Gabriel Richard Makes Name, Earns Renown

By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half

October 22, 2015

By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half

ANN ARBOR – It was early in the volleyball season when Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard went to the Novi Invitational as the only Class B team in a talent-rich tournament full of highly-ranked Class A teams.

“We really hadn’t made a name for ourselves yet,” Fighting Irish junior setter Emma Nowak said, “and I don’t think any of us expected to win it because we knew of the talent on the other teams that were there.”

Gabriel Richard pulled off the shocker, winning all six matches without losing a set. Among the victims was host Novi, the top-ranked team in Class A then and also in the latest ranking.

Gabriel Richard had made a name for itself: Novi tournament champion. The Fighting Irish added more names as the season progressed: No. 1-ranked team in Class B and only undefeated team remaining in the state.

However, at 33-0, the name that everyone at Gabriel Richard wants is Class B champion, something the Fighting Irish have not done in volleyball since winning the 1991 Class D title. But nobody expects it to be easy.

“I think there are a lot of expectations of us to go to states and win, and I would be upset if we didn’t get that far,” senior middle blocker Sydney Burton said, “but I would still be happy that we got this far without losing after beating some of the best Class A schools.”

Turning point

Gabriel Richard has not been a perennial power statewide in volleyball until recently. The Fighting Irish took a huge step forward last year when it won its first Class B Regional title since 1994, and the fashion in which they did it made it all the more impressive.

In the Regional Semifinal, Gabriel Richard defeated New Boston Huron, which had eliminated the Fighting Irish rather easily at the Novi Invitational two months earlier. Then, Gabriel Richard had to face Chelsea, which had easily defeated the Fighting Irish three times earlier in the season.

The run ended in the MHSAA Quarterfinals, but the performance in the Regional certainly was a turning point for the program.

“I would say the Regional was a key,” Gabriel Richard coach Mayssa Bazzi said. “It was a tremendous confidence-builder, but not having been to the state tournament before, last year the girls seemed a little shell-shocked.

“I don’t think we performed, but I do think the Regional definitely was a kick start to this year.”

Something to build on

Although Gabriel Richard had its best season since 1994 last year, Bazzi felt the team had underachieved.

“I believed we had this talent last year,” she said. “We saw the level of talent on the team, and we felt at times they were underachieving.

“It’s just a matter of this year we have the confidence to make it happen.”

The only real way to gain confidence is by being successful, and everything came together at Novi on Sept. 12. Nineteen Class A teams and one Class B team does not offer much hope for the lone Class B competitor.

“It was a tournament we went into believing we would do well,” Bazzi said. “This was our third year going, and every year we did a little better. We made it to the Gold playoffs every year but got knocked out in the first round, and this year something happened to the girls in the playoffs.”

In pool play, Gabriel Richard defeated Livonia Stevenson, Clarkston and Canton in straight sets, earning a match with strong Birmingham Seaholm in the quarterfinals. The Fighting Irish advanced with a 25-14, 26-24-victory.

“None of us expected to win it, but once we won our three pool play games and we beat Seaholm in our first bracket-play game, we had belief that we could win,” Nowak said.

That set up a match with top-ranked Novi, the Class A runner-up in 2014, and Gabriel Richard had little trouble in a 25-16, 25-15 victory. Lake Orion, another highly-ranked team, was next in the championship match, and the Fighting Irish scored a 25-22, 25-21 victory.

At that point, the season changed dramatically.

“I did not think that we were going to win because they were all Class A schools, and we’re a Class B school,” senior defensive specialist Sarah Brooks said. “But once we won, I was like, ‘This team is going to go really far together.’ ”

Senior leadership

The recipe for success – at least according to some of the players – is almost as simple as they have made the season appear. A close, tight team with solid senior leadership has provided an atmosphere for the players to realize their potential.

“We all come from different backgrounds,” senior libero Rachel Dunlavy said. “My freshmen and sophomore year, I felt like the varsity team had a lot of cliques on the team – the team was really divided – and last year and this year we’ve had a lot of team unity, and I think that’s because some of the captains we’ve had have tried to bring that together.”

Senior Emily Tanski, the team’s top performer and one of 10 finalists for Miss Volleyball in Michigan, had similar feelings.

“Our closeness is the key,” she said. “We’re able to take each other’s constructive criticism, and also, in the halls in school we’re all like, ‘This is our family,’ and we don’t leave people out.

“The new sophomores on the team are part of us now, and we’re shaping them to be how we want them to be when the seniors are gone.”

Tanski is one of three Gabriel Richard players headed east to play on the collegiate level. She has agreed to play at the University of New Hampshire, while Burton is headed for Northwest Missouri State and Dunlavy is bound for Stonehill College in Massachusetts.

Tanski is a three-time Class B all-state selection while at Gabriel Richard, making first-team last year after being a third-team selection as a sophomore and earning honorable mention as a freshman.

