Cadillac Hopes to Add #1 to Incredible Run

November 17, 2015

By Dennis Chase
Special for Second Half

CADILLAC – The numbers tell the story – 10 consecutive District titles, nine of 10 Regional crowns, three MHSAA Semifinal appearances.

It's been quite a run for coach Michelle Brines and her Cadillac Vikings volleyball program.

Cadillac is in the Elite Eight once again, this time with one of its most well-rounded teams in Brines' 16 years as head coach.

Optimism is high as the Vikings begin this week with their ultimate tournament goal still in play – to reach Saturday’s MHSAA Class B Final, which would be a program first.

The Vikings know it will not be easy. Cadillac faces defending champion North Branch in a Quarterfinal rematch tonight. The Broncos ousted Cadillac 3-0 a year ago.

The Vikings enter the match ranked No. 5 in the latest coaches poll, North Branch No. 8. The Broncos upset No. 2 Mount Morris in the District.

“They’re a good team, but they graduated seven seniors last year,” Brines said of North Branch. “I told the girls, ‘Forget about what it says on their jerseys. This is not the same team that beat us in three last year.’ Yes, they’re good, they have a history, but I like our chances. We just have to go out and perform, play the way we’re capable of playing.”

Brines, who has close to 650 career wins, has an experienced squad  with senior outside hitter Morgan Briggs, junior setter Ali Finch, junior middle hitter Kylie Christensen and sophomore outside hitter Gabby Kapuscinski among the key returnees from last year.

Brines is hoping that experience will pay dividends in helping her players deal with the pressure.

Briggs thinks it will.

 “We hold ourselves to a high standard so pressure is a good thing, in my point of view,” she said.

Briggs, who will play at Lake Erie College next season, leads the team in kills and also plays the middle on serve-receive. It’s her passing in that role that often starts the offense.

Finch, meanwhile, is the main distributor, although she can put it down, too.

“She jumps sets,” Brines said. “She’s 6-foot and really attacks the ball. The defenders are never sure if she's going up to hit or set – and where she’s setting to.”

Christensen is second to Briggs in kills.

Seniors Gabby Hoaglund (middle hitter), Hanna Liptak (libero), Nicole Kleinsorge (defensive specialist) and Megan Alworden (defensive specialist) and junior Liz Pyles (right side hitter) round out the rotation.

The Vikings, who are 45-4, shared the Big North Conference title with Traverse City West, which competes in the Class A Quarterfinals tonight. The two teams split matches during the season. Cadillac’s only other losses are to Grand Rapids Christian, another Class A quarterfinalist, Temperance-Bedford and Mount Morris.

“We played more tournaments downstate, played some harder teams, and I think we made a name (statewide) for ourselves,” Briggs said.

Cadillac already had that name recognition in the north. It's been fostered by years of success with the tradition carried on by this year's team.

In its last three matches, Cadillac beat Kingsley in the District Final and swept Big Rapids and Houghton in the Regional.

"They play really good defense,” Kingsley coach Dave Hall said. “And they don't make mistakes, they don’t beat themselves. They put a ton of pressure on you by just keeping the ball in play. They keep coming at you and don't give you points.

“I don't think anyone scored more than 13 on them in the Regional,” he added. “I felt pretty good we got to 22 and 15 in two of the games.”

Brines credits several factors for Cadillac’s continued success – introducing girls to volleyball as early as second grade, continuity in the coaching staff, and dedicated players who put the work in during the offseason.

“I’m fortunate that my players are willing to put extra time in during the summer because they play other sports, too,” she said. “I try to be realistic because I don't want to dominate their time. We have a lot of two- and three-sport athletes.”

Playing multiple sports keeps some of the girls out of club volleyball during the offseason, but Brines is fine with it.

“Our school needs our kids (to play multiple sports),” she said. “I’m a firm believer in that. I feel that every sport they play makes them better on my team, and playing on my team makes them better in other sports.”

Repeated success in volleyball helps generate enthusiasm for the program throughout the school – even at the elementary level, where high school players coach and mentor girls in a winter program for grades 2-6.

“We used to start (girls) in fourth grade,” Brines said. “But they play basketball that young (second and third grade) so why not volleyball? We like to get them introduced to it because it's not (a sport) that most kids play outside at home like basketball.”

Briggs is one of those players who became hooked on the sport early. Then again, there were family ties. Her older sister, Taylor, played. Taylor went on to become a floor captain and all-state player, graduating in 2012. Now Morgan is following in her footsteps.

There’s one thing Morgan Briggs is hoping to change, though. Taylor’s last game was a Quarterfinal loss to eventual Class B champion Fruitport in 2011. Morgan would like to extend her senior season a little longer than that.

“We always focus on one game at a time – we don't look (past) anybody – but our goal is to be in the Final Four and make it to Saturday,” she said.

If it doesn’t happen, however, Briggs said she feels fortunate to be part of this team.

“No matter if we win or lose, I have the best girls I could ask for (as teammates),” she said. “They have the same mentality to win as I do. I'm really lucky that I can go through this playing next to my best friends.”

Dennis Chase worked 32 years as a sportswriter at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, including as sports editor from 2000-14. 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) Kylie Christensen (10) and Morgan Briggs put up a block during a match this season. (Middle) Ali Finch (5) sets as Christensen prepares to hit. (Photos by Susan Baker.) 

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.)