said. “It was an amazing run and amazing year. It was the best way we could have represented Milan.”  

Milan never had won back-to-back District championships before these last two seasons, and never had won a Regional title. Slack’s Big Reds ended up going 29-7-2, finished second in the Huron League behind perennial power Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, won District and Regional titles and reached the Semifinals at Kellogg Arena.  

Milan ended up bowing out with a loss to Grand Rapids West Catholic, ending the season as one of the four remaining teams left in Division 2. 

How the Big Reds got there made the postseason run even more remarkable.  

Slack played four varsity seasons at Milan after moving to the area in eighth grade. She went on to play volleyball at Olivet College but suffered a devastating knee injury that cut short her career. She had knee reconstruction surgery. 

“I basically couldn’t walk or drive for six months,” she said. “The recovery was going to take a year and a half to get back to being an athlete. I decided to cut my losses and moved home.” 

Milan varsity volleyball coach Kathy Bradshaw knew Slack was home again and asked if she was interested in coaching. Bradshaw got the idea because she was the junior varsity coach at Milan when Slack was a senior player on the team. 

“I was the varsity captain, and I’d come down and help run the practices sometimes,” Slack said. “That’s where I think she saw me as maybe a coach.” 

It wasn’t her first coaching opportunity. While in high school she coached club volleyball as a way to earn extra money. 

“As a high schooler, I didn’t really realize it, but I took on a little bigger role than most high schoolers do,” she said. “I had my own team, and we went to tournaments and stuff. It started there. It came natural to me. I felt comfortable teaching kids.” 

Slack surveys her team's play during its first trip to Kellogg Arena.She was the Milan JV coach for one season, then Bradshaw’s assistant in 2022 when Milan won its first District title since 1999 and reached the Regional Final. Not long after last season, Bradshaw stepped down but encouraged Slack to apply for the head coaching position. Slack wasn’t sure. 

“It seemed like a lot, and I’m so young,” Slack said.  

“I ended up applying and got the job. After really thinking about it, I ended up taking it. We have a huge support system in the community. The athletic director is amazing, there is a really good booster group. Feeling the support all around me, I ended up taking the job.” 

She had her 21st birthday during the annual MHSAA preseason downtime at the start of August. The following week she was running tryouts for the volleyball team. 

Milan had a good season. 

“When we were going through league play, we were a solid unit,” she said. “We would win the games we were supposed to win and lose the games we were supposed to lose. It became a little robotic. We weren’t really challenged. No one really challenged us, and we never really challenged anyone.” 

Then came the District tournament and a first-round match against Lenawee County Athletic Association champion Adrian Madison. Madison took the first two sets, but Milan rebounded to win three straight and the match. Slack was surprised. She’s still not sure if the Big Reds upset Madison or if Milan was the favorite. 

“That was such a huge moment,” she said. “It was very fulfilling. It felt like we were on top. Our postseason run was for sure the highlight of our season. The girls maxed out, their energy was maximum. It was definitely our highlight.” 

Milan took another step the following week by winning the Regional, then beat Dearborn Divine Child in the Quarterfinals. 

“The girls are an amazing group,” she said. “It’s the best group we’ve had since I’ve been there. The team bonding was strong, the camaraderie was strong. I have a lot of athletes on my team that understand goals and the process you have to do to get to the goal. Having a lot of athletes on board for the full ride made the difference.” 

The Big Reds had just three seniors, including their best all-around player in Courtney Nye. They will return Malea Wourman, named the team’s best offensive player, and Lauryn Parris, named the team’s top defensive player.  

Slack will graduate from Wayne State University soon and is unsure what her future holds. If she gets a job in the financial field, for example, her coaching career might be over. 

“It’s really up in the air right now,” she said. “I don’t know if I’m going to move on with my life or stay in the coaching game. It’s a weird spot to be in.” 

Slack loved her time at Milan, both as a player and being part of the coaching staff. If she does have to give it up for now, she can see herself returning to the sidelines someday. If not, she can step aside knowing she helped Milan to its biggest volleyball achievement to date.  

“Working with young athletes and being able to guide them is something I truly enjoy,” she said. “I’m thinking at some point I’ll be back into the coaching game.”

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) Milan volleyball coach Makenna Slack, kneeling, huddles with her team during last week's Division 2 Semifinal. (Middle) Slack surveys her team's play during its first trip to Kellogg Arena.

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.)