Restored Novi Aims to Extend Title Streak

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

November 8, 2017

NOVI – Eleven months ago, after Novi had won its second consecutive MHSAA Class A title, those in the volleyball community fully expected the Wildcats to easily make it a three-peat in 2017.

And why not? Novi won its second straight championship in a four-set victory over Rockford in the Final, and coach Jen Cottrill had nine seniors returning led by two of the state’s top players in setter Erin O’Leary and outside hitter Abryanna Cannon.

Those close to the sport, and the program, agreed that this team had more talent – and coupled with the experience, a third title would be a breeze.

But the world of sports, especially at the high school level, isn’t so predictable. It’s part of the allure of athletics. Each season, each game, is laced with unknown factors.

And so it was for the Wildcats. During tryouts Cannon suffered a sprained ankle, which forced her to miss much of the early part of the season. Soon after senior Kathryn Ellison, another outside hitter, suffered a shoulder injury. Midseason, senior middle hitter Savanna Frick suffered a concussion. And shortly thereafter Jaeda Porter, a junior who plays middle as well, suffered a high ankle sprain.

Those injuries caused frequent changes to the rotation that often had players playing out of position.

“We went through some changes, having four starters out at one time,” Cottrill said. “We were also dealing with a lot of pressure. People expect you to win. You get everyone trying to take you down. Just because you have talented players doesn’t mean you’re going to win. We’re fortunate that the top players we have are humble.”

Cottrill has all of her players back, and the No. 2-ranked Wildcats (53-3) are playing at a high level. They defeated No. 9 Northville in the District Final in straight sets and Walled Lake Central, also in straight sets, in a Regional Semifinal on Tuesday at Dexter. Novi will play South Lyon in a Regional Final on Thursday, also at Dexter, at 7 p.m.

The best of the best for Novi are O’Leary and Cannon, both of whom are among the 10 finalists for the state coaches association Miss Volleyball Award. O’Leary signed with University of Michigan on Wednesday; Cannon with Northwestern.

Cannon, a transfer from Traverse City West, moved to Novi after her sophomore season and has proven to be an important piece to the puzzle. She had a match-high 20 kills in last season’s championship match win. Ellison and Porter also played major roles in that trip to Kellogg.

O’Leary has been directing the attack from the start Novi’s rise, and she’s from a family where athletics are engrained. Her father, Brian O’Leary, was the soccer coach at Novi and her brother, Connor, was an all-state soccer player for the Wildcats who is now competing for Grand Valley State’s club team. Brian O’Leary was at Novi when the program won the school’s only MHSAA boys soccer title (Division 1 in 1998).

Erin O’Leary, a four-year starter, said she and her teammates are playing as well as they have all season and, in an odd way, the early-season injuries have been a blessing.

“This has been a different season than the other ones,” O’Leary said. “The other seasons we hadn’t faced much adversity. We were great in the beginning and we were great at the end. After the injuries, ultimately, looking back, the experiences were good for us. Now we’re better. We talk about being competitive in practice. Other players had to step up their game. Having everyone on the team playing helps elevate everyone’s game.”

O’Leary is quite the talent, on the court and in the classroom. She was named the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior and is considered one of the top players nationally while also playing club for Legacy, coached by Rick Cottrill, Jen’s husband. O’Leary played for USA Volleyball’s Youth National Team in 2016.

She also carries a 4.2 grade-point average and is expected to graduate early and enroll at U-M in January.      

Few Class A teams have enjoyed the success Novi has had recently. The Wildcats lost in the 2014 Final to Romeo before winning the title the past two seasons. Should they capture a third consecutive title later this month, they would be the first Class A team since Portage Northern in the mid-1990s to win three straight.

Northern actually won four consecutive titles (1992-95), highlighting an incredible run of 10 Class A championship in 18 seasons (1982-1999).

This is Cottrill’s sixth season at Novi. She coached at Pinckney (seven seasons) and White Lake Lakeland (three) before coming to Novi. She’s taken nothing for granted. It’s been a coach’s dream to guide so many fine athletes during such a brief period.

“Being in a public school system, you go in cycles,” she said. “What you do (with talented players) is up to you. Erin was playing at a high level in the seventh grade. She was the star. We’ve been able to build (a team) around her.

“The system cultivates success. How to be disciplined. To remain humble. We spend a lot of time on leadership, talking about what it takes to be a leader. If they are leading a group, we want them to focus on the right things, the right direction to take.

“The goal when you’re coaching is not winning. We focus on making the girls better women. To be a great employee, a great wife, a great mother.

“In 2014 we did pull a rabbit out of the hat. We didn’t have any Division I players (in the senior class). You take a lot of joy seeing the girls work hard and being rewarded for that. There’s nothing more gratifying for a coach that to see them grow as a person.”

Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage 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) Novi volleyball coach Jen Cottrill talks things over with her team. (Middle) Novi’s Miss Volleyball finalists, Abryanna Cannon (top) and Erin O’Leary. (Below) Cottrill is in her sixth season leading the Wildcats. (Photos courtesy of the Novi 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.)