Nine Just Fine for Record-Setting St. Phil

November 22, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

BATTLE CREEK – Emily Schaub has grown up in Battle Creek St. Philip’s volleyball tradition, her mother a member of the Tigers’ 1989 Class D championship team.

The last two seasons, Amy (Nelson) Schaub’s daughter also set St. Philip squads that weren’t supposed to continue the program’s near-decade of MHSAA Finals dominance.

But No. 1 in the regular-season rankings doesn’t mean much compared to number nine in the record book.

St. Philip, ranked No. 3 in Class D at the start of the postseason, defeated No. 2 Mendon in a Quarterfinal and then top-ranked Leland in Saturday’s Final 25-18, 25-18, 23-25, 25-17 to claim a record ninth consecutive MHSAA championship. The Tigers had entered this fall tied with the Marysville teams of 1997-2004 for the longest title streak in MHSAA volleyball history.

“Growing up and watching them, it was always great to say ‘I want to be out there one day.’ And just having that experience, being around that all my life, has pushed me harder to want to be like that,” Schaub said. “Going out there and doing that, … it feels good to prove we’re just as good as the other teams. Just to show we’re a great program, even when considered in a rebuilding year, just to show we’re still a fighting team and we’re here to stay.”

In 40 seasons of MHSAA volleyball, St. Philip has made the Semifinals 32 times, played in 28 championship games and won 20.

The eighth-straight title last season meant something personally to St. Philip coach Vicky Groat, who took over the program from her late mother Sheila Guerra and tied her mom’s career total of nine championships won. 

But Saturday’s crowning victory will serve as one of the brightest points of pride for a community that turned out again to celebrate success.

“Ask every single one of these girls if they were in the stands for championship runs or Final Fours. They were in the stands watching, and they want to be part of that team,” Groat said. “That’s what it is. These kids, they have that. They want to play for St. Phil. They want that experience. As a coach, I want to make sure to give every single one of my kids who play for me the chance at a Final Four or to play for a championship.” 

And, as Groat added, there was something to be said of claiming number nine “with this group of girls.”

St. Philip graduated all-state hitter and Miss Volleyball winner Amanda McKinzie after the 2012 win, and another all-state hitter and Miss Volleyball candidate Sierra Hubbard-Neil after last fall.

The Tigers this season had only two hitters who saw time in the 2013 Final, when Hubbard-Neil had 19 of the team’s 31 kills. 

But on Saturday, junior Abby McKinzie had 13 kills and senior Megan Parker added 12 as seven St. Philip players scored. Schaub had 32 assists and was one of five with at least 14 digs – sophomore libero Kameron Haley led with 21, tied for 11th most in an MHSAA Final during the rally scoring era that began in 2004-05.

St. Philip claimed the first two sets before Leland stormed back in the third. The Comets played the Tigers to 15-15 in the fourth set before St. Philip ended on a 10-2 run.

“She is one of the best coaches I’ve ever had in my life, and to be able top get this record for her is unexplainable,” McKinzie said of Groat. “I’m so happy to have won it for her.” 

It came against a program that could be considered a distant part of the St. Phil family. Leland coach Laurie Glass coached against Guerra, and Glass’ players stay with Groat each year when they play in the Tigers’ tournament. Groat’s players stay with Glass each summer during the Comets’ camp.

Leland certainly had the Tigers wary of a comeback. Leland had fallen in its first Semifinal set to Onaway before winning the next two, losing the fourth and then shutting out Onaway 15-0 in the decider. 

When Groat and Glass crossed paths after Leland claimed the third set, Groat did mutter a little something about a possible repeat of Thursday.

“We were certainly hoping to give her another run at that time, at least make it go to a fifth,” Glass said. “I thought they really started serving really well at that time (in the fourth), we started making passing errors and got a little tighter. We made a couple hitting errors, unforced errors on our part that gave them the momentum for that 3-4 point swing that put them ahead.” 

Junior Maddie Trumbull led the Comets with 16 kills, and senior Jessica Fleis had 37 assists. Senior Miranda Harrison’s 24 digs ranked sixth for an MHSAA Final. The Comets' runner-up finish was their best since 2006, and they finished 43-13-4.

St. Philip finished 53-12-4, with a few more losses than the last couple of seasons. The Tigers finished 1-3 at the Rockford Invitational on Oct. 25, but that day Groat saw a championship-level surge beginning to build.

“At the start of the season, we were doubtful. Ask every single (player), we were doubtful,” Groat said. “(We thought) we’re going to have to do our best as coaches, but it’s not only coaching. It’s players, and they bought into it.

"They believed they could do it, and the power of believing is awesome.”

Click for full statistics.

PHOTOS: (Top) Battle Creek St. Philip players celebrate claiming their ninth straight MHSAA title trophy. (Middle) St. Phil’s Abby McKinzie drive a kill while Leland’s Vianna Hennig (13) and Erica Ongaro prepare to block. (Click for action photos and team photos from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.) 


COMETS ACE FOR SET THREE VICTORY - Down 2-0, Leland took the third set against Battle Creek St. Philip on this service ace by Eva Grobbel.
WINNER TIMES NINE IS FINE - Battle Creek St. Philip clinched its ninth straight Class D Girls Volleyball title on this kill from Abby McKinzie, which gave the Tigers a 3-1 decision over Leland.
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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.)