Class A Final Rematch Goes to Novi

November 21, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

BATTLE CREEK – Novi was plenty familiar with Romeo heading into Saturday’s Class A Final at Kellogg Arena. 

And the Wildcats had more or less memorized last season’s championship match loss to the Bulldogs. “I watched that game … a lot,” Novi senior Victoria Iacobelli said. “Too many times to count.”

But she and her teammates also were more familiar with the stage of an MHSAA Finals weekend after last year advancing for the first time since 2007. And that made all the difference in reversing last season’s result.

The top-ranked Wildcats won the first set this time and then the final two to down Romeo in four – 25-16, 20-25, 25-21, 25-17.

“Obviously last year was a new environment, so there were a lot more nerves coming in,” Iacobelli said. “So we knew this year we had to stay calm and come in with confidence, whether that meant passing well and serving well, or just playing our system and trusting the girls on our team to do what they’ve got to do. And that’s what we did.

“We started strong, and that was a large contributor … confidence.”

Understanding the significance of Saturday, aside from the obvious – Novi winning its first MHSAA title in the sport in only its third trip past the Regionals Final – requires a brief review of last season’s championship match. 

Romeo won in five sets after Novi got behind 2-0 and fought back to even. Recently-awarded Miss Volleyball Gia Milana cemented her status as favorite with 29 kills, including six in the final game.

This time, Novi won convincingly the first set before Romeo drew even winning the second. The third set was close, and at the end of the afternoon Milana again had 29 kills including a couple that simply were jaw-dropping – but by the midway point of the fourth set, it was clear Novi was surging toward the decisive finish. Wildcats juniors Ally Cummings and Emmy Robinson combined to block one final Milana attack back across the net for the final point. 

“There’s obviously a little more motivation coming in from last year. (A rematch) wasn’t necessarily on our minds through the postseason, but I know as soon as Thursday was over and Romeo was our opponent, there was a lot more motivation,” Iacobelli said.

Milana’s kills will again tie for sixth most in an MHSAA Final during the rally scoring era that began in 2004-05. But Novi senior Paulina Iacobelli also will make the list with 20, and she didn't have a hitting error. Cummings had 17 and 21 digs and Victoria Iacobelli added 13 kills and six aces.

Sophomore Erin O’Leary’s 47 assists also tied how many she had in the 2014 match – and again for eighth-most in an MHSAA Final.

Romeo entered the tournament ranked No. 6 and ended 48-8-1. Milana will graduate among the top hitters in MHSAA history with her kills this fall ranking among the top 10 for one season. Senior setter Breanna Olley added 39 assists and 15 digs.

“I’m honestly happy for them because they really deserve it,” Milana said. “We just needed to say ‘No.’ We didn’t say no; we played with them instead of at them. We didn’t go after them. We stepped back and let them take the wheel and do whatever they wanted.”

Novi finished 55-2, its only losses this season to Farmington Hills Mercy, an honorable mention in the final Class A coaches poll, and Class B champion Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard.

“I thought if we played our game that we could defeat them. But they’re teenage girls; you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get and how the nerves are going to play into it, and the emotions,” Novi coach Jennifer Cottrill said. “I was confident in our team and our ability to win, and I’m just happy that they went out and performed the way I know they can.

“That was a tough loss last year. They were just so hungry this year."

Click for a full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Novi celebrates as coach Jennifer Cottrill hoists the team’s first championship trophy in volleyball. (Middle) Romeo’s Payton Klein follows through on a kill attempt while Novi’s Kathryn Ellison puts up a block.

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.)