Pioneers Conquer Title Territory

November 23, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

BATTLE CREEK – The East Grand Rapids High School trophy case is so full, it’s reserved for awards celebrating only those teams that win MHSAA championships.

There are more than 120 trophies already in the case. And the Pioneers’ volleyball team finally can claim a spot among them.

In what was nearly the closest a three-set match could go, East Grand Rapids claimed its first MHSAA title by edging Bloomfield Hills Marian 25-22, 25-22, 25-20 in the Class A Final on Saturday at Kellogg Arena.

The Pioneers twice had made MHSAA Semifinals – in Class B in both 2010 and 2011 – and then last season, when seemingly on the verge, moved into Class A. But instead of being disappointed, East Grand Rapids relished the new opportunity.

“Moving to Class A, a lot of people didn’t expect a lot from us. A lot of people took the scary, ‘Oooohh, you’re going to Class A.’ But we didn’t take it as scary at all. We embraced it,” Pioneers outside hitter Caroline Knooihuizen said.

“Knowing we were even going to states, we had made history. But the job wasn’t done yet. ... It’s just crazy knowing we added on to our state championships at our school. It wasn’t any other trophy; it was our first volleyball championship.”

East Grand Rapids entered the tournament ranked No. 8 in Class A and finished 50-5-3. The Pioneers beat No. 4 Rockford and No. 6 Northville on the way to Saturday before surviving repeated challenges from No. 3 Marian, which finished 50-16 after advancing to its first championship game since 2010.

Coach Christine Grunewald also improved her career record this weekend to 351-60-4, and had plenty of experience to draw upon in bringing the Pioneers back to Battle Creek – she not only coached the second of those Semifinal teams but Lakewood’s winter 2007 semifinalist as well.

And it couldn't have hurt that East Grand Rapids had faced, and swept, Marian in a tournament match this fall.

“I think this whole year has been a little bit different in our approach. We’re really focusing on controlling the volleyball when it’s on our side of the net, becoming really skilled at the out-of-system ball ... and I think we did a really good job this year on doing that,” Grunewald said. 

“We wanted to be the best defensive team in the state, and I think we are, and I think we’ve proven that. We have a few big girls, but the rest of us are just scrappy. That was one of our goals, to be the best defensive team and wear those other big teams out.”  

Aside from the first point in the first set, East Grand Rapids never trailed in that game or the third. The Pioneers did get down five points midway through the second set before outscoring Marian 10-4 to turn the game’s direction in their favor.

It’s no coincidence the team’s three statistical leaders were seniors. Knooihuizen led East Grand Rapids with 15 kills to go with nine digs, and Miss Volleyball finalist Maeve McDonald had 27 assists, eight kills, 13 digs and three blocks. Senior Jordan Clappison added nine kills. Together, they kept the ship steady.

“They stayed in the moment. They didn’t get ahead of themselves,” Grunewald said. “And when we needed some big plays from other players, they did it. And I just can’t believe we’re here in three.”

The Mustangs also were keyed by their set of experienced leaders – senior hitter Jessie Kopmeyer had 10 kills and seven digs and senior hitter Paige Carey added seven kills. 

But they were two of only four seniors, and the majority of the team’s other top contributors Saturday should be back in 2014 – including junior setter Meghan Cotant (26 assists, 11 digs), junior hitter Alannah Barash (seven kills, seven digs) and sophomore libero Delaney Backonen (18 digs).  

Click for full statistics.

PHOTOS: (Top) East Grand Rapids players celebrate their first MHSAA volleyball championship at Kellogg Arena. (Middle) Marian’s Alannah Barash prepares to smash a potential kill Saturday. (Below) East Grand Rapids libero Jamie Wolffis connects on one of her 14 digs in the Final. 

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.)