Bronson Finds Class C Championship Mix

November 21, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

BATTLE CREEK – Alexa Ratkowski wears jersey number 1, and so she was first through the hug line as Bronson accepted its Class C championship medals Saturday at Kellogg Arena. 

She had a smile across her face until she hugged coach Jean LaClair and the first tears fell. Every teammate following her seemed to drop a few more.

Bronson often wasn’t the tallest or most physically intimidating team on the volleyball court this season, and especially the last few weeks. The Vikings even had to make up for graduating an all-state hitter this spring.

But they had other ingredients that make an MHSAA champion – most notably chemistry to go with a skillful mix of seniors through freshmen and an all-state setter like Ratkowski, who had 34 assists plus six kills in leading Bronson to a 3-0 sweep of reigning champion Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central – 25-22, 25-21, 26-24 – for its first title since 2009.

“Working together and just building with one another; all summer this is what we’d look forward to,” said Ratkowski, who ended this season with the third-most assists in MHSAA rally scoring history. “Playing throughout the season, we knew we were number one. But rankings didn’t mean it. It all came down to the state title and how we performed, and I think we performed to our ability.”

The Vikings did indeed hold the top ranking in Class C for the final two months of the season, finished 57-10-3 and added a league title after not winning their conference or making it out of their District a year ago for the first time since the winter 2006-07 season.

It was about a month into this fall that LaClair – who has coached at three schools over 22 seasons and went over 1,000 career wins in October – saw the makings of a championship contender.

“Early on in the season I think they were frustrated. But we have some freshmen, sophomores playing key roles, and it really took them some time to get into the mold of what varsity volleyball is all about,” LaClair said. “They get along so well. In girls sports, team chemistry is more important than anything else.

"The other thing, I think, is we have a lot of depth. I had some kids who came off the bench today to do some great things for us. That ability to go through 10 or 12 deep really helps in a big match like this.”

It definitely helped during Saturday’s first set as Bronson got down by as many as nine points. Senior outside hitter Kirin Cekander – who LaClair calls the team’s “energizer bunny” – admittedly got off to a rough start. But some switches helped the Vikings pull together a 21-9 swing to win the first set – with Cekander getting kills for two of the final four points.

“The first game just set the stage in all of us,” Ratkowski said. “We were down by eight, and we said this is not it. We’re not letting down.”

Bronson trailed again by two points midway through the second set, but broke away for the final four points, including a pair of kills by sophomore outside hitter Kiana Mayer.

The teams were tied 24-24 in the third set before junior Jill Pyles and then Cekander drove the final points home. 

“All the sets were close. It was different for us; we had leads. Maybe that was the difference – we had too many leads in each set,” SMCC coach Karen O’Brien said. “We just couldn’t finish them. We just couldn’t put them away. A couple points here, a couple points there really was the difference.”

Cekander finished with 11 kills and Pyles had nine, but Mayer added eight and junior Allison Sikorski added seven. Cekander also had a team-high 15 digs.

“We have a lot of people who can come off the bench and play like they’ve been playing the whole game,” Cekander said. “We have a lot of people practicing in different places, so we have four outside hitters and a lot of people who can hit back and a lot of middles. We have a really good, flexible team.”

Senior Skylar Iott led three Kestrels in double-figure kills with 15, while seniors Regan Hodgson and Nicole Pollzzie both added 10. Senior Abby Thompson had 15 digs.

St. Mary (37-9-1) played in its eighth MHSAA Final but first with former assistant and Division I college head coach O’Brien running the program. She inherited a strong group of seniors she and retired coach Diane Tuller nurtured last season who then came up big this fall.

“After last year, losing as many seniors that contributed a lot, our seniors stepped up this year,” O’Brien said. “Skylar, Nicole, Regan, Abby and then Rose (Kemmerling) – Rose was our manager last year. You go from manager to being setter in the state finals. I think that just says a lot about her character.”

Click for a full box score.

PHOTO: (Top) Bronson’s Kirin Cekander tries to drive the ball through the block of Merina Poupard (15) and Nicole Pollzzie. (Middle) SMCC’s Skylar Iott goes for a kill with Bronson’s Kiana Mayer (10) and Jill Pyles blocking.

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.)