New Coach, Same High Standard at Calumet

October 12, 2017

By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half

ESCANABA – A new coach is at the helm, but the tradition of excellent volleyball has carried on at Calumet High School.

The Copper Kings (27-6-2) are ranked sixth in the Class C state coaches poll this week as Matt Laho has added to the success established over the past 20 years by Lisa Twardzik. Calumet was Class C runner-up in 2008, a semifinalist in 2007 and 2016 and has won the past five Regional titles.

Calumet is the heart of a powerful volleyball program in the Copper Country, the northern-most region of the state. "We're not at the hockey status, but in the fall volleyball is a pretty big deal," said veteran Houghton volleyball coach John Christianson. 

"Volleyball has become the in thing to do at schools up this way."

The two programs set the pace throughout the Upper Peninsula. They met recently with Calumet taking the decisive fifth match 15-11, and they meet again Tuesday at Houghton. They will also play in the Houghton tournament Saturday.

Laho, an assistant to Twardzik last year after spending several coaching and teaching in Wyoming after his graduation from Finlandia University, has put some of his own touches into the program while building on the foundation established by Twardzik.

"I soaked up as much as I can. She built Calumet into a volleyball powerhouse, and I want to continue that and try to keep that tradition alive," the Calumet fifth grade teacher said of trying to fill Twardzik's huge shoes.

He runs a middle-middle defense but said the emphasis is in different areas. "I have principles and philosophies and I build offense and defense systems around the players," Laho added.

Laho said Twardzik coached the "whole athlete, volleyball and academics and coached young women with fundamentals.

"Lisa always did a great job focusing on positive reinforcement. I do that too, but then I tell them here is where we go next," he said. His approach "lets them know things will be different. I let players know I will be open-minded."

The Copper Kings won an early-season tournament in Kingsford and last weekend won their pool at a 16-team tournament in Suttons Bay. "I'm very happy where we are at this point of the season," Laho said. "We have exceeded where we want to be at this point."

Laho said the team's strong suits are ball control, transition passing, defense and serving. "Our attacking, while not a weakness, can be more effective," he said.
Laho prefers everything "to be as simple as possible. I want things to become natural rather than to think about it on the floor."

Meanwhile, he takes a technical approach and gets a lot of individual feedback. "I have given them tiny tweaks to help them get better," he said.

"One thing they are noted for is defense, extremely disciplined defense," said Christianson. "Trying to find holes in their defense is difficult. And they are fundamentally really, really sound. They play with a mental focus, and they focus on the task at hand. And they have been blessed with some big, athletic girls, competitive girls."

A key player has been senior power hitter Lea Bjorn, "your prototypical hard-working athlete," said Laho. "She is a six-rotation player."

Other key players are seniors Ninia Anderson and Brea Johnson and juniors Celia Kiilunen and Brooke Kariniemi. 

That group is following in the footsteps made by current Northern Michigan University spikers Janie Torola and Hailey Wickstrom.

This is also a tough team for opponents to dislike. "Their players are really nice people," said Christianson. "Their parents have raised them to be really nice ladies. It is a very good program with very good people."

Their reputation has spread across the Upper Peninsula and downstate as well.

"No doubt any place they go in the U.P., they are the standard bearer," said Christianson. "They set the bar, and the rest of us try to get there."

Denny Grall retired in 2012 after 39 years at the Escanaba Daily Press and four at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, plus 15 months for WLST radio in Escanaba; he served as the Daily Press sports editor from 1970-80 and again from 1984-2012. Grall was inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and serves as its executive secretary. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for the Upper Peninsula.

PHOTOS: (Top) Calumet celebrates winning the Kingsford Invitational in coach Matt Laho’s debut. (Middle) A pair of Calumet players puts up a block against Lake Linden-Hubbell last month. (Photos courtesy of Calumet’s athletic department.)

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.)