McQueen Home Ruling Basketball Court

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

January 2, 2020

Since she first stepped onto the hardwood more than a decade ago, Aaliyah McQueen has felt at home on the basketball court. 

The sport has helped get her through the toughest time in her life, develop some of her greatest friendships, and opened the door to a bright future.  

So, while the Flint Carman-Ainsworth senior juggles the excitement of starting her college career at University of Illinois this coming fall, and the nerves that come along with leaving her geographic home – the presence of basketball helps keep her calm. 

“I think it didn’t hit me until a couple days after my signing, that this will be the last time coming to my high school, having practice with my teammates and seeing familiar faces every day,” McQueen said. “I won’t really be home with my family – I'll be a long way from home – and basically I’ll be on my own. But that’s why Illinois was the perfect fit for me. Not only (Illini assistant coach and Flint native Tianna Kirkland), but just the people around there. The weather is colder, too, so it’s kind of similar. But I feel like I’m going to be OK as long as I’m playing basketball. It keeps me mentally sane.” 

It was basketball that helped McQueen deal with tragedy at a young age. After the death of her father in 2007, McQueen’s mother signed her up for basketball to help her focus on something positive. 

“When my father died, there wasn’t really anything for me to do,” McQueen said. “It’s a pretty dangerous city around where I’m from, and my mom didn’t want me to follow in any bad footsteps because I was grieving. I was already talented a little bit. I was kind of better than some of the kids and I was like, ‘Maybe this might be something.’” 

It clearly was, and by middle school, McQueen made the jump to AAU, playing for multiple teams and traveling the country to put her skills on display against strong competition and in front of myriad college coaches. She said her first contact with a college coach came during sixth grade. 

“At the time I was younger, so I was like, ‘Wow,’” McQueen said. “I was in shock. I was really happy. It was like, ‘Maybe I am good.’ I never really was like cocky or anything about myself, but I had never really thought I was that good. Once you see the results, that tells you you’re doing something right, and at that time I thought that I needed to keep doing what I’m doing.” 

McQueen’s high school career actually started at Goodrich, where she transferred to in eighth grade. She came back to Flint after her freshman year, however, as it felt more like home. 

“Me coming to Carman, I think, might have been a good thing for me in opening up a lot more and becoming more talkative and outspoken,” she said. “I didn’t really talk much at Goodrich. I was more of ‘only speak when spoken to.’ Just being around the people I grew up with, that kind of opened me up as a person.” 

Finding the right home was important when selecting a college, so when McQueen chose Illinois over 20 other offers, Kirkland was a major reason why. The former Ferris State two-sport star has been at Illinois for eight years, but her connections to the state of Michigan run deep. Not only is she a Flint native, but she also coached at Eastern Michigan and the University of Michigan before making the move to Illinois. 

“She’s from here, and she knows how it is here,” said McQueen, who added that talking with Kirkland is like getting a Flint history lesson. “I really like that, and we connected right away.” 

While McQueen plays guard at times for the Cavs, she’s used all over the court in coach Lance Belill’s system – which both player and coach agree will make her a better collegiate player. 

“She’s going to be a physical guard for them, just because she’s been guarding bigger players at the high school level,” Belill said. “She’s going to be a guard who can score, rebound, but most importantly get the other girls open looks.” 

While Belill said McQueen’s versatility is her greatest strength at the high school level, it’s her court vision and passing that he said would shine in college. 

“I think that’s even going to be magnified at the next level,” he said. “A lot of times, she sees things that the other girls don’t.” 

Before she heads to Illinois, McQueen still has some work to do at home, as she and her Carman-Ainsworth teammates have the makings of a special season ahead of them.  

The Cavaliers are 6-0 and ranked No. 4 in Division 1 in the Michigan Power Ratings index. They have six seniors, including two entering their fourth years with the program – Chenelle King and Jessiana Aaron. Through their first six games, the Cavs have had four players lead the team in scoring, including McQueen with 21 in their most recent win Dec. 27 against her former school. 

Carman-Ainsworth’s last two seasons both ended in the Regional round at the hands of eventual Class A/Division 1 Finals champion Saginaw Heritage. There’s a feeling within the program that this year could end differently – but either way, McQueen plans to enjoy her final year at home. 

“There are a lot of us that pretty much grew up together, the seniors,” McQueen said. “We’re all talented, and we’re all good basketball players. We’re all really focused for states, but we have to come together and stay united as one, and just have fun our senior year.” 

Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. 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) Flint Carman-Ainsworth’s Aaliyah McQueen, left, works to gather a loose ball this season during a win over Flint Kearsley. (Middle) McQueen brings the ball upcourt. (Top photo by Terry Lyons; middle photo courtesy of Aaliyah McQueen.)

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.)