Covenant Christian Stands Tall in Class C

November 23, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

BATTLE CREEK – Denise Uittenbogaard felt all season she had a special team. But not until Grand Rapids Covenant Christian eliminated No. 2 Morley-Stanwood in the Regional Final did the Chargers’ coach begin to understand what could be accomplished.

Next fell No. 4 Unionville-Sebewaing in the Quarterfinal. Then top-ranked Mendon took only one game before succumbing to Covenant Christian in Friday’s Semifinal.

By the time Uittenbogaard and her players reached Saturday’s championship game against No. 3 Beal City, the No. 8 Chargers were used to playing – and beating Class C’s best.

And after dispatching the rest, Covenant Christian finished Saturday standing alone with the champion’s trophy. The Chargers finished their first trip to Finals weekend with a history-making four-set win over the Aggies – 25-21, 25-16, 21-25, 25-17.

“We did it. I don’t know how. We weren’t supposed to win. And we came in and we did,” Covenant Christian senior Alyssa Scholten said. “Our coach is like, ‘They are the same age as you. They play the same game as you. What are you afraid of? Go in and take it. It’s yours to take.’

“We took it.”

Covenant Christian finished 47-9 after entering the tournament coming off a pair of late losses to Class B Finalist Grand Rapids South Christian and Class A honorable mention Grand Rapids Christian – but with an imposing front line prepared to dominate after surviving a competitive regular season slate.

The 6-foot-2 Scholten had at least three inches on every one of Beal City’s players Saturday and finished with 13 kills and eight blocks – the latter tying an MHSAA Finals rally-scoring era record.

Alongside her, 5-10 senior Shelby Lubbers also had 13 kills and 5-9 senior Cailey DeJong and 5-9 sophomore Makenzie Engelsma added eight and six, respectively.

The Aggies did lead the first set 21-18 at one point and the second set 11-10 before winning the third. And they had an all-state hitter as well in 5-10 Addie Schumacher, who finished with 15 kills and five blocks.

But together, the Chargers were just too strong at the net, with Lubbers getting four of her kills during the fourth set including the final on a cross-court smash.

“We had some crucial blocks to stop their offense; I think that was the key of the third game,” Beal City coach Kelly David said. “But they found a way around our block, and that was tough on our defense.”

“These girls have an amazing sense of determination. They encourage each other, motivate each other to play hard, practice hard, and that’s what got us here,” Uittenbogaard said. “That third game we had a little breakdown. We had to relax a little bit. ... (And) when it came down to it, they came out in that fourth game and they were not going to go home without this trophy.”

Covenant Christian took its first few minutes at Kellogg Arena this weekend to soak in the atmosphere for the first time. Beal City was in similar position only a season ago, when it made its first MHSAA Final before losing to Battle Creek St. Philip in Class D.

Whether in Class C again or back in D, the Aggies could be headed back to Battle Creek in 2014. Senior Melanie Schafer added 17 digs and six kills Saturday. But she and Schumacher are two of only four seniors on a team that finished 56-4-1.

Junior setter Jenna Theisen had 26 assists, junior hitter Jordan Schneider had seven kills and four blocks, and junior hitter Nicole Gross also had six kills.

“I just think they weren’t satisfied with last year, so they really wanted to come in this year and win the state championship,” David said. “We fell a little bit short. But they gave it all they had, and I’m proud of the way they played.”

Click for full statistics.

PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids Covenant Christian players celebrate after clinching their first MHSAA championship. (Middle) Covenant Christian’s Shelby Lubbers reaches over the net to block Beal City’s Jenna Theisen (10). (Below) Theisen and Addie Schumacher (8) block a Chargers kill attempt.

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.)