P-W's Miss Volleyball Smith Shows What's Possible, But More Goals Await

By Steve Vedder
Special for MHSAA.com

November 21, 2023

Don't get Taylor Smith wrong: Volleyball is, without doubt, her greatest passion.

Mid-MichiganIt's just that Smith's ultimate goals for herself include far more than being defined by athletics.

The Pewamo-Westphalia senior, named the first Lansing-area winner of the state’s Miss Volleyball Award, said her work in a variety of areas outside of volleyball is as equally rewarding as excelling on the court.

"I just want to be known as an all-around good person," Smith said. "That's what makes me feel real good. If you work hard at something, that's what makes you feel good about yourself."

In addition to becoming the 20th Miss Volleyball, Smith is a three-time all-stater and the foundation of an outstanding Pirates program which has won three league titles over the last four years, four Districts and Regionals, the Division 3 championship a year ago and finished with a 53-2 record this season.

The remarkable team success aside, it comes as no surprise to P-W coach Jon Thelen that his star setter wants to be known for more than athletics. Smith works in special needs and peer mentoring programs within the school district. She carries a 3.98 grade point average and will continue her volleyball career next season at Eastern Michigan.

"She's the type of kid who just wants to give of herself," Thelen said. "She works her butt off on everything she does. She'll be one of those kids that you'll want to hire as an adult. She's a driven kid who has been a blessing to coach."

Smith's journey from fledging sixth-grade volleyball player to receiving the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association's highest honor is a bit unconventional.

She began her volleyball career as an 11-year-old, moved on to the December-to-July club volleyball season where Smith estimates she's played in 50 tournaments over her career, and finally became the cornerstone of the P-W program.

A four-time all-conference and three-time volleyball all-stater, Smith said she gave up a moderate interest in basketball to throw herself into volleyball. She was a varsity starter as a freshman, began gaining notice from college coaches as a sophomore, and committed to Eastern Michigan in April of her junior season. She also considered Gannon University (Pa.) and Wright State among others.

Smith accepts her medal.Smith is the first to admit she was no immediate volleyball sensation. Smith believes her game has improved in increments since the sixth grade. The last two facets of her game to fall in place were improvements in attacking and location in setting the ball. Those finishing touches transformed Smith from an excellent high school player to one capable of playing at the Division I college level.

A connection can easily be made, Smith said, from her love of the game to the sport providing a sense of community pride.

"Volleyball means everything to me," she said. "But it's not just playing volleyball, it's the sense of school and community I have from playing. I think that's helped my life in general. Overall, volleyball is fun and I love playing. But there is also that connection you have with community. That's important to me, too."

Smith said she began thinking playing volleyball at the next level would be possible after her freshman year of high school, That's when word began spreading that a school of 300 students possessed a 6-foot-1 setter who could help a college roster. But when Smith completed her own self-evaluations as a high school player, college seemed only a sketchy possibility lurking just over the horizon.

"Only because people told me I had a chance," Smith said of a college scholarship. "My game definitely needed work, and it wasn't just one thing. There were a lot of little things that came together for me."

The work has paid dividends. Smith's 165 points in the Miss Volleyball voting were 22 more than runner-up Zoey Dodd of Grandville. Smith said she considered herself a longshot in winning an award that recently has been dominated by Metro Detroit honorees. The last four played for Division 1 contenders.

This season’s Miss Volleyball ballot was filled mostly by candidates from the Grand Rapids area and also included representatives from Oakland County and the Thumb.

"I'm not kidding you; I didn't really think I had a chance. I was just happy to be in the top 10," she said. "When you see the (nominations), you see that there are a lot of good volleyball players in the state. I'm in a state of shock that I won."

Thelen said Smith winning the award is a statement about what players from smaller schools can accomplish. It's not about bigger always being better, he said.

"The neat thing is someone from a smaller school won it," Thelen said. "I think now those kids can go, 'I can do this.' You don't need to be at a bigger school to be represented on the big stage."

PHOTOS (Top) Taylor Smith (11) sets to her teammates during Pewamo-Westphalia’s 2022 Division 3 championship win at Kellogg Arena. (Middle) Smith accepts her medal.

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.)