'Coach' Never Far from Marysville Title Dreams

December 12, 2011

2011 Volleyball Finals Previews

The same dreams have made their way around the Marysville volleyball team the last two months.

A player woke up in the middle of the night saying “Coach, Coach,” thinking she’d heard the voice of John Knuth.

Another woke up stretched out like she was about to block a spike, perhaps responding to one of his commands from the bench.

The longtime Marysville coach has been on his players’ minds for obvious reasons since leaving the Oct. 1 Mount Morris Invitational in an ambulance after suffering a heart attack.

Although recovering now, he hasn’t returned to the team and won’t for this weekend’s MHSAA Finals – the first championship weekend appearance for the storied Vikings program since 2006. But that doesn’t mean Knuth won’t have a presence at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena.

“It’s actually funny. The first couple weeks of practice after he was gone, if I screwed something up and I was thinking I was doing something wrong, instead of hearing my voice say it (in my head), I would hear his voice,” Marysville senior Haylee Booms said. “We became attuned to his voice.”

Class A and D Semifinals were played Thursday, with B and C tonight. Marysville (49-9-4) faces Tecumseh in their Semifinal at 7:15 p.m.

Leading the Vikings will be first-year coach Kristen Michaelis, a former Marysville and U.S. national team standout who took over the program this fall as a co-coach with Knuth – who entered the fall third in MHSAA volleyball history with 1,135 wins, a .935 winning percentage and nine MHSAA championships.

Although Knuth had previously stopped coaching the team after the 2006-07 season, these players certainly knew the significance of an opportunity to play for him. “Him telling me I did a good job, it’s just a dream come true because you know if it’s coming from him, you’ve done good,” Booms said.

Knuth and Michaelis replaced Paul Levandowski, who coached from 2007-10, and the plan was for Knuth to take the lead role early and progressively transfer responsibilities to his former middle hitter before retiring from coaching completely after the season. 

Michaelis didn’t expect to take full control so suddenly. Knuth said he didn’t feel well after that first match at Mount Morris, and then didn’t return to the floor the rest of the tournament. He left for the hospital, and although the players sensed something was up, Michaelis didn’t tell them what until after the last match of the day. The team came together for a tearful group hug.

“Obviously, it was hard for the girls to deal with, but I told them we’d all work through this together. He’s on our minds, but he would want us to push forward and have successful season,” Michaelis said. “I knew my role would have to increase. I would not just be a coach, but kind of a mentor for the girls. They are pretty big shoes to fill.”

So far, so good.

The Vikings dropped their first match after Knuth was hospitalized, three days later against Macomb Area Conference Red foe Macomb Dakota. But they bounced back to sweep the rest of their league opponents 3-0 and claim the conference championship. Marysville didn’t give up a game in the District or Regional before falling in the first against Frankenmuth – and then coming back to win the next three.

Michaelis had been a Marysville assistant the last two seasons, and played on the 1997-2000 Marysville teams that won the first of eight straight MHSAA titles. But she brought a variety of experiences back into the program – she went on to earn All-America recognition for Fresno State after high school, and then helped the U.S. team to a bronze medal at the 2007 Pan American Games.

She’s incorporated her own drills and style, and Booms said the coaches bring different approaches both in relating to the players and motivating them to improve. 

“We always knew from the beginning that it was a special team. We knew what the potential was. But whatever happened, something just kinda clicked,” Michaelis said. “Maybe a little more to play for him. Our league is one of the best on the east side, and we knew none of the teams would come out of it undefeated. … We’re still thinking about Coach, but we’ve turned it into a positive thing, not a distraction.”At team dinners the players say a little prayer asking for Knuth to return to good health, and do the same before every game. Opponents and other schools from all over and have sent cards and other well wishes, and at Tuesday’s Quarterfinal at North Branch, Frankenmuth fans hung a sign amid those supporting their team that read “Muth Prays 4 Knuth.”

Michaelis keeps Knuth updated frequently, either directly or through messages to his son. Levandowski and other former players are among those who have come in to lend an extra hand at practices. The team is watching videos of Marysville’s MHSAA championship teams to see the level of intensity and focus necessary to accomplish the same.

Booms said the players have focused on playing with maturity and accepting little mistakes in order to move on and improve. That in turn might’ve helped them deal with this much larger dose of adversity.

And after Tuesday’s Quarterfinal win, they heard Knuth’s voice again – sort of, through Michaelis. She texted Knuth that the Vikings had advanced to Finals weekend, then relayed to her players his message telling them how proud they’d made him.

“As soon as it happened, we knew we had to work harder,” Booms said of Oct. 1. “This was going to make or break out season, but we were going to make our season. … We weren’t expected to make it this far. But the fact is we all wanted it, and we all believed in ourselves.

“We’re all dreaming.”

(TOP) One goal: Marysville's volleyball player join together before the start of Tuesday's Quarterfinal match against Frankenmuth at North Branch.
(Photos courtesy of Dusty Johnson.)

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.)