Roles Reverse as North Branch Wins Rematch

November 22, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

BATTLE CREEK – Saturday’s final MHSAA Volleyball Final felt familiar – and not just because North Branch and Lake Odessa Lakewood wore nearly identical uniforms. 

It wasn’t long ago that the Class B powers met to finish another season, and a Lakewood team filled with seniors swept the then-much younger Broncos to claim the 2012 title.

This championship rematch turned into a role reversal. 

North Branch, with four major contributors who played on the losing side last time, swept Lakewood 25-19, 25-15, 25-23 to claim the program’s second MHSAA championship and first since 2009.

“We went in wanting revenge. Two years ago … we were devastated,” said North Branch senior Laura Willson, a key contributor on the 2012 team. “It feels great to do to them what they did to us.”

Willson was her team’s second-leading hitter with 10 kills in the 2012 Final. She took nearly half of her team’s attempts Saturday and connected on 22 kills.

Seniors Calla McNulty, Victoria Severance and Mady Ruhlman also saw time in the championship game two years ago and led the Broncos in a statistical category this time – McNulty with three aces, Ruhlman with 14 digs and Severance with four blocks.

There were lessons to be learned after the 2012 Final loss – Willson said the Broncos came to understand the importance of fighting for every point and also developed a closer bond than when she was a sophomore and teammates “picked at each other a bit.”

“They had some heartbreak two years ago, and it’s all worth it with what happened today,” North Branch coach Jim Fish said. “I knew we were the better team today. Two years ago, we knew they were the better team. They had four four-year starters, and we were up against it.”

“We had more size, more experience and more power than they did two years ago,” Lakewood coach Kellie Rowland agreed. “And they had it on us today.”

Lakewood indeed had some of the look of North Branch 2012. Although three Vikings did also see time in that previous championship matchup, only two seniors were part of this season’s main playing group.

Those seniors, Vanessa Reynhout and Gracie Shellenbarger, led Lakewood with seven kills apiece, and Shellenbarger also had 10 digs. 

The Vikings had an especially difficult time countering the 6-foot-1 Willson, which wasn’t helped by not having freshman middle Alivia Benedict, who left Thursday’s Semifinal with an injury.

Lakewood did open the first set by taking a 7-3 lead as North Branch piled up an uncharacteristic five errors early. But the Broncos came back to stay at 14-13 and led for good in the second set beginning at 4-3. 

The Vikings led the third set 21-19 before North Branch rattled off three straight points on the way to finishing the match.  

Sophomore Madee Miner had 39 assists for the Broncos (61-7-4), which entered the postseason ranked No. 2 and defeated No. 1 Pontiac Notre Dame in the Semifinal. 

Sophomore Gabie Shellenbarger had 26 assists for the Vikings, who finished 51-9 after entering the playoffs ranked No. 5 and should return 10 of their 15 players for the next two seasons.

“Like I told them, they could’ve let the Regional slip through their hands, the Quarterfinal slip, the Semifinal slip. And they didn’t,” Rowland said. “I told the young ones, look at it, feel it, know how bad it feels so you want to get back and win it all.” 

Click for full statistics.

PHOTOS: (Top) North Branch players raise their championship trophy after Saturday’s Class B Final. (Middle) Lakewood’s Vanessa Reynhout drives a kill into a North Branch block including Laura Willson (10). (Click for action photos and team photos from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.) 


SHE'S A FRESHMAN! - Lake Odessa Lakewood's Lisa Hewitt comes up with the block in the first set against North Branch.
A key play at the end of the third set was this spike by Laura Willson which put North Branch at match point.
Watch the entire match and order DVDs by Clicking Here.

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.)