“She is easily our best all-around player,” Bazzi said. “She brings the experience of having played at a high level for a long time. I know the girls look at her as a leader, and she has a calming effect on the team.

“As long as we get that great pass, and Emily gets set up, she is hitting close to .400 this season.”

Missing piece

Last year, Gabriel Richard had a pressing issue: It did not have a setter in place to take over for its setter who had graduated in 2014. So Bazzi turned to Nowak, who had never been a setter during her short playing career.

It was a gamble in more ways than one.

“We needed somebody desperately,” Bazzi said. “I just looked at the girls who were in the program and felt she was one of our best athletes, and I said, ‘You either learn to set and you will get playing time, or you can continue to fight for a hitting position, and you might find yourself on the bench a lot.’

“She’s a kid who wants to be on the court and will be upset if she’s not on the court, but there was a little bit of resistance.”

Nowak said the resistance was more a concern that she would not be able to do the job effectively.

“My initial reaction was, ‘I don’t know how I will do at this position but the team needs a setter and I want to play, so if the team needs a setter, I’ll be the setter,’ ” Nowak said.

And now, she is successful and happy as the team setter.

“It’s really nice to have a part in every play in the game,” she said. “I love it.”

And it helps to have players like Tanski and junior Jurnee Tipton – a potential Miss Volleyball nominee in 2016, according to Bazzi – ready to turn those sets into kills.

“It’s amazing,” Nowak said. “Even if I struggle some games with my sets, they’re just all so talented that they make up for it. They’re awesome.”

Targeted team

Being the lone undefeated team in the state comes with some challenges. One of them is facing the other team’s “A” game every night. It is something very real for the Fighting Irish and something they had not experienced in previous seasons.

“At the Novi tournament, I felt like a lot of teams didn’t expect us to come out that strong, so we kind of took them by surprise,” Burton said.

That all changed last weekend in the strong Beast of the East tournament, which Gabriel Richard won by again beating some of the top Class A teams in the state.

“At Beast of the East, I felt like we had a big target on our back,” Burton said.

The Beast of the East was more grueling than Novi as the Fighting Irish had to play 17 sets over a 12-hour span. On the way to winning the championship, the Fighting Irish knocked off rated teams like Birmingham Seaholm, Lake Orion and Grand Rapids Christian. And, unlike the Novi tournament, Gabriel Richard had to rally to win some matches after losing the first set in a best-of-three.

Bazzi said those tough matches will prove beneficial to her team down the road.

“It was more difficult than Novi, but the girls got it done,” she said. “We had some teams that really pushed us, and we needed it. We played three teams where we dropped the first set, and tournaments it’s best of three. Our team, maybe for the fourth time this season, came back from a major deficit to win.

“I believe these tight matches will give us what we need to help us make it to where we should.”

In the championship match against Grand Rapids Christian, the Fighting Irish squeezed out a pair of two-point victories to win the sets.

“We had played a lot of matches, and it was late,” Tanski said. “I think how we played in that last game, strong and hard, and how we continued to play that way was something I will remember.

“That final match was an emotional battle, and that will stick with me.”

Wednesday night, Gabriel Richard earned a spot in the championship match of the Detroit Catholic High School League. The Fighting Irish will play Pontiac Notre Dame Prep on Monday at Madonna University.

It is a chance to add another name to the growing list.

“I think we have the total package,” Bazzi said. “Our defense is great, but I would not say we have the best defense in the state. Our setter works her tail off, but she’s not the best setter. I would say she’s in the top 10 setters in the state.

“We have hitters who are great, Emily and Jurnee. They are our main go-to hitters, but we have other girls in our front line who help take the pressure off of them.”

Bazzi and her assistant coach, Ashley Williams, said as great as this season has been, working with the players has been even greater. And they know something about team togetherness: They were teammates while playing at Wayne State University more than 10 years ago.

“The wins are awesome, but they’re just great girls,” Bazzi said. “They’re wholesome, smart, loving, great, great kids, great teammates, very respectful. They have fun on the court. The girls are good girls.”

They also are unbeaten girls. Top-ranked girls. Tournament championship girls.

Yes, they certainly have made names for themselves. And they are hoping to add the biggest one of all: Class B state championship girls.

Chip Mundy served as sports editor at the Brooklyn Exponent and Albion Recorder from 1980-86, and then as a reporter and later copy editor at the Jackson Citizen-Patriot from 1986-2011. He also co-authored Michigan Sports Trivia. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard volleyball players celebrate during a match earlier this season. (Middle) Sydney Burton (11) and Jurnee Tipton put up a block against Farmington Hills Mercy. (Middle below) Emily Tanski drives a kill past two Mercy blockers. (Below) Gabriel Richard's varsity line-up. (Photos and video below courtesy of Gabriel Richard volleyball.) 

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.)