Athens Ends Inspired Run with OT Surge

November 2, 2019

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

COMSTOCK PARK – It was nearly three decades ago to the day that Todd Heugh won an MHSAA Finals championship as a soccer player at Troy Athens High School.

Heugh experienced that same joy as the head coach of his alma mater Saturday after the Red Hawks defeated Traverse City West 4-1 in overtime in the Division 1 Final at Comstock Park High School.  

“I was on the 1989 state championship team at Athens, and now in 2019 I win one as a head coach,” Heugh said. “We’ve talked all season about enjoying the journey and this moment of playing on the big stage at a great facility. They seized their moment, and I’m thrilled for them. I know it’s something that they are not going to forget the rest of their lives.”

Troy Athens (23-2-1) won the program’s fifth Finals title, but first since 1997. Heugh’s 1989 squad won a Class A championship with a 1-0 victory over Salem.

“I think it’s amazing,” said Red Hawks goalkeeper Jason Kemp, who had four saves. “He talked about it the other day in the locker room, and he pulled out his varsity jacket and his medals and everything. He said 30 years ago he won the state championship, and now you guys have the opportunity in front of you yourselves.

“It’s been a while since our school has won a state championship, so to finally give this great institution another state championship is indescribable.”

After a scoreless first half, Troy Athens got on the board with just more than 27 minutes remaining.

After a penalty that resulted in a free kick, senior Andri Myftari ripped a shot from just outside of the box into the left corner of the goal.

Traverse City West (18-4-2), which had won 13 of its last 14 games, answered with less than 14 minutes left when sophomore Colin Blackport scored on a penalty kick. 

“I think for the first time this season, maybe we got a little rattled after they scored on the PK,” Heugh said. “We started to foul, but we had time to calm down before overtime and we talked about seizing your moment. They are going to have theirs, we are going to have ours, and what are you going to do in those moments. I was super proud of them.”

Both teams failed to score during the first 10-minute overtime period. But over the next 10 overtime minutes, the Red Hawks strung together a flurry of goals to take command. 

Troy Athens scored three goals in a span of four minutes.

Sophomore Ryan Gruca had a pair, including the go-ahead goal, and senior Rishi Kalyan added the other to send the Athens faithful into a frenzy.  

“We’ve scored in bunches throughout this tournament, so there wasn’t a doubt that we could do it,” Heugh said. “I didn’t think we would get three, but I knew if we scored one then we might be able to score two. We’ve done it quite a bit in the tournament.”

Troy Athens drew inspiration from last year’s disappointment. The team was unbeaten through the regular season before being upset in the District Final.  

Thirteen seniors returned from that team in a bid for redemption. 

“That was always our motivation coming into the season,” Myftari said. “Just doing better than we did last season, and I think that’s what helped us win. We’ve just always pushed to do better, and we had that grind in us.”

Heugh said last year’s ending was brought up only for a short time.

“We talked about last year for a day, and we were going to make a conscious effort not to do it after that,” he said. “A lot of these kids were on that team and came back as seniors. The just won their 44th game in the last two years playing a difficult schedule, so I’m excited they are champions.”

Titans' keeper Blade Kalbfleisch was outstanding in the net and made a pair of incredible saves. 

Click for the full scoring summary.

PHOTOS: (Top) Troy Athens’ Nikhil Somani (5) and Andri Myftari (10) celebrate during Saturday’s Division 1 championship game win. (Middle) Traverse City West’s Kaden Ales (7) works to get the ball through Athens’ defense and the snow.

Storch Returns to Retirement After Elevating Alpena Teams From Cellar to Contenders

By Tom Spencer
Special for

December 16, 2022

It wasn’t long ago that Alpena boys and girls soccer opponents took their long bus rides to play the Wildcats expecting an easy win, and most likely by securing the victory by the eight-goal differential rule, commonly known as the “mercy rule.”

Worse yet, the Wildcats also had to take those trips across the northern part of the Lower Peninsula, as well as northern and southern journeys of two hours, dreading thoughts of experiencing yet another shortened game.

Those expectations started to change in 2011, when Tim Storch, arguably the most decorated coach in the history of Michigan high school soccer, took the reins of the Wildcats’ boys and girls programs.  

Storch made the move after retiring from Troy Athens as a teacher and coach of the Redhawks’ boys and girls soccer teams.

Slowly but surely, Alpena’s mercy losses disappeared – and wins over their Big North Conference opponents became reality. Under Storch, the Wildcats went from the cellar to challenging for titles.

But now, Storch is showing some mercy on the Big North – perhaps an early Christmas present. The conference schools won’t see him on sidelines any longer. He’s retiring – again.   

