Undefeated Calumet Upholding Tradition

By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com

October 22, 2020

CALUMET — Over nearly two decades, Calumet has developed a tradition of excellence in high school volleyball.

First-year coach Kate (Twardzik) Bonacorsi remembers what it was like during the early years.

“We were an unknown,” she said. “Hardly anybody would come to the volleyball matches. Then we won the (Class B) Regional in 2003 and kind of raised the bar.

“A lot of the credit has to go to my mom (Lisa Twardzik) for all the work she put into the program and the passion she had for the game.”

Their multiple-generation coaching connection is just the latest from a legacy that is again producing a team capable of achieving high aspirations.  

The Copper Kings – honorable mentions in this week’s Division 3 coaches poll – are fresh from Monday’s 3-0 victory over Houghton and will take an 11-0 record into Saturday’s Western Peninsula Athletic Conference finals on their home court.

Calumet finishes its regular season at Marquette on Oct. 29, then hosts Hancock in a District opener Nov. 4.

“This is pretty exciting after putting all the time in the gym,” said senior libero Cami Johnson. “We have good chemistry on our team for sure. It’s inspiring too for us to be on a competitive team. We were able to see our older sisters play and be part of a successful program, and that motivated us to work harder. I’m proud to be from Calumet.”

The Copper Kings, who fell to Manistique in Regional openers the past two seasons, hope to go deeper in this year’s MHSAA Tournament.

They hope those defeats pay off when the postseason begins. 

“When we saw them in warm-ups, they looked pretty good and we were a little nervous about playing them,” said senior outside hitter Elli Djerf of taking on the Emeralds in 2019. “There’s a chance we could see them again this year if we win our District.

“We learned quite a bit from those losses. With COVID-19 you never know when your season might end. We’re not as nervous this time. We play every match like it’s going to be our last.”

Among the team’s highlights this fall was a 3-1 triumph over Marquette at home Sept. 14.

“We made a bit of a statement that night,” said Johnson. “Our hitters were executing, and they had a few strong hitters. We were a little worried when we missed two weeks due to COVID, but after the break we came back super fresh.”

Djerf was the West-PAC’s Player of the Year last season as a junior, and Johnson was the Defensive Specialist of the Year. Now-senior setter Kristi Keranen also made the all-league first team.

Also among the team’s leaders is sophomore middle hitter Helen Beiring. “Helen plays well above her age,” Bonacorsi said. “She’s a very savvy player, and our setter is doing a good job.

“We have strong players at every position, and they challenge each other in practice. Just being able to have a season, maintaining a high standard and living up to expectations has been a highlight.”

A member of Calumet’s Athletic Hall of Fame, Bonacorsi went on to play at Northern Michigan University, and her sister Erica played on the 2008 team that finished Class C runner-up to Schoolcraft.

“Erica and Abby Storm were co-MVPs in the West-PAC that year,” said Bonacorsi. “I remember going to the Semifinals and Finals after we got eliminated from the (NCAA Division II Tournament). It was exciting to see them play.”

Lisa Twardzik retired from coaching after leading the Copper Kings to another Semifinal appearance in 2016, and with a record of 625-131-43 over 18 seasons. Matt Laho took over for the next three seasons.

“Matt did a great job maintaining the program and has been gracious enough to help out, and Mom gave me some pointers,” said Bonacorsi. “Matt left me with a full cupboard. Mom is so modest and tells me ‘I don’t want to step on your toes,’ and I tell her ‘I need your help.’”

Djerf pointed to the team’s communication on the floor among areas becoming strengths this season. She also noted the team’s serve-receive and serving as contributors to Calumet’s overall continued improvement.

All have the Copper Kings in position to again thrive into November.

“It feels great to be part of a tradition. When you’re a little girl, you look up to the older girls. We thought they were so cool and wanted to be a part of that,” Keranen said.

“We work hard in practice. So far we’ve gone undefeated, and we want to keep it going.”

John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTO: Calumet's Helen Beiring taps the ball over the net during a match against Hancock in September. (Photo courtesy of the Houghton Daily Mining Gazette.)

JoBurg 3-Sport Great Capping Career Filled with All-State Honors, Team Trophies

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)