Lowell Prepared for 1st Trip to Final Week

November 18, 2019

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

LOWELL – The Lowell volleyball team has earned a trip to the season’s final week for the first time.

A beefed-up regular-season schedule helped pave the way toward school history – last week’s program-first Regional title and a spot in Tuesday’s Division 1 Quarterfinal at Jenison against No. 3 Mattawan.

Second-year Lowell coach Jordan Drake said strengthening the schedule was a focal point after bowing out in the District Final against eventual Division 1 runner-up Rockford last season.   

“That was something I looked at with my coaching staff after losing to Rockford last season,” Drake said. “What can we change in order to not be in this situation again next year? I talked with my athletic director, and I said to put us in the hardest tournaments that we could.”

The No. 2-ranked Red Arrows haven’t shied away from playing against, and beating, the top teams in the state en route to a stellar 53-3 record. Lowell has wins over seven more of the top 10 in the final Division 1 coaches poll, plus the top two ranked teams in Division 2 and No. 1 team in Division 3. The Red Arrows early this season handed Division 1 No. 1 Farmington Hills Mercy its only loss (although, it should be noted, Mercy was playing without senior hitter Jess Mruzik, who was in Egypt with the U.S. U-18 national team and was back when Mercy won a rematch with Lowell last month).

“I knew we had a good team last year, but we just weren’t battle-tested,” said Drake, whose team also won the first conference title in school history last season.

“Playing Mercy, Grand Rapids Christian, Lake Orion, Hudsonville, Lakewood and Schoolcraft that are championship-contending teams, those are the conversations that you want to be in and the matches you want to be in throughout the whole season so when you get to this point you feel like you’ve been there before. I think it’s been a huge difference-maker for our kids.”

Senior middle hitter Meghan Meyer, who’s recorded 438 kills and 74 blocks, said the improved quality of their schedule has paid dividends.

“Coach put us in tournaments where we could be exposed to those good teams more so we would be experienced and ready for when it came to moments like this,” she said. “That really showed us what we’re capable of doing.”

Lowell defeated No. 4 Hudsonville 3-1 in the Regional Final. It was a gratifying win that accomplished a season-long goal, while also avenging two of the Red Arrows' losses this fall.

“The girls were ecstatic, and winning Regionals was obviously one of the goals we had set out for ourselves this season,” Drake said. “It’s right where we want to be, and we’re taking this thing one game at a time and we’re looking forward to a great competition with Mattawan. It’s going to be another tough battle like the road we’ve had. It’s been just a grind.”  

Junior outside hitter Jenna Reitsma, who leads the team with 795 kills to go along with 379 digs and 82 aces, was thrilled to pull off another program first.

“We were all just really excited, and we worked really hard to get here,” Reitsma said. “We wanted to get past that milestone, especially since our school hadn’t done it before, so it was exciting to make history and work hard together to get that win.”

The Red Arrows returned eight players this fall from a year ago. However, experience alone wasn’t going to be enough to help the team meet heightened expectations.

The intangibles also needed to be developed.

“I definitely thought we could reach this level, but it was a matter of them wanting to put the work in,” Drake said. “There was a lot of things we still had to get better at from last year, and that included taking game by game and growing from our losses against tough teams.”

Still, the five-set loss to Rockford that ended their 2018 season provided perfect motivation.

“I know when we were playing different teams we kept that loss in the back of our minds,” Meyer said. “We used that as willpower to push through. It was hard losing to them, and we remembered that. We pushed ourselves harder.”

Other key contributors for the Red Arrows include junior setter Sophie Powell (1,446 assists) and junior libero Emma Hall (476 digs).

 “We have never been this far in Lowell history, but we’re just going to work our hardest,” Meyer said. “It’s going to be a good game, and I believe we’re ready.”

Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Lowell hitters await the serve during the St. Johns Invitational on Oct. 5, where the Red Arrows went 6-0. (Middle) Meghan Meyer (5) loads up for a kill attempt. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

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.)