Nordmann Finds Place Among State's Elite

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

September 13, 2016

DEWITT – Lexi Nordmann had a hard time finding her place at first after joining DeWitt’s varsity volleyball team four seasons ago.

A rare freshman playing for one of mid-Michigan’s top programs, Nordmann played the middle, just like then-junior Abby Nakfoor – and Nakfoor figured out quickly that her younger teammate’s skill level was already far above her own.

But what Nakfoor also found about the new teammate she fondly called her “Baby Lex” no doubt has helped Nordmann turn into much more than another tall player standing in front of the net.

“She was still always open to my input, even though skill-wise she was a full head above me,” said Nakfoor, now a sophomore on the Ferris State University basketball team. “She’s so open to learning. As a freshman she’d get frustrated, and who doesn’t, but if she didn’t get something she was always texting me – ‘in practice, what would you run here; what should I do differently?’ – and that just comes from her eagerness to be a better player.”  

“It sounds kinda dumb, but it’s like a mom thing. I’m so proud. I’d always call her my baby Lex, my baby freshman, and we’d always take pictures of me holding her, cradling her. But now … what she’s meant to that volleyball program, those girls look up to her so much.”

And for plenty of compelling reasons.

Nordmann is one of 10 candidates for this season’s Miss Volleyball Award sponsored by the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association, and that means a little more than it might in other regions of the state. Not including Corunna’s Meredith Norris, who also is a finalist this season, the last mid-Michigan player to make the ballot was Lake Odessa Lakewood’s Chelsea Lake in 2010. Drawing closer the home, the last player from Lansing or its closest suburbs to be considered was East Lansing’s Heather Brooks in 2006. 

Nordmann is 6-foot-1 with a vertical jump that allows her to touch above 10 feet. She’s powerful in the middle, no longer the “scrawny freshman” coach Christy Thelen brought up to varsity straight out of junior high. And her athleticism is drawn from a family tree that has included multiple generations of basketball stars including a grandfather who played in the NBA.

But the difference might be what sits above her ball-smashing shoulders.

Also the daughter of a former DeWitt High School teacher, Nordmann loves to learn. She especially likes math; it’s an academic discipline that fits the 4.0 student’s perfectionist personality.

If she sees something wrong, she fixes it. And despite relatively limited experience on the volleyball court heading into high school, she picked up quickly a knowledge that combined with her intellect continues to give her an edge.

“I think it’s actually contributed a lot to my being able to play at a higher level,” Nordmann said. “Because I’m used to not only multi-tasking, but being able to read the court and see other things. Being able to understand and read the other side of the net and not focusing on just you, but being able to take in everything at the same time. I think that’s very important, being able to see the court.”

Nordmann already has accomplished much. She’s listed twice in the MHSAA record book; her 239 blocks last season rank third since the rally scoring era began with the 2004-05 season, and she had 39 kills – tied for sixth-most – in last season’s Class A Regional Final loss to Mattawan. Nordmann finished the season with 511 kills and a ridiculous .460 kill efficiency in helping DeWitt to a 44-4-1 record.

The Panthers are 16-0 this fall after winning the Mount Morris Invitational over the weekend, and Nordmann has had her share of impressive performances during the opening run. She had 67 kills with only eight errors over six matches at the Alma Invitational, where DeWitt defeated among others Class B No. 1 Lakewood, and she had 12 kills Wednesday against Mason despite facing triple blocks.

As noted, she’s from a basketball family. Her late grandfather Bob Nordmann played four seasons in the National Basketball Association as a 6-foot-10 center and later served as an assistant coach at Michigan State. Her dad Matt played at Navy and then George Washington University, while her uncle Eric played professionally overseas and her aunt Andrea Nordmann played college basketball at Bowling Green State.

Lexi didn’t take up volleyball until seventh grade, and didn’t take it up seriously until eighth, when she tried out for a club team in part to get a free T-shirt. Thelen, who teaches math at the junior high, knew more about Nordmann as a student – she took the advanced math class and was selected by teachers to go to Japan as part of an annual exchange program – but Nordmann then also showed enough potential to be brought up to varsity immediately after entering high school.

“Her knowledge of volleyball and understanding of blocks and the scheme of it, she’s probably one of the smartest kids I’ve ever coached,” said Thelen, in her ninth season coaching the varsity and a former all-state setter for the Panthers. “Understanding why we’re doing such things, why she should go here on a tip, those kinds of things; a lot of times you have to coach that a lot, and she just knows.”

Nordmann has grown only two inches in height since freshman year but tremendously in other ways. Nakfoor was a natural leader and Nordmann, admittedly, is naturally quieter. In fact, Nordmann sent her mentor a video last year of a postmatch interview they gave where Nakfoor answered all the questions while Nordmann nodded and added, in essence, “Yeah, what Abby said.”

But Nordmann has taken on a leadership role since Nakfoor graduated, telling Thelen in part that on the court that she tries to do what Nakfoor would do, say what Nakfoor would say. And Nordmann has become a mentor as well for a number of younger players like sophomore middle Desiree Becker, another big-time player in the making.

“She’s grown leadership-wise, as a junior especially, and she’s just leading, showing the younger girls the ropes just how she had been shown the ropes. She has a much bigger voice now too,” Nakfoor said. “I have a cousin on the team right now (Bailey Yonkman) who looks up to Lexi a lot, and my little sister (Meredith) is in the program (and does too).”

Nordmann will play after high school at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, not far from where her aunt Andrea is an associate athletic director for compliance at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

Lexi is thinking about becoming an engineer, or she might study business. Then again, she took an Advanced Placement history class last year that she loved. “I do enjoy learning all different (subjects),” Nordmann said. “I’m still looking for that one that I’m passionate about.”

She’s got time to figure out her future, of course, and will have plenty of options given her academic mastery.

But athletically, she’s found her passion – and her place as DeWitt’s leader as well.

“In junior high, obviously I used to play basketball. Coming from that family, that’s what they did,” Nordmann said. “But the team aspect of volleyball is just so much more evident. After you get a point or your teammates get a point, there’s so much more excitement and momentum and there’s more coming together. That feeling of getting a block or a kill, or when your teammate gets a sweet dig, it’s so exhilarating. It pumps you up.” 

Geoff Kimmerly joined the MHSAA as its Media & Content Coordinator in Sept. 2011 after 12 years as Prep Sports Editor of the Lansing State Journal. He has served as Editor of Second Half since its creation in Jan. 2012. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for the Barry, Eaton, Ingham, Livingston, Ionia, Clinton, Shiawassee, Gratiot, Isabella, Clare and Montcalm counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) DeWitt's Lexi Nordmann celebrates a point with her teammates this season. (Middle) Nordmann, a senior middle, unloads a kill attempt. (Below) Nordmann awaits an opponent's serve. (Photos by Tom Pearson/TCP-Photography.)

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.)