Kalamazoo Christian Continues to Inspire, Taking Final Step for 1st Title

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

November 18, 2023

BATTLE CREEK – The ball hadn’t stopped bouncing before the tears came for Holland DeVries.

The Kalamazoo Christian senior’s spike caromed off a Traverse City St. Francis block Saturday, spinning to the ground to end the Division 3 Volleyball Final at Kellogg Arena.

DeVries immediately turned, emotions taking over her face, and joined her teammates in a pile on the court.

“I’ve been on this team for four years, and we’ve worked so hard – I’ve been playing since sixth grade with six of these seniors,” DeVries said. “It just means so much to us, because this is all we’ve worked for since we were literally 10 years old. It just means so much.”

DeVries and the Comets defeated St. Francis 26-24, 16-25, 25-23, 25-20 to claim the first volleyball title in school history. It came a year after they were runners-up, losing in four sets against Pewamo-Westphalia.

Earlier in the week, the Comets slayed that dragon, downing the Pirates in a Quarterfinal, but they weren’t satisfied until coach Carlie Southland was handed the Finals championship trophy.

Kalamazoo Christian's Holland DeVries (5) attempts to block a kill attempt by St. Francis' Claire Hurley (9).“Especially for our seniors, we had six of them this year, and this was their last shot,” Southland said. “We made it a goal to win the state Finals, so it feels extra good to have done that. We watched a lot of film from last year and said, ‘What are the reasons that we lost?’ We watched that film, we picked out those reasons and said, ‘OK, we’re going to work on those reasons this year at the beginning of the year to make sure we are ready to come back here again this year.’”

The main takeaway? Mental toughness.

DeVries said she and her teammates knew that had to be a focus if they were going to achieve their goals, and it was apparent Saturday, as it was tested early and often.

Kalamazoo Christian didn’t take a lead in the first set until 25-24, as it fell behind 13-3. 

After chipping away and spending most of the set down a single point, a kill from DeVries and an emphatic block by Hayden Deming gave the Comets the 26-24 victory in the set, which featured seven kills from Makenna Ekkens.

While St. Francis won the second set going away, the third and fourth were back and forth throughout, but it was the Comets who found a way to come out ahead in each.

“My team literally just was so good and pushed through,” DeVries said. “We didn’t play the best that we’ve played all tournament, but I still think that it shows that even when we’re not playing great, we can still push through and still win. We’ve been working a lot on mental toughness, and I think we did well on that tonight.”

DeVries finished with 16 kills and 27 digs for the Comets (43-6-3), while Ekkens had 17 kills and 14 digs. They’re two of the six seniors, joined by classmates Mackenzie Ash, Lola Stecker, Jovie Cochran and Sophia Nash.

Jovie Cochran (8) and Makenna Ekkens celebrate.All six contributed to the program’s first Finals title.

Cochran finished her last match with a team-high 28 digs, while Stecker had 39 assists and 11 digs. Ash had four total blocks, and Nash had five digs.

“It makes me so emotional, because I know that there’s younger girls now that look up to us a lot,” DeVries said. “I know that there’s 40-something girls trying out for the team. That just shows that we’ve inspired them to play, and I hope that this program keeps building on and on.”

Annelise DeJong added 11 kills for Kalamazoo Christian.

St. Francis also was seeking its first title, having been Class C runner-up in 2012. With just two seniors on the roster and several sophomore contributors, however, the future looks very bright.

It was one of those seniors, Garnet Mullet, who tied for the team lead with 15 kills for St. Francis (38-10-1), to go along with 18 digs. 

Quinn Yenshaw also had 15 kills and added 19 digs for the Gladiators, while Reese Jones had 24 assists and 19 digs, and Tessah Konas had 15 assists. 

“Our focus has been on shifting our culture to playing for each other instead of ourselves for a long time,” St. Francis coach Kathleen Nance said. “They really owned that. I think that we’re just going to continue to climb.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Kalamazoo Christian players hoist their Division 3 championship trophy Saturday at Kellogg Arena. (Middle) Kalamazoo Christian's Holland DeVries (5) attempts to block a kill attempt by St. Francis' Claire Hurley (9). (Below) Jovie Cochran (8) and Makenna Ekkens celebrate. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.)