'Favorite' Just Fine for Monroe St Mary

November 9, 2018

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

MONROE – Karen O’Brien took the whole “rankings-don’t-matter” approach and threw it out the window this year.

And, for her Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central volleyball team, the method has worked.

SMCC took over the top spot in the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association Division 3 rankings in Week 3 after beating formerly top-ranked Bronson, the three-time reigning Class C champion.

The Kestrels appear to be thriving in the top spot.

“In my past years, when we have been ranked No. 1 or No. 2, I’ve kind of disregarded it,” said O’Brien, a veteran volleyball coach in her fourth year at SMCC. “I’d always say that it didn’t matter where we were ranked until after the season. But, this season, I took a different approach. This year, we’ve embraced being No. 1, that people are coming after us.

“We have a saying, ‘Embrace the Noise,’” she said. “The noise is people who are out to beat us. It puts a little more pressure on us, but I think we’ve responded well. Since our last loss, on September 15, we have won 25 straight matches. We haven’t lost a set during that time.”

SMCC is 44-3 on the season. The Kestrels captured multiple regular-season tournament titles, breezed through the Huron League without losing a set, won the District title and Thursday beat No. 10 Brighton Charyl Stockwell 25-15, 25-17, 25-20 for the 14th Regional championship in program history.

SMCC will move on to the Quarterfinals against fifth-ranked Manchester. Several ranked teams remain alive in the Division 3 tournament – but they are all looking up to SMCC.

“We’re looking at it like, ‘Hey, we’re glad we are No. 1. We’re ready. Give us your best,’” O’Brien said.

She said she changed approaches to the rankings because, simply, the last time the team tried to ignore being ranked No. 1 and it didn’t work.

“I’m always willing to try new things, a new approach,” she said. “If something doesn’t work, why not?”

Just about everything has been working for the Kestrels this season, starting with the right blend of four sophomores, four juniors and four seniors on the team.

“It’s a unique group,” O’Brien said. “There is a lot of unity and a good blend of personalities.”

Maddie Haut and Abby Jackson are the senior co-captains.

“Their leadership has just worked very well,” O’Brien said. “This is the closest group that I’ve had since I’ve been here. Everyone knows their role, they understand their role and they do their role well. There’s no selfishness on this team. That’s a huge part of (the success). All 12 girls know their role, and their parents know their role. There’s no drama with this group.”

Maddie Haut leads the team in blocks, followed closely by Kylie Barron. Maddie’s sister Mikayla is a sophomore with enormous potential and leads the team in kills, averaging 4.4 a set, and aces with nearly 90. Jackson averages more than 4.5 digs per set and senior Jessica Long and junior Sarah Reicker lead the team in assists.

SMCC has been able to have amazing focus all season.

“Volleyball is such a game of momentum,” O’Brien said. “Not just from set to set, but from rally to rally. We’ve been down in a set, and we’ve been able to come back. We’re pretty good at just rolling with the punches.”

O’Brien is a Livonia native and was the first female athlete in Stevenson history to earn nine varsity letters. She was a first-team all-state volleyball player in 1981 and also played basketball and competed in track & field. She played college volleyball first at Schoolcraft Community College and then at the University of Georgia. The two-time All-Southeastern Conference pick coached at Georgia for two years before moving back to Michigan and becoming an assistant coach at Michigan State University in the late 1980s.

She was the University of Toledo’s head volleyball coach for five seasons and later coached at Siena Heights University and served a couple of stints as an assistant at Eastern Michigan University. She coached the Dundee High School volleyball team for nine seasons and became head coach at SMCC in 2015.

Her and her husband, Dan, started the Teal Attack to raise money for the Michigan Ovarian Cancer Alliance after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2015. The program has raised more than $130,000 and has events at fundraisers at various Michigan high schools and colleges.

The Kestrels have won four straight District titles under O’Brien and played in the 2015 Class C Final, falling to Bronson in three sets decided by four points or fewer.

SMCC has been a state volleyball powerhouse for several years, winning championships in 2003, 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2014 and producing several college volleyball players. A handful of this year’s squad will likely move on to the next level as well, including the senior co-captains.

The Kestrels have had some spirited practices this season, O’Brien said. While the first halves of practices often begin with routine ball-handling drills and teaching technique, practices usually end with some highly-competitive drills.

“We will go after one another,” she said. “The girls are competitive. I always tell them to make the other person better because that will make the team better.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTO: Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central coach Karen O’Brien instructs her team Thursday during a timeout in its Regional Final against Brighton Charyl Stockwell. (Photo by Tom Hawley).

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.)