Reigning D4 Champ Finding Title Mix Again

By Wes Morgan
Special for

October 8, 2019

Losing half its roster following a Division 4 championship season presented plenty of challenges to the Mendon varsity volleyball program this fall.

But the resourceful Hornets, led by second-year head coach Heather Bowers, have managed to compete at a high level while simultaneously forming a new identity.

With a dominant offense in 2018 that resulted in an MHSAA postseason run that was nearly perfect (just one set dropped in seven matches) and culminated with a 25-16, 25-21, 25-14 victory over No. 1-ranked Leland in the Final at Kellogg Arena, Bowers’ first year in charge was a smooth transition for the program. This year, without as much firepower, a slew of injuries and players having to learn new and critical positions, a match record of 21-6-6 has required a more blue-collar approach.

“They still have that drive that has been instilled in them,” Bowers said. “They’re not satisfied; they want more all the time. They have that competitiveness this year, too. The talent is there, and it is a very athletic group that’s fun to work with.”

Still, at 6-0 in the Southwest 10 Conference and carrying a No. 2 ranking in the latest Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association poll, the Hornets have positioned themselves well for a repeat run.

Bowers, who played her senior year at Mendon in 2011 for legendary coach Kathy Trenary before competing for Huntington University in Indiana, has implemented a similar, defensive-minded approach along with a focus on serving.

“We have always prided ourselves on serving,” said Bowers, whose team is operating at a 90.1-percent clip this year with 279 aces. “Serving has been a staple and defense has been a staple, too.”

Senior defensive specialist Juliana Hagenbuch has registered 265 digs so far this year, with four more teammates having made significant impacts in the same category. Junior outside hitter Anna Smith, who has verbally committed to play for Division I College of Charleston (S.C.), might be best known for her offensive prowess, but she’s second on the team with 187 digs. Senior Gracie Russell is up to 157, and sophomore Payton Griffith boasts 150.

“Juliana runs the defense and makes sure people are in the right spots,” Bowers said. “She is really, really good at reading and very good at serve receive. I don’t think I’ve run into another high school player who’s that consistent at serve receiving.”

“We have kind of filled the spots of the people that have graduated, regrouped and found that drive again,” Hagenbuch said. “I think we’re capable of making it pretty far again this year.”

Senior middle blocker Taylor Heitkamp has had the hottest hand at the service line with 67 aces, followed by Smith (55) and Hagenbuch (53). Smith has logged a team-best 43 blocks — which is rare from the outside hitter position — and junior middle Andrea Hoffman has 41 blocks.

That’s not to say the Hornets aren’t well-equipped offensively. Smith, a 2018 all-state selection and the second in her family to attract attention from Division I college coaches (older sister Kaley is a junior libero at Western Michigan University), is a powerhouse at the net with 409 kills this year. Heitkamp is responsible for 149 and Hoffman has 117.

“Anna leads us on our offense every outing,” Bowers explained. “She is a very powerful hitter. She sees the court well, she’s a great leader and a great defensive player as well. It’s amazing to see the kind of power she has in her serves and her hitting. She just reads really well; she’s played so much.”

The common denominator is Russell, who moved from defensive specialist to fill the massive shoes of graduated all-state setter Aubrey Crotser.

“She’s quick and has really good hands,” Bowers said. “Throughout the summer she worked really hard and is doing really well. She is more of a quiet leader with scoring. She makes great choices and is just so quick to the ball.”

Smith’s ability and experience have been invaluable, and the program is thrilled to have her back for another year in 2020. Though the makeup of the squad is different than that of the 2018 championship team, having seen what it takes to be the last team standing, Smith feels another deep run is within reach.

“We knew we had big expectations this year,” she said. “We’re reinventing ourselves. Our chemistry was not the best, but now I think we’re starting to finally get into a groove. We all have the same goals, and it’s to win another (championship). We’ve tried to focus on only what we can control, the basics, and just play our game.”

Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Mendon’s Anna Smith sends a serve toward Southfield Christian during her team’s Division 4 Semifinal win last season at Kellogg Arena. (Middle) The Hornets celebrate a tournament victory this fall. (Middle photo courtesy of the Mendon volleyball program.)

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.)