Volleyball: Fly like an Eagle

November 11, 2011

Nicole DeGrace knew that with her father Chip as Frankenmuth’s volleyball coach, the Eagles would go places.

But when he told them where he thought they were headed, she didn’t believe him.

At the end of tryouts in August, Chip DeGrace -- promoted this fall after more than a decade coaching at lower levels in the program -- told his new varsity players they'd finish this season at the MHSAA Finals in Battle Creek.

“I didn’t think much of it. He believed it, but we were like, ‘Are you serious?’” Nicole said. “I didn’t know how serious he was.”

Serious enough that the Eagles are one win from making his prediction come true.

Frankenmuth, by many accounts, is a basketball school when it comes to girls sports. But the Eagles are headed to the last week of the season after upsetting No. 4 North Branch in five games Thursday for a Class B Regional title at Mount Morris Junior High (25-19, 19-25, 18-25, 25-20, 15-7).

It was just one arguably unexpected result in what’s turned into a tournament full of them. Canton upset reigning Class A runner-up Farmington Hills Mercy to win its first Regional ever, and Macomb Dakota and Charlevoix also won Regionals for the first time. Tecumseh won its first since 1992, with Lake Orion and Livonia Stevenson also needing at least a few decades to recall their last Quarterfinal berth. Saginaw Valley Lutheran’s Regional championship was its first since 1983.

Thursday’s win gave Frankenmuth just its third Regional title in program history. All three have come during the last seven seasons, but the Eagles never have advanced further. And beating North Branch to get another shot made it arguably the best win in program history, adding to a season during which the Eagles (53-9-3) have set a school record for victories with four more than the previous best.

“Without a doubt, it’s the fact we have eight seniors on the team. That is the reason,” Chip DeGrace said, explaining why the program has taken such a big step this fall. “It’s (just) a coincidence my daughter is one of them. These kids came into high school as freshmen, and the combination of athletic talent, intelligence, competitiveness, and love for volleyball, you could see it.”

Granted, North Branch graduated significant contributors from last season’s Class B runner-up team. But the Broncos annually are considered a state powerhouse, with an MHSAA championship in 2009 and a Class A runner-up finish in 2007 helping boost that reputation.

Despite defeating the Broncos on Sept. 21 and eventually winning the Tri-Valley Conference East championship – the Eagles’ first league title since 2002 – Frankenmuth remained unranked and in the Broncos' shadow heading into Districts. North Branch closed the regular season by beating the Eagles at the all-division TVC Tournament, right after Frankenmuth lost senior libero Morgan Trinklein – who DeGrace called the best defensive specialist in program history – to a knee injury.

But there also was good news for the Eagles. Frankenmuth won its District, then beat No. 10 Mount Morris to open Regional play. Senior Emily Wee, an MHSAA hurdles champion, came back from an injury two-thirds of the way through the regular season and has provided reinforcement to a strong front line -- Nicole DeGrace’s 654 kills make the MHSAA record book list, as do junior Maddy Mertz’ 155 blocks. Three defensive specialists have upped their play in Trinklein's absence. And although senior Addie Loftus’ 839 assists fall a bit short of record book mention, they are all the more impressive considering the Eagles use two setters in their offense.

Thursday's victory also came near the end of a four-year string that included three coaches and the many system and position changes that come with turnover. When senior Olivia Shelton killed the final point Thursday, Nicole DeGrace said the feeling was a mix of validation and pride.

The Eagles will carry both into Tuesday’s Quarterfinal against another perennial power, Marysville, on North Branch’s home court.

“I think we’ve kinda learned it’s not as much about thinking. It’s more about just playing,” Nicole DeGrace said. “Most of the time in our huddle with my dad now, it’s ‘Stop thinking, just play.’ And when that happens, it’s crazy. It’s just awesome.”

Click for interactive brackets for all MHSAA classes.

Click for the Flint Journal story from Thursday's Frankenmuth/North Branch match.

(Top) Frankenmuth celebrates its third Regional title ever after defeating North Branch in five games Thursday at Mount Morris High.
(Below) Senior Morgan Trinklein (10) injured her left knee in the final regular season match, but played a big part in the Eagles' TVC championship run.

(Photos courtesy of Frankenmuth volleyball.)

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.)