Milana Ready to Shoulder Repeat Run

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

September 29, 2015

ROMEO – Gia Milana’s pace at this stage in her life is as fast-paced as the sport she plays.

Milana, a 6-1½ outside hitter at Romeo, is one of 10 finalists for the 2015 Miss Volleyball award presented by the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association. There are those who contend she’s the favorite.

Ask Milana about the award and she’s a tad reserved, deflecting the attention given to an athlete who plays a team sport who’s under strong consideration for an individual honor.

“I try not to think about it,” she said. “Volleyball is a team thing for us. I really haven’t thought about it. I don’t think about it. I’d rather win and not think about an individual award.

“It would be the biggest honor. But I’m more focused on making my team better.”

Winning. That’s what Romeo did last season. The Bulldogs won the school’s first MHSAA title, downing Novi in five sets in the Class A Final, and this season they’re off to a 22-4 start and ranked No. 7.

This year’s team is different in many respects. For one, there are just four seniors. Not only did graduation put a premium on the amount of talent coming back, but it also left an opportunity for returning players to take over leadership roles that were so important in 2014.

“Last year at this time,” Milana said, “I feel last year’s team would crush us. We have the potential. Our transitional defense is horrible. To make another run we have to have the mentality that the ball won’t hit the floor.

“If we want to make another run we have to step up our game. One or two players can’t do it. Volleyball is a team-oriented sport.”

After spending six seasons as the junior varsity coach, Stacy Williams is in her 10th as varsity head coach. Williams played the sport at Sterling Heights High School and then Macomb Community College before she got into coaching. Williams credits former Romeo coach Bruce Udvari for nudging her into the profession. And she has nothing but gratitude to her former boss.

Williams also has nothing but praise for her star player.

“She’s a leader by example,” Williams said of Milana. “She’s 100 percent committed to every play. She has some pretty amazing attacks. The cool part of the team is, offensively, we have some real strong players. And then you have Gia. Teams will focus on Gia and it helps in a sense. People are looking at her, and it opens it up for others.”

Among the “others” are juniors Jodie Kelly and Payton Klein, and seniors Erica Labaere, and Nicole Nowack.

This season the libero position, often a strength for most teams, has been a bit of question mark for Williams. She’s used as many as five or six players. Recently, according to Milana, Nowack has shown steady play in that spot.

A back injury hampered Milana’s play at the start of last season. She missed the first 20 games and said it took a while for her to get back into the flow.

This season she hasn’t missed a beat. Through the first 25 games she had 315 kills. Even so, her role is different. Before high school and in her first three high school seasons, Milana was always the younger player facing girls older than her.

“I’m the core now,” she said. “It’s a different experience being the leader. It’s been quite a transition.

“We won states. We’re expected to win it again. We’re doing good in the transition. We know we have to work harder in practice.”

Finding her future

Milana committed to University of Maryland and plans to enroll in January. She chose Maryland because of its coach, Steve Aird, who is in his second season after serving as an assistant at Penn State.

Another reason Milana chose Maryland was its campus. College Park is a rural area, and for a girl from Romeo who spent her first 12 years on a farm, it has its attractions.

“I like the rural, pretty campuses,” she said. “I didn’t want to go to a college that was in the city, like Michigan.

“Maryland was horrible (when it was a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference). Now they’re in the Big Ten and … they’re better. I want to be a part of building a program.”

Maryland is 10-6 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten.

Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Gia Milana, 14, encourages her teammates during last season's Class A MHSAA Final against Novi. (Middle) Milana connects against Temperance Bedford during the Semifinal win. 

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.)