Storch is doing so after leading the Wildcats to wins over all conference opponents except Traverse City West. The Wildcats did get a tie this fall against the Titans, one of the BNC schools that regularly makes a deep postseason run, as Alpena stayed in the league title race most of the season.

“When I came to Alpena it was about trying to make the program relevant in the school, the community, the area, the BNC and northern Michigan,” Storch recalled. “We got to that point after some growing pains. 

“Early on we took our lumps, and we were mercied by everybody,” he continued. “By the end we were competitive with everybody.”

Storch, who started the Athens soccer programs from scratch in 1981, won eight Class A or Division 1 Finals titles with the Redhawks. He’s near the top of the lists of the winningest boys and girls soccer coaches in the state. The last of his 1,109 wins was a 3-1 victory over Bay City Western during this fall’s postseason.  

The Wildcats also beat conference opponent Cadillac in their District opener. They finished 14-6-3 on the season.   

Storch will be dearly missed in Northern Michigan, veteran Petoskey boys and girls coach Zach Jonker pointed out. Jonker’s Northmen picked up a victory over Alpena in the Division 2 District Final – also Storch’s last game. 

"Tim has had a legendary career as one of the most influential figures in Michigan high school soccer over the past 40 years while having an enormous impact on thousands of student-athletes,” Jonker said. “Over the past decade, Tim helped to dramatically raise the overall level of play in the Big North. 

Storch, holding the microphone, elevated the Wildcats’ girls and boys programs since taking over both in 2011. “He is one of fiercest competitors I have ever coached against, but he is also one of the most genuine and empathetic coaches I have ever encountered,” Jonker continued. “I feel fortunate to have been able to build a competitive relationship with him and call him a friend."

Storch’s last game with the Alpena girls also was a District Final, a 3-0 loss May 31 to West.

Storch is proud of what the Wildcats accomplished, noting logistics — unlike in southeastern Michigan — were a big challenge.

“We were an island,” Storch said. “We were big school in the middle of nowhere. 

“We couldn’t get together and have any kind of summer program with other communities because they didn’t have soccer, and if they had soccer they were at a Class D or C level that was way beneath what we were playing in the Big North.”

Storch’s tenure, which included six years serving as the Wildcats’ athletic director while coaching, drew accolades from his coaches and athletic directors. In addition to Jonker, Gaylord AD Christian Wilson, and West boys head coach and girls assistant coach Matt Griesinger gave high praise.

They are among those who will miss the successful coach.

“Tim leaves Alpena in better shape than when he arrived, and that is the true mark of a great coach and administrator,” Wilson said. “He has been an outstanding representative of Alpena High School, both as a soccer coach and as an athletic director. 

“Tim brought a level of stability and expertise and was well-thought of by players, coaches, and community members.”

Griesinger, who has led the Titans to considerable postseason success and upheld BNC dominance since taking over the West program eight seasons ago, was particularly impressed with Storch’s energy and passion for his players evident in every match.

“Tim is one of the most respected coaches in the state, and what he has done for the soccer communities in both Troy and Alpena is not just commendable, but also something that every high school coach should hope to emulate,” Griesinger stated. “Storch is a stand-up guy, and all of us other coaches in the BNC should consider ourselves lucky that our journeys in the sport overlapped.”

Storch is leaving Michigan high school sports as they face a shortage of referees and qualified coaches. He’s not certain of the exact reasons for it, but he points to time constraints and pressures faced on and off the field.

And, he knows the days of a teacher starting a career, coaching sports and sticking with it are long gone.

“My wife has always said I was a dinosaur,” Storch said with a chuckle. “Back in my day, even if you had family and kids, you still made time for coaching. 

“Coaching was part of my fiber — it kind of defined me.”

Storch is quick to point out “soccer coach” was just one of three hats he wore, along with history teacher and friend.

“I’m Mr. Storch to my students,” he recalls telling his student-athletes at Athens. “I’m Coach to my kids, and I am Tim to my friends.

“They are three different hats; I learned how to wear them and how to balance them.”

Storch looks back to all the friendships he’s made around the game of soccer – with former players, fellow coaches, and referees – with excitement for the future.  

He is also keeping in mind former players, referees and coaches who have passed on.

“It is kind of humbling when I think back all the years (to) coaches, referees and players I have interacted with,” he said. “We’re all here for a finite time. 

“We need to make the most of it and hopefully leave the place a better place when we leave.”

Tom 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 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) Recently-retired Alpena soccer coach Tim Storch, left, talks things over with one of his players. (Middle) Storch, holding the microphone, elevated the Wildcats’ girls and boys programs since taking over both in 2011. (Photos courtesy of Therese Shaw.)