Southfield A&T Aiming for Highest Goal

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

February 14, 2019

SOUTHFIELD – This is season three since the merger combining Southfield’s two former public high schools, Southfield High and Southfield-Lathrup. And the shining star through all of the hubbub, at least athletically, is the girls basketball program.

The result of the merger is Southfield High School for the Arts and Technology, commonly known as Southfield A&T. The school is located at the former Southfield High, at the corner of 10 Mile Road and Lahser Road. While the boys track & field and football teams have been competitive since the merger, the success of coach Michele Marshall’s girls basketball team has gained statewide attention.

This season the Warriors could have the best team in Southfield history, whether at Southfield High, Southfield-Lathrup or A&T.

No, we’re not forgetting the 2005 Southfield-Lathrup team, also coached by Marshall (her name was Michele Jackson then), which won the Class A title. There are similarities between that team and this year’s squad, which we will address later.

This season the Warriors are 14-1 and ranked No. 2 in Division 1 in the latest Associated Press poll. Their only loss came in the second game to 2018 Class A champion Saginaw Heritage, 45-43, at Ypsilanti Arbor Prep as part of the Icebreaker Challenge. Southfield A&T is 7-0 in the Oakland Activities Association Red, a half-game ahead of Royal Oak (14-1, 7-1) after the Warriors won 60-47 at Royal Oak on Feb. 5.

The teams will complete the regular season against each other Feb. 28 at Southfield A&T.

“It was (a big victory),” Marshall said. “I watched the Royal Oak program grow even when I was coaching at Lathrup. They play very hard. Anytime you walk into a gym where there’s a hostile crowd, it’s going to be a challenge. It was for first place. They were undefeated. We need all the competition we can get to get ready for the state tournament.”

Southfield A&T will host Bloomfield Hills tonight, and barring a major upset in the next two weeks the Warriors will win the Red. It’s no slight to any of the teams in the division, but Southfield has bigger goals – notably, the Division 1 championship.

“That’s a lofty expectation,” Marshall said. “We hope to win a state championship. That’s our goal. If that isn’t (your goal), you have to ask yourself, why are you coaching?

“(But) having won a state title, I know you have to have a lot of things go your way.”

This team has experience with three starters returning led by senior Alexis Johnson and junior Cheyenne McEvans. They are both 5-foot-10 and two of the state’s top players in their respective classes, and both started on the 2016-17 team that reached a Class A Semifinal before losing to East Kentwood, 55-51.

Johnson, who surpassed 1,000 career points and averages 20 per game, is a four-year varsity player and has signed with Marshall University. McEvans averages 18 points and, although she spends much of her time at the guard position, grabbed 22 rebounds in the victory over Royal Oak.

The third returning starter is sophomore Kayiona Willis, who took over at the point guard spot last season and is averaging eight points per game. The other two starters are Soleil Barnes, a 5-8 senior who averaged 16 points last season while attending Nordonia High in Macedonia, Ohio, near Cleveland, and is contributing 10 per game this winter; and Jasmine Worthy, a 6-3 junior who attended nearby Birmingham Groves last season and is averaging eight points and eight rebounds. Her presence inside has allowed Johnson, a post player her first three seasons, to play on the perimeter or wherever Marshall sees fit.

Few teams can match the versatility, experience and talent of Marshall’s starting five. What can’t be measured is the commitment of this group. It’s not a stretch to make comparisons with the 2005 Southfield-Lathrup team. That team returned all five starters from the 2004 team that reached the Semifinal round before losing a heartbreaker to Lansing Waverly, 50-49.

Waverly, which would go on to defeat Detroit Martin Luther King, 33-32, for the Class A title, trailed Southfield-Lathrup after each of the first three quarters before pulling out the victory. And those 2004 Chargers learned their lessons well as they, too, won a close Semifinal (62-58 over Grandville in overtime) a year later before defeating King, 48-36, for the school’s only MHSAA Finals title.

Talent and experience are just two reasons why this season’s Warriors are such legitimate contenders. Look at the teams that win state titles. Normally you find an experienced coach on the bench. And that’s why this program is so highly respected.

Marshall has coached girls basketball for 27 years, the last 25 as a head coach, the first 22 at Southfield-Lathrup. She’s also taught English during this period all within the Southfield school system. When the two high schools merged, decisions had to be made on who would be the head coach of each of the athletic programs. After some debate, Marshall was named head coach at A&T.

Looking back it would appear the school district made the right choice. Above all else, Marshall has provided stability for a situation that could have turned ugly. Coaching a team where many players were rivals the season before had it challenges. There were jealousies and selfish tendencies with which to contend. That 2016-17 season challenged Marshall as a coach, and as a teacher and mentor away from the court.

Most of the players had played for Southfield High the previous season and she, of course, had coached against them. Known as a strict but fair coach, one who allows her players to be creative, Marshall dug deep to find the courage and patience to win her players over.

“They were our rivals,” said Johnson – the only remaining player from the pre-merger days – of her new teammates who came over from Southfield-Lathrup. “There was tension at first. … Coach said if we want to win, we had to work together. We connected after the King game.”

Showing how difficult that process was and how long it took, that game against King was the Regional Final.

“Nothing was easy,” Marshall said. “I took the most prominent leader from Lathrup and the most prominent leader from Southfield to help lead us. By the end of the season the kids all came together. We got to the semis. It was fun.”

And Johnson said that 2017 Semifinal loss to East Kentwood continues to provide motivation. And there’s an air of confidence that exuberates throughout.

“When we lost to East Kentwood, we were hungry to win a state title,” she said. “This team’s work ethic is different than any team I’ve been on. We all just want to win. We’re all on the same page.”

Tom Markowski is a correspondent for the State Champs! Sports Network and previously directed its web coverage. He also covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Southfield Arts & Technology’s Cheyenne McEvans looks to make her move during her team’s win over Royal Oak on Feb. 5. (Middle) Warriors coach Michele Marshall talks things over with her players. (Photos courtesy of C&G Newspapers.)

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.)