Mendon Extends Reign with D4 Repeat

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

November 23, 2019

BATTLE CREEK – All Heather Bowers does is win MHSAA titles. 

The second-year Mendon volleyball coach is now 2-for-2 at Kellogg Arena, as her Hornets defeated Leland for the second straight year – this time 25-17, 25-19, 27-29, 25-14 – on Saturday in the Division 4 Final. 

“The hard work these girls have put in, I just can’t say how proud I am of them,” Bowers said. “It was a completely different group with a completely different dynamic, but the same work ethic and the same drive and will to win.” 

Last year’s title was the first since 2001 for the Hornets (40-9-6). But even after losing six seniors, this year’s group came in with experience winning on the Kellogg floor led by junior Anna Smith. She was dominant for the second straight year, with 22 kills, 13 digs and four aces.   

“The fact of the matter is she can score at will against our team – against any team. I haven’t seen anybody shut her down,” Leland coach Laurie Glass said. “She has all the shots. She gets up there and she sees tips, she sees the corner, she sees the line, she sees the cross. At this level, not a lot of D4 schools have kids that can do all of that at will. She’s super talented, and it’s unfortunate for us that she’s a junior and will be returning next year.” 

Smith was the main target for Hornets setter Gracie Russell, who finished with 41 assists. But Russell spread the ball around, keeping the Leland defense guessing. Senior Taylor Heitkamp was second on the team with 12 kills. 

“We knew (the Comets) were such a balanced team that we had to be one, too,” Bowers said. “We all showed up, we all got involved. It was amazing. It was a great group effort.” 

Leland’s attack was three-pronged, led by junior Tatum Kareck with 15 kills, senior Gillian Grobbel with 13 and Olivia Lowe with 11. Jana Molby had 37 assists for the Comets (44-15-3). 

But a strong Hornets defense held Leland to an overall .128 attacking percentage. Mendon finished with eight total blocks, led by five assists and one solo from junior Andrea Hoffman. 

“Leland’s always had really strong hitters, so we know that we have to defend our back row so they can have our backs, too,” Hoffman said. “You have to put up a big block to run your offense, and we did.” 

Leland won the first four points of the match, but the momentum was short-lived, as Mendon won 13 of the next 16 to take control. The Mendon lead got as high as 13-7 after a pair of aces from Smith, which forced Leland to call a timeout.   

While the timeout stopped play, it didn’t swing the momentum, as the Hornets kept Leland at arm’s length on its way to a first-set victory. 

The Hornets never trailed during the second set, leading by as many as eight (24-16). 

Leland built an 18-12 lead in the third set, gaining momentum from an unlikely play. With her team trailing 6-4, Lowe dug a powerful Smith spike with her face, and the Comets wound up getting the better of what turned into a long rally.  

The Comets had set point at 24-19, but Mendon senior defensive specialist Juliana Hagenbuch served her team back into the match and gave the Hornets a match point opportunity at 25-24. But Leland bounced back to close out the set and force a fourth. 

Mendon took control of the fourth set early, leading 12-6 and forcing a Leland timeout. Thanks to incredible back-line play from sophomore Isabella Smith and Hagenbuch, the timeout wasn’t able to stop the Mendon roll, as the Hornets continued to stretch their lead. Hagenbuch finished with 19 digs, while Smith had 12.  

“I think they put up a strong block today, so it was really easy to stay off their shoulder and pick up balls that they touch or they block,” Hagenbuch said. “They made my job easy today. I didn’t have to dig as many balls. I was proud of them.” 

Both teams should return plenty of talent in 2020, especially Leland which loses just one senior. While Grobbel is a significant loss, the thought of a third straight trip to the Finals, and another possible chance at redemption against Mendon, was already on the mind of at least one Comets player. 

“It makes me want to win even more,” said junior libero Mia Osorio, who had 10 digs. “Last year, we came into this year thinking we really want to win, but this time it’s like the cherry on top. We just want to make it down here again and hopefully see them again – and win.” 

Click for full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Mendon celebrates its second-straight Division 4 championship Saturday at Kellogg Arena. (Middle) Mendon’s Ryley Mullin (11) and Leland’s Olivia Lowe battle at the net.

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.)