Mom's Memory Inspires C-F All-Stater

January 9, 2021

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

MONTGOMERY – Jocelynn Nicholls was first drawn to volleyball in grade school.

Over the years, the Camden-Frontier senior has made the transition from being a wild swinging middle-schooler to an apprehensive freshman on the varsity to an all-state volleyball player headed to Trine University to play the sport she loves.

“I fell in love with volleyball when I was in the fourth grade,” she said. “I’ve played basketball and softball, but nothing feels like volleyball.”

It wasn’t always easy for Nicholls, who has overcome the loss of her mother Amy Nicholls during her sophomore season to become a tower of strength for the Redskins.

“She’s been through a lot, but she’s a tough kid and is going to make something of herself,” said Camden-Frontier coach Dawn Follis.

Nicholls’ mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the early part of 2018. By volleyball season that year, her mom had become very ill, enough that Nicholls missed a match when her mom went to the hospital. That season, her mom lost her battle; she died on a game day.

Nicholls had asked her mom earlier that day if she should play.

“I said to her ‘What do you want me to do?’,” said Nicholls, who was 15 at the time. “She squeezed my hand and told me to go. She couldn’t talk, so we had a way to communicate through squeezing my hand. She wanted me to play.”

About halfway through the match against Pittsford, Nicholls felt something she had never experienced before – a feeling, almost like a change in her body.

“My aunt was at the game watching me,” she said.  “She even noticed the change in me. I got home after the game, and I figured out the news.”

Her mom, an English professor and dean of the Jannen School of Arts and Sciences at Trine University in nearby Angola, Ind., had passed away.

Nicholls turned to volleyball to help her through. Using her mom as her strength, she didn’t miss another match. Volleyball has always been a big part of her life.

“I’ve come a long way since my freshman year,” she said. “Being pulled up to the varsity was a huge thing. It was a great opportunity for me to grow as a player. It really opened my eyes.”

After that season on the varsity, she started playing club volleyball, first at a club in Hillsdale, then at Team Pineapple Volleyball Club in Angola, which is less than a half hour from her home.

"Once I started playing for other teams, I started playing up, against older girls,” she said. “When I was a freshman I was playing against a bunch of seniors.”

Follis and the Redskins have built a small-school powerhouse in south central Michigan, just north of the Michigan-Indiana state line. Nicholls helped Camden-Frontier to a school-record 40 wins that sophomore season and they won 36 matches and the school’s first Regional crown in 2019. This fall’s was another outstanding season for the Redskins, who went 25-3 and won a fourth-straight District title. Over Nicholls’ four varsity seasons, Camden-Frontier won more than 100 matches.

Nicholls had a great season in 2020, earning first-team all-state honors from the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association. Playing about half the matches the Redskins typically play in a season, she recorded 395 kills, averaging 4.34 per set, and accumulated 141 digs. Two of her teammates, junior Dakota Sigler and senior Heather Shaw, made the all-state honorable mention list. (Camden-Frontier fell 3-2 to Lansing Christian in a Regional Semifinal on Nov. 10; Lansing Christian will play in the Quarterfinals on Tuesday.)

Follis said Nicholls knows how to use her height to her advantage.

“She’s very tall and very athletic and aggressive,” Follis said. “She’s worked really hard on her game. When she was in middle school, she was tall and had this wild swing. She played all of the time, and it shows.”

Nicholls stands 6-foot tall. She had 70 blocks and block assists this season.

“I’ve always been really tall,” she said. “I think by the fifth grade I was taller than any boy in my class.

“I always knew I was tall and that would benefit me, but I knew that wasn’t going to be enough. I worked hard to increase my vertical. I put in a lot of time. I definitely try and use that to my advantage."

Follis said Nicholls did use her height to her advantage, something not all tall players do.

“She’s a hitter, and she really jumps well,” said Follis. “In high school she has the ability to change the game with her hitting. She’s a game-changer.”

At the Camden-Frontier matches over the past couple of years, there was typically a large contingent of aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins watching Nicholls and her teammates play. That is one of the reasons she chose Trine – her family will be able to see her play.

“I want to be close to my family,” she said. “I’d rather be 20 minutes away than 12 hours away. Family is a big deal for me.”

Nicholls said she loves to hang out with family and friends but doesn’t have time for a lot of other interests outside of sports. She likes to stay busy, no matter what sports season it is. Right now, she is lifting and running on nice days and staying ready for the upcoming basketball season. She’s been on the varsity softball team since her freshman season as well.

“I am fulltime, 100-percent motivated to focus on my game,” she said.

At Trine she plans on majoring in exercise science with the hopes of going into physical therapy or something in the athletic field.

“I want to be there for my mom,” she said. “It’s a big opportunity that I will even get to play there. That’s where I wanted to be.”

Trine is a big part of the Nicholls family. Not only was her mom a professor at the school, but she also graduated from Trine. Her dad Scott and brother Mason also went to Trine. Jocelynn started going there at a young age and impressed the volleyball coach years ago.

“When I was a freshman, I went there for a camp and the coach told me if I continued to work hard, I would get a (scholarship) offer,” she recalled.

Losing her mother a couple of years ago, Nicholls said, completely changed her outlook on life.

“It provided me an opportunity to grow,” she said. “It makes me want to give 100 percent all of the time and not take anything for granted. You are not promised tomorrow.”

PHOTOS: (Top) Camden-Frontier’s Jocelynn Nicholls holds up her team’s District title trophy from this season. (Middle) Nicholls serves during a match this fall. (Photos by Doug Donnelly.)

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.)