'Corunna' on her Back, Norris Lifts Cavs

November 3, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

CORUNNA – Meredith Norris has traveled all over the United States thanks to her ability to crush a volleyball and stop opponents from doing the same.

The Corunna junior already knows her college destination, a Big Ten university a few exits down the highway. She’s had a taste of international competition, and is drawing closer to challenging for a spot on the U.S. youth national team.

But home is never far away from the 6-foot-3 outside hitter’s heart.

Her successes took root during afternoons as a ball girl dodging spikes during high school practices coached by her mom, while growing up in this town of 3,500 that her Detroit-area club teammates think is either in Alaska because it’s so far away or Nebraska because of the surrounding rural landscape.

Those who follow volleyball have figured out where Corunna is located. And those who know Norris understand why, despite all she’s accomplished on volleyball courts nearly coast to coast, this month’s opportunity to lead the Cavaliers to unprecedented heights carries so much importance.

“I like to represent my town doing all of these big things,” Norris said. “I like to put Corunna on my back.”

And she literally does – “Corunna” is spelled across the back of her and her teammates’ jerseys.

The Cavaliers will face host Flint Powers Catholic in a Class B District Semifinal on Thursday. Corunna is seeking its third straight District title against a field that also includes familiar league foes Goodrich and Lake Fenton. And if the Cavs succeed this week, they’ll have another shot at history – a first Regional championship.

There certainly are expectations.

Norris is considered by many to be the state’s top junior, an MHSAA record holder after drilling 53 kills in a five-set District Final win over Goodrich last fall who passed 2,000 career kills this season and should next fall become only the second player in MHSAA history to total 3,000. Norris has 757 kills this season and 2,208 over three – with five more kills she’ll move to eighth on the career kills list.

She’s also played plenty of high-pressure matches. Norris competed as one of 33 invitees at this summer’s USA Volleyball girls youth A1 national training team program, the final step before competing for one of 12 spots on the youth national team. As part of A1, she traveled to Iowa in July for five days of training followed by five more of competition at the USA Volleyball High Performance Championships. She made the top U.S. team at the camp, and with teammates from all over the country faced a field that included teams from Canada, New Zealand and the Dominican Republic.

That was just the most recent of travels that have taken her all over the country for additional USA Volleyball training, club tournaments and college visits.

But in the end, she’s always come home to the court she’s made a second home most of her life.

Home on the hardwood

Meredith’s mother, Nikki Norris, is Corunna’s athletic director and also served as its volleyball coach from 1999-2002 and again from 2006-09. From ages 5 to nearly 12, Meredith spent in-season afternoons after school at her mom’s practices.

“It’s weird to think about, because if I didn’t grow up in the gym with her being the coach, I don’t know if this is what I’d still be doing,” Meredith Norris said. “If she was the basketball coach, would I be doing all of this stuff in basketball? Would I even be playing volleyball? So her being the one to introduce me to volleyball is the reason I’m in it. She introduced me to it, made me fall in love with it.”

Meredith was born with ingredients for athletic prowess. He dad, Dr. Robert Norris, is 6-foot-9 and played basketball at Alma College – and Meredith grew to 6-foot by eighth grade. Nikki competed in track and field at Alma – and Meredith’s athleticism crosses over to both of her parents’ college sports. She played on the varsity basketball team as a freshman (she since has given that sport up) and made the MHSAA Finals in high jump last spring while also throwing discus and running an occasional race. 

Nikki, although she didn’t play volleyball at the college level, joined Alma College’s coaching staff for that sport as an assistant right after graduation, and later coached at Carson City-Crystal before taking over at Corunna. Meredith learned fundamentals attending her mom’s youth camps and training sessions for the high schoolers. She picked up an advanced understanding of the game watching all of those practices and then every Corunna home match from the bench, and MSU matches later on.

She talks about playing “efficiently,” which seems advanced as well as she explains, “I as a player think smarter, not harder.”

But there was a point during middle school when Meredith would analyze situations too much, which led her to be timid instead of attacking with her natural abilities – and led to her mom stepping in to light a fire.

“I remember we were in the car, and I told her, ‘When the game is on the line, the winner wants the ball. What’s it going to be?” Nikki Norris recalled. “She’d heard me tell teams that I wanted them to go down swinging.

“She figured out that to be successful at this, (she's) got to be the one who steps up and takes the big swing.”  

'You’ve got to have a good teacher from the start.'

Norris could have been saying that to explain her mom’s influence, or those of middle school club coaches who helped hone her skills early on. Or what she’s tried to be to her teammates, sharing her various experiences with girls she’s known since first grade.

“She has so much volleyball knowledge that she brings to this team,” Corunna coach Kari Carnell said. "She has experienced high-level volleyball, and she knows the ins and out of the game. It’s easy for her to give a teammate a tip or some advice in the moment.”

Most of the time, Norris passes on little things she’s picked up during her variety of experiences – maybe a tip on a shot or an opponent's tendency she's spotted. Carnell said Norris reads things so well on the court that she can make adjustments for herself and her teammates, who are receptive and appreciative of the advice.

Norris isn’t the only player with experience, of course – senior setter Skylar Napier owns the school record for career assists – and together they’ve led the Cavs to a Class B honorable mention and 34-11-5 record heading into this week. 

Norris also carries a 3.9 grade-point average and is interested in studying kinesiology, and might follow her dad into medicine (he’s the team physician for MSU’s volleyball, hockey and baseball teams.).

But seeing the impact she’s had on her high school teammates, it wouldn’t be tough to imagine Meredith following her mom into some coaching as well.

“It means a lot because I know that I’m making my teammates better,” Norris said. “They’re choosing to play high school volleyball, and if they enjoy it and if they’re learning throughout the season, and if I’m doing that, that makes me really proud that I’m teaching them and they’re liking it and they’re understanding what they’re doing.

“And if they make a mistake, they understand what they made and how to fix it. I think it’s really cool.”

Geoff Kimmerly joined the MHSAA as its Media & Content Coordinator in Sept. 2011 after 12 years as Prep Sports Editor of the Lansing State Journal. He has served as Editor of Second Half since its creation in Jan. 2012. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for the Barry, Eaton, Ingham, Livingston, Ionia, Clinton, Shiawassee, Gratiot, Isabella, Clare and Montcalm counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Corunna's Meredith Norris attempts a kill earlier this season. (Middle) Norris, left, and a teammate go for a block, their jerseys showing "Corunna" across their backs. (Below) Norris (3) poses with her teammates after the Fowlerville Invitational. (Photos courtesy of Corunna High School.)

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.)