Miss Volleyball Paces Mercy to 1st Final Win

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

November 23, 2019

BATTLE CREEK – Jess Mruzik spent most of Saturday afternoon putting dents in the court at Kellogg Arena.  

But with the opportunity to seal Farmington Hills Mercy’s first MHSAA Division 1 volleyball title at her fingertips, Miss Volleyball showed some touch. 

Mruzik’s tip sealed a 25-21, 25-12, 23-25, 26-24 victory against Lowell, finally giving the perennial contenders the big mitten trophy. 

“I knew as soon as I got blocked (at 24-23) that, ‘Man, I probably shouldn’t have done that,’” Mruzik said. “I knew what I was going to do right after that. I knew that I made a mistake there, and I just wanted to win that point and win it for my team.” 

Mruzik’s tip capped off a 34-kill night, the third-most prolific attacking performance in Finals history. 

“It’s unreal,” Mruzik said. “This is the best way you can end your high school career, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be in such an amazing program with amazing coaches and amazing teammates. Honestly, that wouldn’t have been possible without all the passers passing great passes, Julia (Bishop) feeding me the ball pretty much perfect every single time. That’s something I’m fortunate to have.” 

The final kill may not have hit with the same thud as the others, but it set off a celebration several years in the making. Mercy (58-1) has spent much of coach Loretta Vogel’s 11 years leading the program as a highly-ranked team, but its best finish was as Class A runner-up in 2010.  

As her team piled up in celebration near the net, Vogel couldn’t help but join in. 

“I had to,” Vogel said. “You don’t know whether it’s going to happen again. (Bishop) said it once in an interview, ‘I just want to be in a pile at the end of the game.’ You do think of that. It doesn’t happen very often, so I joined.” 

Vogel brought her entire team into the postgame press conference to drive home the point of how special this group was. 

"I think from the beginning, everyone plays their role,” Vogel said. “We didn’t bring anyone up from our JV or freshman team, because it was emphasized that they’re a very close-knit group, and I respected that. Why I wanted everyone here is that they’re (together) every day, and they’re very close. In the end, they like each other, also.” 

Mercy won a hard-fought first set, but showed its ability to dominate in the second, ruthlessly wiping out a 9-4 deficit and taking the set’s final 13 points to take a 2-0 lead. 

But after that, the Marlins faced something they had rarely seen all year: adversity. 

Lowell managed to dig deep and take the third set, despite giving up another lead. The Red Arrows led 20-15, but Mercy came back to tie the match at 22. Lowell stayed mentally strong, though, and won three of the next four points to keep its season alive and force a fourth set. 

The Red Arrows again had a lead in the fourth, this time going up 15-12 midway through. The two teams traded points and mini runs until they were tied at 23 and 24, setting up the final two kills from Mruzik to end it. 

“In the fourth game, I was getting a little nervous,” Vogel said. “But we were able to stay with the plan. I think a lot of times when we get in our timeouts, it’s not just all the coaches talking about things, but the players knowing who we need to watch, giving suggestions. I think that was extremely helpful not just today, but any of our matches we’ve had this year. This one was obviously real tight, but we had one other that was extremely difficult, too.” 

Lowell (55-4) – which had handed Mercy its one loss of the season, albeit early in the year while Mruzik was playing in a tournament overseas – did a good job of making Vogel and the top-ranked Marlins sweat despite falling in a 2-0 hole. 

“That’s a great team on the other side of the net, obviously,” Lowell coach Jordan Drake said. “I’m super proud of the way our girls fought the entire time. It was a familiar feeling after Set 1 dropping it, but our girls just came out and fought, still. Set 2 got a little ugly there at the end. Set 3 we came out hot, took them there. Set 4, we had our chances, but they made some plays on the other side of the net, so credit to them. But I’m proud of the way our girls fought, for sure.” 

Junior Jenna Reitsma had 22 kills and 12 digs for Lowell, while senior Meghan Meyer had 17 kills. Junior setter Sophia Powell had 40 assists coordinating the Lowell attack.  

Mruzik, who will play at University of Michigan next year, added 15 digs, while junior setter Bishop had 54 assists. Junior Ellen Tisko had 14 kills, and sophomore Amina Robinson had 22 digs.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Farmington Hills Mercy’s Jess Mruzik sends a kill between a pair of Lowell blockers Saturday. (Middle) The Red Arrows’ Meghan Meyer (5) gets a hand on an attempt by Mercy’s Charli Atiemo.

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.)