Despite Sad End, Christian Savors Run

November 16, 2017

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

GRAND RAPIDS – The Grand Rapids Christian volleyball team entered Tuesday night on the heels of an emotional high after upsetting top-ranked Rockford four days earlier in the Regional Final.

But the Eagles were unable to sustain it and saw their season come to a disappointing close with a 3-0 (25-22, 25-22, 26-24) loss to No. 4 DeWitt in a MHSAA Class A Quarterfinal.

“We talked about how coming off such a big win on Thursday can sometimes be difficult and to stay up for the next match,” Grand Rapids Christian coach Tiffannie Gates said. “We addressed it, we talked about it, but I still feel that’s what happened. I don’t think that was the whole thing, but I think it was part of it.”

The defeat ended the Eagles’ hopes of a second trip to the MHSAA Semifinals in the last three years, while also ending the on-court mother-daughter career of Gates and her oldest daughter, Maddy.

Maddy Gates played four years on the varsity with her mother at the helm.

“We got along this season like we’ve never gotten along before, and it was definitely a bonding experience for both of us,” said Maddy Gates, who’s headed to Division I Purdue University-Fort Wayne to play volleyball next fall.

“Knowing that I will never play on a high school team again with her made it pretty hard (Tuesday) night as well, but it was good. We have a lot of memories from this season, and I really appreciate everything she did for me this year.”

Tiffannie Gates has coached her daughter off and on since Maddy was 10. That made the last match an emotional one.

“It was really hard because she really thought we were going to go all the way this year, and to see her kind of devastated was pretty heart-breaking,” Tiffannie Gates said. “But it was neat that we got as far as we did and had that extra time together in the gym – and also to experience that fun win on Thursday.

“Coaching your own daughter is hard, but it’s worth it – to have those moments together and to be able to spend so much time with her her senior year before she goes away to college soon.”

Tiffanie Gates actually had the opportunity to coach both her daughters for the first time. Jordyn Gates was a sophomore setter for an Eagles’ squad that went 43-7 and won the Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold crown with a perfect 12-0 mark.

“It was awesome to be able to coach both of them,” Tiffannie Gates said. “I was a little nervous having them both fighting, but there was minimal fighting and it was really fun to enjoy the success of the team together and to see them interact with their teammates. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.”

The trio were a part of an instant classic that helped the Eagles reach the Quarterfinals.

Grand Rapids Christian pulled out a thrilling five-set victory over top-ranked Rockford, a team the Eagles lost to twice during the regular season.

“We just came out with nothing to lose and with the mindset of playing our best volleyball,” Tiffannie Gates said. “They did that, and it was a phenomenal match. It went five (games) and it was 19-17 in the fifth.

“It was super intense and I had literally 10 people tell me that it was the best, not only volleyball match, but high school sporting event they’ve ever been to. It was so fun, and you felt bad that anybody had to lose because the girls on both sides just fought to so hard.”

Maddy Gates said the victory was the highlight of her season.

“We had a lot of good wins this season, but that was probably the best because going into it, technically, we were not supposed to win considering the rankings but we played with so much heart and passion,” she said. “We would’ve done anything to win that game, so pulling it out and winning that was huge for us.”

Maddy Gates, and fellow seniors Anna May, Elizabeth Schierbeek and Emily Seven, helped lead a relatively young team that also featured junior Maria Bos and freshman Addie VanderWeide.

The Eagles lost their District opener to East Grand Rapids in 2016, but vowed not to look past anyone this time around.

“I think our seniors were diligent in making sure our team focused on each match and one point at a time,” Tiffannie Gates said. “They learned from last year.”

The success of the season made the Eagles’ last loss that much harder to swallow.

“It was pretty difficult for me, and not just because I’m a senior, but because the team chemistry was so amazing,” Maddy Gates said. “Having to say good-bye to all the girls and knowing it was our last time playing together was really tough. I think they caught us on a bad night, and I’m still wrapping my head around what happened, but it was definitely a learning experience.”

Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM and WOODTV. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) From left: Anna May, Olivia Nedd, Jordyn Gates, Maddy Gates and Maria Bos ready for the start of play as Addie VanderWeide serves against Rockford in the Regional Final. (Middle) Gates serves during Saturday’s match. (Photos courtesy of the Grand Rapids Christian volleyball program.)

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.)