Oakland Standing Tall Among State's Elite

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

October 11, 2018

Pontiac Notre Dame Prep capped the first fall volleyball season in MHSAA history in 2007 with a Class B championship – the first won in any class by an Oakland County high school. Bloomfield Hills Marian in Class A and Birmingham Roeper in Class D also reached Finals that fall.

Before that season, teams from the county had reached title matches just six times since 1975-76, when the MHSAA began sponsoring a postseason tournament for the sport. (Volleyball began as a winter sport and moved to fall for the 2007-08 school year.) But since Notre Dame won its 2007 title, Oakland County teams have won seven more MHSAA championships: Notre Dame Prep two more in Class B, Marian two in Class A, and Novi – led by 2017 Miss Volleyball Award winner Erin O’Leary – won the last three Class A titles.

Which leads us to this season. Of the 10 nominees for Miss Volleyball, an unprecedented five are from Oakland County: Lake Orion’s Paige Briggs, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep’s Maddy Chinn and Natalie Risi, Bloomfield Hills Marian’s Madison Dowd and Troy’s Jessica Robinson. Of the top four vote-getters for last season’s award, three were from Oakland County.

Chinn and Risi’s coach, Betty Wroubel, who is third on the all-time list for coaching victories (1,422 before this season), said there are a number of reasons why teams in her county are competing at a higher level recently.

“For a long time the programs on the west side were way ahead of us,” Wroubel said. “Some of it is travel (teams). But much of it is competition. In July we do a camp to get the players in the area more involved. Marian led the way for so long, and others are catching up. Also, the kids are getting taller. They’re stronger. Schools in the area offer more conditioning for the players.”

Before this season, Notre Dame Prep had three past candidates for Miss Volleyball. In the fall of 2007, Molly (Coldren) Campbell finished second in the voting to Kyndra Abron of Livonia Churchill. Four years ago, Katherine Carlson became the first and only Notre Dame Prep player to win the award.

Wroubel said both Chinn and Risi stack up well when compared to the other fine players who have come through her program.

“(Maddy) has something going,” Wroubel said. “In those big moments, when your team needs it, she thrives. When the game is on the line, she’s there. She understands the game, like a coach does. What she’s improved on is hitting a variety of shots. She can put the ball down. Even as a freshman, she had that ability.”

At 6-foot-3, Chinn, an outside hitter, is a dominant player at the net. Risi’s versatility sets her apart from the competition. At 6 foot, she also is positioned as an outside hitter – and this season she’s also become one of the team’s top setters.

“Natalie is a calming force,” Wroubel said. “She could be a setter on any team. She’s quiet. You won’t notice her on the court sometimes. When you do take notice, you can’t take your eyes off of her. She’s so smooth.

“I feel bad that they’re in the same class. I don’t know who I’m going to vote for.”

Statistically, Chinn has impressed with 446 kills and 96 blocks. Risi has 140 aces with a .430 hitting percentage. Risi’s aces already make the MHSAA single-season record book list in that category, and Chinn is on pace to make the kills list.

Mayssa Cook is in her first season as head coach at Marian and her setter, Madison Dowd, is a nominee. Cook played volleyball at Dearborn High before graduating in 2003 and playing four years in college, the last two at Wayne State. Cook began coaching the freshmen team at Dearborn a year after graduating from high school. She built the program at Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard as she guided the Irish to a District title in 2013, her first season as head coach, and the school’s first Regional title the next season – before Gabriel Richard then won the Class B title in 2015 with a perfect 42-0 record. Cook (her maiden name is Bazzi) left Gabriel Richard after 2016 and took off from coaching as she gave birth to her first child.

Cook has seen the game change dramatically since the early 2000s. She was a three-sport athlete for the Pioneers, and even though she was a fine player, she said she’s not sure she would make varsity now with the skill set she possessed then.

“Look at the 10 nominees,” she said. “All 10 play travel. You don’t get to be a top-10 player by playing three months. I played three sports (in high school). I played travel soccer. I played travel volleyball but I didn’t play 11 months of volleyball.

“Ten years ago, many schools on this side of the state would go to the west side to get competition. It’s a lot more balanced now. There are still great teams over there, but we don’t have to travel three hours to play the good teams. We can go 10 minutes.”

Dowd, a four-year varsity player and a two-year captain, typifies a well-rounded student-athlete. She has a 4.2 grade-point average, and on the court not only is she a fine player but a valuable teammate. She has 808 assists and 217 digs, and her 1,531 assists as a junior rank ninth in MHSAA history.

“A lot of it has to do with her personality,” Cook said. “She’s not the loudest person on the court. She has a calming presence. She leads by example and is that player who makes her teammates better.”

Dowd has received a number of scholarship offers for volleyball but has yet to decide where she will go after this school year is done.

Over the years Marian has had a host of players nominated for Miss Volleyball, which was created in 2003. That season Erin Poglits was the first Marian player to make the list. Alexandra Cocklin was named Miss Volleyball in 2009 and her teammate, Rachel Charles, was second in the voting. The next season Marian’s Alexandra Lovell finished second and her teammate, Alessandra Dietz, was fourth. Before this season, somewhat surprisingly, the last Marian player to make the top 10 was Jessie Kopmeyer in 2013.

Jessica Robinson (6-2) from Troy and Paige Briggs (5-10) from Lake Orion also are accomplished outside hitters.

Robinson is the first player from Troy to be a nominee and entering this season she had 1,174 kills and 588 digs for her career. She had 740 kills as a junior to rank among the most successful single-season hitters in state volleyball history.

“In college (Robinson has committed to University of Michigan), she’ll be a middle hitter,” said Troy coach Tom Vigilant. “But for us, we have her on the outside. She plays all around. If I need an attacker on the back, I can go to her. But she does what she does best, and that’s at the net.”

Lake Orion’s only other nominee, Courtney Wightman, came in 2015. Lake Orion is one of those Oakland County programs that has made significant strides in the past decade. Its 2011 team reached the Class A Final before losing to Rockford.

Briggs suffered a back injury last season, which limited her effectiveness. Lake Orion coach Tony Scavarda said she has fully recovered and helped make the Dragons one of the top teams in the county.

“She’s made a huge impact for us,” he said. “She passes from the back row, plays good defense and she’s got good leaping ability. She does everything well. At 5-10, she jumps really well and is smart with the ball. We have other players her size who can’t do what she does.”

Briggs is close behind Chinn with 444 kills and is among the leaders in digs with 340. She’s also on pace to make the single-season kills record book list.

Lake Orion lost to Clarkston in the District last season, but with a healthy Briggs the Dragons are off to a 41-4 start and looking for their first District title since 2015.

Scavarda, in his fifth season as head coach, said it is a bit surprising to have five players from the same county in the running for Miss Volleyball, but adds that it is another indication of how strong the level of play has been in Oakland County over the last decade.

“Oakland County is always pretty strong,” he said. “Clarkston is always good, and they might be a little down this season but not by much. Marian and (Farmington Hills) Mercy are always good, too.”

Tom Markowski is a contributing writer for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Oakland County’s five Miss Volleyball candidates, from left: Lake Orion’s Paige Briggs, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep’s Maddy Chinn, Bloomfield Hills Marian’s Madison Dowd, Notre Dame Prep’s Natalie Risi and Troy’s Jessica Robinson. (Middle) Head shots: Chinn and Risi, Dowd, Robinson and Briggs. (Robinson action photo courtesy of C&G Newspapers; Briggs action photo courtesy of State Champs! Sports Network).

JoBurg 3-Sport Great Capping Career Filled with All-State Honors, Team Trophies

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)