'Hot Hand' Helps Romeo Land Class A Title

November 22, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

BATTLE CREEK – Romeo volleyball coach Stacy Williams didn’t feel comfortable Saturday until her team needed only one more point to win the MHSAA Class A Final.

That made sense for a couple of reasons.

At that point in the fifth set, Romeo led Novi by five points. That was much more comfortable than when the Bulldogs were falling in the third and fourth games after winning the first two.

But the most sizable reason for her brief moment of relief was 6-foot-1 junior Gia Milana – the “hot hand” and talk of this season’s Finals at Kellogg Arena.

Like she had 28 times already, Milana rocketed one final kill to give Romeo its first MHSAA championship since 1997 with a 25-23, 25-22, 14-25, 25-27, 15-9 victory.

The Bulldogs entered the weekend with five hitters tallying at least 147 kills this season and talked of a plan to spread the attack. But Milana had 19 kills in a three-set Semifinal win over top-ranked Temperance Bedford, and her 29 Saturday tied for sixth-most in MHSAA Finals history since the start of rally scoring in 2004-05.

“The plan from the beginning was to spread the ball out like usual. We like covering our middles, confusing their blocks, but today it was feed the hot hand,” Milana said. “The hot hand wins.

“I wanted (the ball) to go to whoever would put it away, because all I wanted was to win. But feed the hot hand. That’s what (setter) Lauren (Korth) did, and we got it done.”

Romeo (45-8-1) took those final steps this season after making the Quarterfinals in 2013. Friday’s Semifinal was the team’s first since 1999; the Bulldogs entered the tournament ranked No. 8 but dispatched the No. 1 Kicking Mules 25-14, 25-23, 25-9.

Novi – playing in its first championship match – was No. 2 at the start of the postseason and had beaten Romeo in a tournament final during the regular season – although Romeo didn’t have a full lineup for that event. The Wildcats finished 54-6-1 after making the Semifinals for the second time in program history.

Milana had six kills in the final set, her second-most of the five although the fifth is played to only 15 points.

She had only two as Romeo, leading 2-0, dropped the third set to Novi, which then won the fourth despite 11 Milana kills.

That had to be a good sign for Novi, which also had dropped the first two sets in its Semifinal win over Grand Haven on Friday before coming all the way back.

“We played pretty disciplined defense. We’d done our scouting. We had shot charts where she likes the ball,” Novi coach Jennifer Cottrill said of Milana. “She just hit the ball so high, and our biggest player is 5-9ish, 5-10 maybe. She’s just hitting the ball over the block, and it wasn’t just her. That team passes well and sets her the ball where she needs it.”

Novi’s comeback came in part on the arm of junior Victoria Iacobelli, who had six of her team-high 19 kills during the third and fourth sets, and the defense of senior libero Jordan Massab, who had nine of her game-high 23 digs in those games.

With three kills by Milana, Romeo opened the fifth set up 7-2. Novi pulled to within two of the lead at 8-6, but two more Milana kills and four Novi errors turned into the Bulldogs’ closing 7-3 run.

“The balls didn’t drop. Ones we though we were going to score on, they picked those balls up,” Williams said of the third and fourth games. “What we lost in the third and fourth games was that first touch, the first ball, but that last game we really started passing the ball and getting it to our hitters.”

Korth, a senior, had 43 assists to go with 11 kills, 12 digs and five blocks for Romeo. Sophomore Jodie Kelly added 13 kills and 11 digs.

Junior Paulina Iacobelli and sophomore Alyssa Cummings both added 14 kills for Novi, and freshman Erin O’Leary’s 47 assists tied for seventh most in Finals history during the rally scoring era. 

With so many key contributors on both sides expected to return, it would fair to anticipate these teams meeting in Battle Creek again in 2015.

“We have a lot of young players touching the ball a lot,” Cottrill said. “Just having this experience of being here and knowing what to expect will definitely help us. 

Click for full statistics.

PHOTOS: (Top) A pair of Romeo blockers wall off a Novi kill attempt during Saturday’s Class A Final against Novi. (Middle) Novi setter Erin O’Leary passes to a teammate. (Click for action photos and team photos from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.) 


NOVI IMPRESSES - Novi turned the tables in the third set against Romeo, winning in impressive style. Alyssa Cummings smashes the ball for the set point.
MILANA BRINGS IT HOME - Romeo captured the Class A crown in five sets over Novi, the winner coming on this kill by Gia Milana.
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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.)