'Better' Plymouth Christian Becomes Best

November 19, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

BATTLE CREEK – “Better the ball” as a volleyball phrase means adding something to improve a volley with every touch.

But it also was appropriate as Plymouth Christian’s adopted rallying cry this fall.

The Eagles came to their second straight Class D Semifinals at Kellogg Arena this weekend ranked No. 1 for the second year in a row. Last year, they didn’t make it to Saturday. But this time Plymouth Christian did advance – and then “bettered” itself one more time on the final day of this season.

Facing a familiar foe in friendly league rival Auburn Hills Oakland Christian, the Eagles clinched an unexpected deciding match in their season series – and with it, their first MHSAA championship by a score of 3-1.

“Last year, it was kinda new and it was more stressful because we’d never been in this situation before. So this year, we knew coming into it how our attitudes should be – that we should just treat it like any other game and give our all on everything,” Plymouth Christian junior hitter Grace Kellogg said. “We just needed to side out on the key points and not fall down or get down in tough situations or (over) things that we mess up. Just stay strong and tough the whole time.”

Plymouth Christian (35-11-3) had played in a championship match once before, falling to Battle Creek St. Philip in the 2010 Class D Final. In fact, the Eagles on Saturday became the first other than St. Philip or Leland to win Class D since 2004.

Last season they fell in a four-set Semifinal to St. Philip, with three of those sets decided by two points each.

“Last year, that’s what we ran into: experience,” said Plymouth Christian coach D.J. Kellogg, who’s also the father of Grace and freshman middle Gabriella Kellogg. “Had we gotten three points to go a different way last year, the match was ours.

“It came down to serving, and tipping and playing not to lose. This year the focus was, knowing that, let’s not come back with the deer in the headlights (look). Let’s go out and be aggressive.”

That started with aggressive scheduling. Ten of the 11 losses came to Class A or B schools, including Class A No. 1 Novi and No. 2 Clarkston and Class B No. 3 North Branch (and the Eagles beat Class B No. 2 Pontiac Notre Dame Prep). All of that helped prepare them for a Class D tournament run that included wins over No. 2 Mendon, No. 4 Lansing Christian and No. 10 North Adams-Jerome.

“We knew technically we had what it took,” Kellogg added. “It’s going to be more having the slight edge and a mental edge; that was going to be the thing that would push us over.”

Oakland Christian (43-5-5), of course, was the only non-A or B opponent to deal the Eagles a loss. After falling to Plymouth Christian 3-1 in their first meeting, the Lancers took the second 3-2 to force a shared title in the Michigan Independent Athletic Conference Blue.

After Plymouth Christian won the first set 25-18 on Saturday, Oakland Christian tied it up by claiming the second 25-22. But the Eagles found their "edge" after that, winning the third and fourth sets by identical 25-19 scores.

“It’s a little bit intimidating, having the past with them. … I think we both came in a little nervous, but pretty confident overall,” Oakland Christian senior Alexandra Gudobba said. “We respect each other as a team, and if anyone had to win, I guess I’m happy it’s them.”

Part of that “edge” Kellogg spoke of was anticipating better the variety of shots Oakland Christian has used – Kellogg called the Lancers one of the smartest teams his has faced because of its ability to find corners and tips. Senior libero Divna Roi played the biggest part in foiling those well-placed shots, finishing the match with 24 digs, tied for sixth-most in MHSAA Finals history.

The Kelloggs – who got their training “breaking stuff for years around our house playing volleyball,” according to Dad – led the offensive attack. Grace had 21 kills and Gabriella 13 taking passes from senior Jessica Paulson (18 assists) and junior Abigail Pray (26).

Gudobba led the Lancers with 14 kills and 16 digs, and senior Samantha Morse had 28 assists.

Although not in victory, the match provided a successful end for longtime Oakland Christian coach Priscilla Larned, who will retire with a record of 989-459-81 over 32 seasons. She also coached basketball, softball and soccer at the school, with Saturday’s the first championship match ever for her volleyball team. Oakland Christian entered this tournament ranked No. 6 in Class D.

“I was thinking about all the Saturdays I’m going to sleep in,” Larned joked after. “I’m sorry. I’ve got to make a laugh here somehow.

"It’ll be different. I’m a coach who never got to play in high school, and it’s been a great time coaching. It’s been a great era to coach. But I see the need for me to go on, and somebody else come in and bring more enthusiasm and get it going again.”

After last season’s near-miss, Plymouth Christian tried hard to not make a return to Battle Creek the goal for this fall. Coach Kellogg reasoned that if the Class D title were the goal, his players could feel like it was slipping away if they hit a lull during the four-month season.

Instead they focused on the process – bettering the ball daily to be the best at the end.

“Every interaction we have with our team, every touch of the ball on the court or off the court, every contact that we have we should be adding value to each other and adding value to the game and to the team,” Kellogg said. “And this team’s done that.

“This is the by-product. … They’ve had each others' backs the entire time, and that’s the kind of team that wins.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Plymouth Christian hoists its first MHSAA volleyball championship trophy Saturday. (Middle) Grace Kellogg goes for a kill for the Eagles with Genna Castillo (13) and Samantha Morse (16) defending the net for Oakland Christian.

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.)