Undefeated Onsted Finds Winning Formula

September 28, 2019

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

ONSTED – Rhonda Hubbard teaches physical education and science in the classroom. But, on the volleyball court, she’s become a chemistry instructor.

Her creation this fall has been mixing up a 25-0 Onsted volleyball team.

“We were all so excited for this season,” said Wildcats junior leader Mya Hiram. “We knew we had the skill and talent and were just excited to work together. It’s all about team chemistry. Our team chemistry is amazing. That is a huge part of how good things are going.”

Onsted sits atop the Lenawee County Athletic Association at 7-0 and has beaten every team except Ida at least once in league play. The Wildcats have lost just two sets all season – one to Adrian Madison in the Tecumseh Tournament and one to Mason at the Mason Invitational – in rocketing to the undefeated start. The loss to Mason came in the first set.

“We didn’t get nervous or anything,” Hiram said about the 25-19 setback. “We all just kind of came together, re-grouped and did what we had to do. It pushed us that much harder.”

The Wildcats are experienced with several contributors back from last season’s 35-16-5 team.

Siena Heights University commit Kinsey Wagner leads the senior group that includes Brooke Gorney, McKenna Smith, Randall Strack and Randall Sexton. Hiram is part of a talented group of junior athletes that includes Brianna Benz and Kayla Ross. Kamryn Ross, Ruby Foster and Kennedy Ross are the three sophomores. 

Hiram is one of several Onsted players who play multiple sports. She’s being recruited by dozens of college basketball teams, including some Division I programs. She also plays volleyball year-round.

“This group has played almost endlessly,” Hubbard said. “They play basketball and other sports, but they also play a lot of club volleyball. They put the time in, that’s for sure.”

It’s hard to pin-point one player on the deep Wildcats roster. Through 24 matches, Smith (92.1 percent), Wagner (96.8 percent), Ross (95.6 percent) and Gorney (91.4 percent) were all serving above 90 percent. Hiram averages 3.33 kills a game with Wagner averaging 3.03. Ross has 248 digs with Hiram having 210. Smith has 468 assists, an average above eight per game. Wagner has 42 blocks.

At the Mason Invitational, Wagner, Hiram and Ross all made the All-Tournament team. Hubbard said one thing that makes this group special is the opponent doesn’t know who to focus on.

“They are all very court-aware,” she said. “They move the ball well. I don’t have one go-to girl, although we could have. That makes us harder to defend because (the opponents) don’t know who’s going to get the ball.”

Hubbard is an Adrian graduate who coached the Maples freshman volleyball team 13 years before becoming the Adrian varsity head coach in 2004. This is her 10th season as the Onsted varsity volleyball coach. She also has coached track for 30 years.

“I was a sports nut,” Hubbard said about growing up. “Give me a sport and let me play it. It didn’t matter what it was. I loved the game, loved playing the game and had good mentors. I love coaching and do it because I love the kids. They keep me in it.”

Onsted has this weekend off before returning to the court Monday against Hudson. The MHSAA Tournament starts the first weekend in November. Hubbard isn’t concerned about still being undefeated.

“I think the girls understand it’s more important to be undefeated in the state tournament than the regular season,” she said.

Hiram said while the team is very aware of its record, she and her teammates aren’t resting on it or thinking too much about it.

“When we step onto the court, that doesn’t make us nervous at all,” she said. “It pushes us. We have a lot of confidence.”

Onsted’s most recent LCAA championship came in 2012, while Hubbard’s 2017 team won a District title. Onsted’s only Regional volleyball championship came in 1992. That Wildcats team lost in the Semifinals.

“I think they are capable of going deep into the tournament,” Hubbard said. “It’s just a matter of making sure to focus and do what we are supposed to do. We can do well at the county tournament, District, Regionals … but we all know anything can happen.”

While the victories are piling up, Onsted also faces some tough competition ahead.

The Wildcats still must play LCAA opponent Ida twice, play in the Lenawee County Tournament and will take the court at the Polish Classic Invite at Bronson on Oct. 5. Niles, Sturgis, Muskegon Western Michigan Christian, Edwardsburg and Bronson also will be there. Bronson is the four-time reigning Division 3/Class C champion.

“We put that tournament on our schedule a couple of years ago because we know they are competitive teams,” Hubbard said. “You have to do that to get better. We want to play the teams that are going to push us and make us better. If we get beat, okay, it’s not the end of the world. To be unbeaten right now is awesome, but we know who we still have to play.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Onsted’s Mya Hiram (4) moves the ball ahead during a match this season. (Middle) Kinsey Wagner prepares to serve. (Photos by Laura Harvey.)

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.)