Eye of a Tiger, Will of a Champion

November 6, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The game was supposed to be fun with a little competition mixed in. That’s the general idea behind students vs. staff volleyball games like the one Vicky Groat stopped to watch during Battle Creek’s Catholic Schools week a few years ago.

But the tallest girl on the court, eighth-grader Amanda McKinzie, showed a little something extra that day – a desire the seven-time MHSAA champion coach continues to admire.

"There were some other kids in her class that were playing that were volleyball players, but (I thought) ‘She’s got it,’” Groat remembered last week. “She understands the game. She knows it’s joking around. But there’s that serious side to her, that competitive side. That’s cool.

 “I remember sitting back (later), standing there going, that’s the competitive drive that I saw in her in eighth grade. Hopefully that continues for years to come.”

The 6-foot outside hitter enters the final two weeks of her high school career tonight ranking among the MHSAA all-time leaders in kills and aces, and as one of 10 candidates for this season’s Miss Volleyball Award handed out by the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association. The Second Half High 5 recipient this week has helped the Tigers to the last three Class D championships and is a big part why they are considered the state’s best team in any class as they pursue one more title before she heads off next season to Virginia Tech.

That’s a mouthful. But this is a season – and career – that McKinzie began preparing for in first grade.

Like most girls who come through the Tigers’ program, that’s when McKinzie first became part of the St. Phil volleyball family. The eventual stars start early and follow the varsity growing up, attending MHSAA Finals and having their shirts autographed by the players they look up to and someday might replace.

By her admission, McKinzie looked up to everyone who played on those teams – although it was hard for the emerging hitter to not pay special attention to Allison Doyle, who graduated from St. Phil in 2006 and went on to an All-America career at Western Michigan.

The game that sticks out most was Doyle’s last, a five-set loss to eventual Miss Volleyball Alisha Glass and Leland in the 2006 Class D Final. St. Phil has won every Class D title since.

“I just remember that game, how crazy it was,” McKinzie said. “I never really thought, ‘Wow, some day that’s going to be me.’”

But Groat had an idea. She’d watched McKinzie during summer camps and as the junior high athletic director, and brought the then 5-9 hitter up to varsity as a freshman. McKinzie was a little erratic at that point – “I’d have games where I’d hit one out, get frustrated and keep swinging harder and it would not go where I wanted it to,” she said – but has turned into a kill machine.

She’s connecting on 49 percent of her kill attempts for the second straight season – a far cry from her 22 percent efficiency as a freshman – and is approaching her best season of 699 kills. She already has posted career highs of 429 digs, 41 blocks and 130 aces.

And it’s not like she’s built her numbers against meager competition. No small-school team in any sport takes on the biggest powers like the Tigers do each fall. They are 68-2-1, with those losses coming during the second weekend of the season to Class A No. 9 Livonia Churchill and then two weeks ago to Class A No. 1 Richland Gull Lake after St. Phil had beaten the Blue Devils the week before. The tie came against Class B No. 6 Wayland.  

McKinzie also played basketball through her sophomore season, and started, before focusing solely on volleyball. The drive to win that Groat noticed long ago stretches into just about everything, even “the little things.” McKinzie joked that she’d like to win more at ping-pong – but then explained, ‘No, I’m pretty good at that too.”

That scenario mentioned by McKinzie above – the shots sailing beyond her control – still happens sometimes. But she’s learned control. She’s tough to stop because she’s so powerful. Groat said “she’s kinda mean” before laughing immediately. But the confidence McKinzie has built over the last four seasons is obvious every time she takes the floor.

“I just feel it. I kinda get nervous in a way, a nervous exciting feeling,” McKinzie said. “That’s my favorite way to play.”

PHOTO: Battle Creek’s St. Philip’s Amanda McKinzie blocks a hit during last season’s Class D Semifinals at Kellogg Arena.

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.)