Undefeated Manistique Makes Banner Run

November 9, 2015

By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half

MANISTIQUE – Finally, the time has arrived to put volleyball on the sports map at Manistique High School.

The Emeralds will play in their first Regional tournament Tuesday when they face perennial power Calumet in Class C at Gladstone High School. They achieved that pinnacle by upending Gwinn 3-1 Thursday, in Ishpeming.

Under coach Amy Nixon, the Emeralds take an 18-0 record into the Regional. Their first District title came on the heels of their first Mid-Peninsula Conference championship, which means a volleyball banner finally will be hung in the high school gym and a couple of trophies will be displayed in the school's trophy case for the first time.

"The girls have become almost like rock stars," said Manistique athletic director Rob Ryan, noting the sport had very little success during the previous 20 years. "It's been a great journey. They now have crowds that are similar to boys and girls basketball, and the community is getting involved."

A fan bus of 50 students attended the District title game, which was a two-hour drive each way. Nixon was told by several people at Ishpeming that her student section was the loudest they had ever seen in Ishpeming. The team received a police escort back into Manistique late Thursday night.

"I'm proud of our students, family and friends," said Nixon. To which Ryan added, "everyone in the community is buzzing about it."

The success is a much-needed boost for the school and the community. The area is still reeling from the closure of its paper mill, its' biggest employer, earlier this year. And athletic success has been rare in most sports over the years as the Emeralds compete in the M-PC, regarded as one of the most competitive conferences in the state, in all sports.

Football was 1-8 in the fall, so volleyball has provided the important ingredient of success in Manistique. "Volleyball is something everybody is talking about," said Ryan.

"For 10 years volleyball has not been on the map at Manistique. We just were not competitive. It was very quiet in the gym. It was dark and depressing. Now we have raucous crowds. It has really done a 360. It is unbelievable."

With seven seniors on the team, including three-year starters Lexi Carlson, Machaela Hinkson and Sydney Chartier, the Emeralds have been groomed to succeed this fall. Carlson, a first-team M-PC standout, had 13 kills and three blocks Thursday while Chartier had 20 assists and Brooke Whiskin had 23 of Manistique's 91 digs.

"Our defense has improved so much," said Nixon, indicating the Emeralds changed formations from a man-up defense to a rotation system this year. "We don't let a whole lot of balls drop to the floor," said Nixon.

While Carlson, who joined the varsity late in her freshman season, is the leader, Nixon said, "we are a complete team. We are so strong mentally and physically. They have each other's back. There is no girl drama. This is really a well-rounded team. We have five hitters who get kills on a consistent basis.

"We are a tough-attacking offensive power."

Nixon, in her eighth season at the helm, is a native of Kingsford and spent two years as volleyball coach at Gwinn before coming to Manistique. She was a student assistant on the Northern Michigan University volleyball team and has used her experience, along with attending clinics, to instill success in Manistique.

"It's been an amazing ride," said Nixon, indicating the journey began with a five-set loss to Gwinn in the Class C District a year ago. "The girls were heart-broken when they lost last year," she said.

With nine returnees from that team, Nixon got the girls together in April and discussed goals and what the future could look like if the players were willing to put in the time and effort.

With her husband Tim conducting strength and conditioning programs, the girls began to reach for this season's success with the help of open gyms and small-scale skill sessions during the four months prior to official practice starting in August, when they "hit the ground running," said Nixon.

"It has been grueling," said Nixon, noting team bonding has been a focus. "For six months, volleyball has been our life. Their hearts have been 100 percent in it every day. They have been so determined to make it happen. They focused on achieving something great this year."

Changing the mind-set after so many years of struggling was vital. "I set high expectations for my team. I would not accept being mediocre," said Nixon, who strived to have the players give their best effort at all times. As the triumphs began building this season, Nixon said, "it proved to them what they were capable of doing."

The experienced core of the team has helped give the Emeralds an edge this season. "Their court vision is very cool for me to see," said Nixon. After being previously happy to just get the ball over the net, now the Emeralds set targets for their shots.

"They put it in specific spots. Their instincts are so good," said Nixon.

Ryan said this squad's success also occurs off the court, noting their team GPA is 3.7 or 3.8. "This is a great group of girls. They never have a discipline problem. They deserve everything they are getting,” he said.

"Getting that first volleyball banner on the gym wall will be very emotional. To finally clear this hurdle (District title) is really rewarding."

The Emeralds have not seen Calumet this season, but Manistique hosted the Copper Country power in the Class C Quarterfinal last year and received some insight into the team.

"The girls are really focused and will stay the course," said Nixon. "We had a motto (when practice began), Battle Creek or bust," she said of the MHSAA Finals site. "It started out as a joke, but as we have experienced success the motto is not so much a joke. It is reality."

Denny Grall retired in 2012 after 39 years at the Escanaba Daily Press and four at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, plus 15 months for WLST radio in Escanaba; he served as the Daily Press sports editor from 1970-80 and again from 1984-2012. Grall was inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and serves as its executive secretary. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for the Upper Peninsula.

PHOTOS: (Top) Manistique senior Allie Nagy follows through on a kill attempt during a victory this season over Iron Mountain. (Middle) Lexi Carlson (7) goes high to set up a block. (Below) The Emeralds celebrate during their victory. (Photos courtesy of Manistique athletic department/Jeffrey Bolm.)

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.)