Kubiak Comes Back, Twice, to Lead Mustangs

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

September 20, 2016

PORTAGE — Mikaela Kubiak is a fierce competitor on the volleyball court. But the Portage Central senior setter had an even harder fight off the court her first two seasons.

Kubiak, who has been instrumental in the Mustangs’ run to a 23-3 start and No. 5 ranking in Class A, spent her first two seasons rehabbing from injury.

A starter on varsity as a freshman and sophomore, Kubiak tore her anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee, not once but twice, and endured two separate stints of grueling physical therapy.

Looking back, the personable Kubiak remembers every detail.

“It was our first home match against Kalamazoo Central and all my family and friends were here watching,” said Kubiak, who came to Portage from Central as a freshman and whose father Bob Kubiak had coached Kalamazoo Central football from 1993-2003.

But her first home volleyball match wasn’t even close to what she envisioned. 

“It was in warm-ups and the second ball I hit, I came down and I blew my knee,” she said. 

“Not a very good start. It was our first home varsity match, and I think it was the first or second week of school.”

Her first thoughts were that she could walk it off and continue to warm up.

“Then I was like, whoa, this is way more serious than I thought,” she said. “I couldn’t get up. I kept walking, then I just sat down on the ground. It was throbbing and I was in pain.

“I was just super mad, super mad at myself that it happened. Of course, that game it would have to happen to me.”

She had knee surgery and spent nine months in recovery, including physical therapy at least three times per week.

“I wasn’t surprised she came back (after the first injury). I was surprised she got hurt again,” said Dawn Jaqua, who has coached the Mustangs for the last 18 years. “I was actually surprised she got hurt the first time because she’s such a strong kid, physically, so that was a shock.

“She is hugely determined and loves the sport. You can’t help but beat yourself up when you’re a coach and any kid gets hurt on your watch.”

After missing her first season, Kubiak was raring to go as a sophomore.

The team’s setter was Madison Jaqua, who earned all-state first-team honors that year, so Kubiak was once again a hitter.

“Mattawan was like our big rival,” Kubiak said. “We were in the middle of our third set. It was a nitty-gritty, tight match. It was point after point after point, back and forth.

“Madison set me a ball and I came down and just overran it too much and I blew it out again. I knew right away because my knee moved on me.

“I was like, ‘Oh great.’ I think I was even more mad at that. It was like a pin dropped in the room and I was so frustrated. I technically tore it twice in the same year. I actually tore it on 9-11 my freshman year and 9-9 my sophomore year.”

Once again, Kubiak missed the rest of the season. But this time she knew what to expect from the physical therapy and did a lot of work on her own to supplement the workouts.

Giving up volleyball was not an option.

“I was more comfortable going back my junior season because I was back in my original position (as a setter with Madison Jaqua graduating) and I had a huge brace on. I didn’t have a brace my sophomore year.”

Dawn Jaqua said Kubiak’s role changed as a junior.

“She was setting for us,” she said. “The biomechanics are way different. We didn’t have her play front row last year. She set from the back row. We ran a kind of modified system for that.

“Then she started playing front row a little bit for us at the end of the season. We let her block in controlled situations, and by the end of the season last year, we were running a 5-1 with her.”

The coach’s daughter, senior Devin Jaqua, who has been playing volleyball with Kubiak since seventh grade, was not surprised she returned stronger than ever.

“She’s always been a strong leader, and she’s always worked really hard,” the senior said. “She has a really big passion for the game, so I knew she’d always come back.

“She leads almost like the team mom. You can always depend on her, and she always plays her best. She always knows what to do and when to do it.”

In spite of losing two seasons of both high school and club volleyball, Kubiak earned Class A all-state honorable mention last season.

In November, she will sign to play collegiately with Division II Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Dawn Jaqua said Kubiak is the complete package.

“It’s all the components: her athleticism, her consistency, her decision making,” she said. “But at the end of the day, it’s about her will to want to win. She’s a great leader.

“She is a great problem solver. She’s demanding, but she does it in a very calming way. She’s very controlled. When things aren’t going well, she does a great job figuring out a different way to win. That’s her job.”

Devin Jaqua said this is a special year for the seniors.

“There’s five seniors, and it’s our last year,” she said. “Mikaela and Janell (Williams) are the only two so far going to play in college, so the rest of us really want to make it a memorable last year.”

Williams will sign with Western Michigan University. Jaqua will play soccer collegiately at Michigan State.

Talking from experience, Kubiak offers some advice: “For any other volleyball players out there, work hard all the time because you never know when it can be taken from you.

“Cherish every moment you have on the court with your teammates because it really does fly by.”

Other seniors on the team are Rebecca Barnes and Maddie Goodman. Juniors are Maddie Wojcik, Sara Denison, Olivia Harning, MacKenzie Zook and Jessie Zesiger. The sophomore is Ryann Jaqua and the freshman is Maizie Brown.

Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Mikaela Kubiak tips the ball over the net during a recent match against Richland Gull Lake. (Middle) Kubiak and Portage Central coach Dawn Jaqua. (Below) Kubiak sets for teammate Janell Williams. (Photos by Pam Shebest.)

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.)