Cengic's First Goal Golden for Falcons

November 3, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

TROY – Junior Emir Cengic had played defender all season. He wasn’t even sure why his coach made the snap decision to move him up front.

But that astute maneuver by East Kentwood coach John Conlon on Saturday helped set up Cengic for the most memorable moment of his high school career.

Cengic hadn’t scored this fall, and hadn’t really had an opportunity while lined up on the other side of the field. But 20 minutes into the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final, Cengic found himself in front of Grand Blanc’s goal receiving a 20-yard pass from teammate Josh Hagene, and then right-footing his own rebound into the net.

His first goal this season was the only goal East Kentwood needed to claim its fourth MHSAA championship. The Falcons outlasted the Bobcats over the final 65 minutes at Troy Athens to come away with a 1-0 win in the final soccer game this season.

“The ball just came. It was a lucky shot,” Cengic said. “I never imagined something like this. It’s unbelievable.

“This is probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

East Kentwood most recently had won Division 1 in 2010, and this season’s title was its fourth in six seasons. The Falcons finished 22-1-4, giving them seven seasons in the last eight with at least 20 victories.

How they won this time bore some similarities to other recent title runs.

East Kentwood’s goal in the 2008 1-0 win over Livonia Stevenson also came from a primarily defensive player, Bung Jin Lee.

In 2010, then-sophomore Charlie Constantino played in the back as well, biding his time as many younger players in the program must before taking leading roles. He was the Falcons’ primary offensive player this fall, and Conlon expects Cengic to move up front fulltime as well next fall.

“I actually had him in class as a fifth grader, and the kid never gets rattled,” Conlon said. “I could put him anywhere on the field. I could probably put him in goal and he’d be fine. We just ask our guys to buy into their roles, and whatever their role is, to take advantage of it. And Emir had a great moment today.”

Only two minutes before, Grand Blanc had its best scoring opportunity. Junior midfielder Ali Mukhtar moved the ball ahead to junior forward Nick Berklich, who had a chance from point-blank range that was deflected by East Kentwood sophomore keeper Peyton Gonzalez.

Falcons back-up keeper Denis Duratovic also made a major impact. It was the senior’s suggestion that led to Conlon moving Cengic up on the far side as East Kentwood prepared to throw-in from the sideline side of the field.

The loss was another heart-breaker for a Grand Blanc team that total played in 13 one-goal games this season – but had won the last three and another by two goals in overtime over No. 4 Rochester Hills Stoney Creek in a Regional Semifinal. The Bobcats (16-7-2) could muster only six shots on goal this time, but freshman keeper Pearce Skinner had 11 saves and is one of nine players who should return in 2013.

This was Grand Blanc’s second championship game appearance, and first since 1987.

“I told the guys they’ll be disappointed (Saturday), maybe through the weekend. But when they reflect back on everything starting Aug. 9, the way we battled all year. I think they’ll be happy,” Grand Blanc coach Greg Kehler said. “To get to the Finals is a great accomplishment.

“The experience of this, you can’t replace it. And to have those kids get involved and be a part of this, I think is going to carry on to next year’s young kids. And obviously, that helps greatly.”

Click for the box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) East Kentwood’s Emir Cengic (second from left) celebrates his goal with teammates a little more than 15 minutes into the Division 1 Final. (Middle) Falcons sophomore Peyton Gonzalez goes high to make a save.

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

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

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 tomspencer@chartermi.net 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.)