Tabit Twins Drive Top-ranked Team in B

September 1, 2015

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

MOUNT MORRIS – In the heat of an intense volleyball match, it could be easy to get the wrong impression about Hannah and Sarah Tabit of Mount Morris.

A raised voice or a stern stare isn't an alarming indication of discord between the two. They're not mad at each other. They're not being mean. It's just two highly driven twins who have learned over the course of 17 years together which buttons to push without hurting each other's feelings.

"Their chemistry is great," Mount Morris coach Jim Pender said. "I sympathize with them sometimes, because I'm an identical twin, too. Joe and I, when we competed, we got on each other. It wasn't anything we can't handle.

"Sometimes it seems like they're yelling at each other. It's just a different thing with identical twins. The kids now understand they're not yelling at each other. They're so competitive. They want the best out of each other. That's how they get it out of each other."

The tough-love approach seems to work.

The Tabits have been an integral part of Mount Morris' success over the past three seasons and to their fast start and No. 1 ranking in Class B as seniors this year. Sarah is an outside hitter who was second-team all-state after registering a school-record 867 kills last season. Hannah, an outside hitter and setter, made third-team all-state despite being limited by an injury.

Both are committed to play next season at Saginaw Valley State University, a short trip up I-75 from their hometown. Starting next fall, a new set of teammates will have to get accustomed to the in-your-face manner in which the Tabit twins motivate each other on the court.

Between twins, nothing that happens in the midst of competition is taken personally when they head home.

"I feel like I can be a little more firm with her and it's not like she'll cry or something," Sarah said.

"It's just because we've been playing together for so long," Hannah added. "We have a lot of chemistry together. If we mess up, we've got to figure out what's wrong. We have to fix it."

The Tabits have played volleyball together for quite a while, but not for as long as some high school teammates.

They became enthralled with the sport in elementary school when they went to Mount Morris matches to watch their brother's girlfriend play for the Panthers.

They couldn't wait to play volleyball themselves – but they had to.

Their father, Mount Morris assistant coach Pat Tabit, has witnessed many cases of burnout among athletes who have been playing the same sport from a young age. He didn't want that to happen to his daughters.

"Our parents actually wouldn't let us play until we were in sixth grade," Hannah said. "We kept trying to ask if we could. They'd say, 'Not yet, just wait it out.' They finally let us play. My dad didn't want us to get tired of it too quick, because it happens to a lot of girls who play now and start in third or fourth grade. He didn't want us to die out of it."

The Tabits enter their senior season very much energized about volleyball. It helps that they are on a team that could deliver only the second MHSAA championship in school history in any sport. The 1984 softball team won the Class B title, one year after Pender graduated from the school.

Mount Morris has won five district titles over the last seven years and nine overall, but has never advanced beyond regionals. The Panthers were strong before the Tabits arrived, but the program is at a different level with the twins leading the way.

"People come into the gym now and ask, 'When are those two going to be seniors?'" Pender said. "It seems like they've been on the team forever. They're noticed in the gym. Sarah got MVP of the first tournament and Hannah was on the all-tournament team. I haven't had too many players who could be a dynamic player for anybody in the state of Michigan. They know what's at stake and bring their game every time."

The Panthers didn't even make it out of their district last year, but it was understandable -- they lost to eventual Class B champion North Branch in the District Final. The teams have typically met in the regionals, with North Branch eliminating Mount Morris in that round in 2009, 2012 and 2013.

The teams are again in the same district this season. It will be played Nov. 2-7 at North Branch, the seventh-ranked team in Class B.

It's a testament to Mount Morris' returning talent that it earned the No. 1 ranking, despite its early exit last season and its history of never making it out of regionals.

"We're very happy about it, but we've still got to work hard every day," Sarah Tabit said. "That way we can maintain that No. 1 spot the whole season."

Mount Morris is off to a 16-1 start after three tournaments that have featured some of the best teams in the state. The Panthers beat Chelsea (No. 8 in Class B) and Birmingham Marian (preseason No. 9 in Class A) to win the first of two tournaments in Brownstown. They lost to Lake Orion (No. 2 in Class A) in the semifinals of the second tournament in Brownstown.

In their own tournament last Saturday, the Panthers beat long-time nemesis North Branch 25-13, 25-19 in the championship match.

In addition to the Tabits, libero Lauren Gibbs received postseason honors last year by making the all-region team as a freshman. Gibbs was injured and unable to play in the district, leaving the Panthers shorthanded against a powerful North Branch team it beat during the regular season.

Junior Summer Bruce, junior Mahogany Malone, sophomore Linda Allen, senior Kayla Sorensen and senior Madeline Clarke are other key contributors from last year's team.

"In the last six years, we've been ranked in the top 10 because of the tournaments we've been playing in," Pender said. "We've been playing some strong competition and competing with them. We graduated only two seniors, and they were basically in the same spot. We beat some really good teams last year. It puts a little more pressure on me, though, when they say you're that good. You have to have the kids to do what you need to get ranked. Now we have to put everything together. It puts a little added pressure."

Bill Khan served as a sportswriter at The Flint Journal from 1981-2011 and currently contributes to the State Champs! Sports Network. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Hannah Tabit works to get a ball past two opponents at the net during a match last season. (Middle) Sarah Tabit connects earlier this fall. (Below) The Tabit twins, numbers 12 and 16, lead the top-ranked team in Class B. (Top and middle photos by Greg Tunnicliff/Genesee County Herald; bottom photo courtesy of Mount Morris athletic department.)

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.)