North Branch Class of '24 Finishes Decade Together with Finals Repeat

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

November 18, 2023

BATTLE CREEK – A decade’s worth of team volleyball came to an end Saturday afternoon for eight North Branch seniors.

So while the Broncos had just won their second-straight Division 2 title, the tinge of sadness to the tears streaming down their faces was understandable.

“All of us started, a majority of us eight seniors started when we were 8 years old in North Branch volleyball club,” Broncos senior Alana Deshetsky said. “No one, pretty much, left until they were in high school and played one or two years at a different club. We were all trained here and all played with each other since we were 8, so I think we have a deeper connection than most other teams.

“We pulled up a picture this weekend from our first year, and pretty much all of us girls were in it. It was really sad to see girls that I’d played with forever, and I won’t play with again. Most teams end on a low, but when you end on a high, you want it to keep going.”

While they won’t get to keep things going after the 25-18, 25-14, 25-18 win against Grand Rapids West Catholic at Kellogg Arena, this group has left a legacy that will never be forgotten at a program that was already considered one of the state’s elite.

Grand Rapids West Catholic's Mia Henne (4) sends a kill attempt into the block of Kaela Chingwa (10) and Clara Gyoromy (14).For the first time in program history, North Branch won back-to-back titles. That came after a runner-up finish in 2021, giving a class that had been major contributors since they were freshmen three Finals appearances in four years. 

And, as freshman, they lost in five sets to the eventual Division 2 champion, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep.

“I think it was something (coach Jim Fish) definitely saw the potential in us,” senior libero Hailey Green said. “We were freshmen. In that game our freshmen year, we were just trying to hang with Notre Dame Prep. I think our junior year it kind of hit us. Like, ‘Oh, we’re in the state finals.’ It definitely hit us last year.”

Fish definitely saw it early. When they were eighth graders, Fish coached them in a summer tournament in Ohio. It was a tournament that featured a varsity and JV division, and for the first time in his career, Fish chose to coach the JV group.

“(People) said, ‘Why are you coaching them?’ And I said, ‘Because I know what we’re going to be doing,’” Fish said. “We’ve been working with this group for a long time. As good of players as they are, they’re nicer kids. They’re team academic all-state, individual academic all-state. Phenomenal kids in the community.”

North Branch (56-4-1) spent the entire season ranked No. 1 in Division 2, and Fish scheduled the best competition he could find throughout the state – and even in some adjoining states – to keep his group sharp.

It worked, as did playing with a target on their backs the entire season.

Adrienne Greschaw sets the Broncos' offense. “These teams scouted us very hard all season long,” Deshetsky said. “Our last tournament, I think we looked around and there were five cameras on our court scouting us for the postseason. This postseason was very difficult, because teams knew us as much as they could have, inside and out. They knew what we would do, because when you’re at the top, you’re the target, and everyone was coming for us.”

North Branch defeated the No. 2 team Grand Rapids Christian in Thursday’s Semifinal, but didn’t let down at all in the Final.

Aubree Deshetsky led the North Branch attack against West Catholic with 14 kills, while Clara Gyomory had nine. Adrienne Greschaw had 31 assists. The Deshetsky sisters led the defense, as Aubree had 19 digs and Alana had 13. 

Brooke Tietz had seven kills to lead West Catholic, while Emma Tuttle had six. Alivia Mott had 11 assists, while Amelia Gagnon had 12 digs and Grace Steiner had 10.

“It was a great match – North Branch is a super good volleyball club,” West Catholic coach Megan Eversman said. “I think our kids gave a fight as hard as they could fight against that team. I’m just really proud of all of their efforts that they had.”

While North Branch had loads of experience at Kellogg Arena, West Catholic (38-10-6) was making its first Finals appearance.

“I’m just really proud that our team could get here,” Tuttle said. “I think we worked really hard this season to get here, and for our last season, I’m really proud.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) North Branch players celebrate their repeat Division 2 title win at Kellogg Arena. (Middle) Grand Rapids West Catholic's Mia Henne (4) sends a kill attempt into the block of Kaela Chingwa (10) and Clara Gyoromy (14). (Below) Adrienne Greschaw sets the Broncos' offense. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.)