DCC Wins Matchup of 1st-Time Finalists

November 4, 2017

By Keith Dunlap
Special for Second Half

ROCHESTER HILLS – Ryan Pierson entered the Division 1 Boys Soccer Final having scored 31 goals already on the season for Detroit Catholic Central.

However, number 32 turned out to not only be more meaningful than the other 31 combined, but the most important goal of the entire season.

With 6:49 remaining, Pierson stepped up to the line and knocked in a penalty kick for what turned out to be the only goal of the game in a 1-0 Catholic Central win over Walled Lake Central in a title-game matchup that featured two programs playing in the championship game for the first time.

For all the MHSAA championships in other sports the decorated Catholic Central athletic program has accumulated, it now has a soccer title to add to the trophy case.

“It’s 39 years in the making,” Catholic Central head coach Gene Pulice said. “Our first one is definitely historic and impactful. To be the first coach to lead a team to it, it’s impactful for sure.”

Pierson created the scoring chance himself after being fouled in the box by a Walled Lake Central defender.

He got a loose ball on the edge of the right side of the penalty area and took on two defenders as he dribbled toward the goal.

Pierson put the ball through the legs of one defender to get past him and then was taken down by the other, and the official didn’t hesitate to call the foul.

Once he stepped to the ball, Pierson had some familiarity with Walled Lake Central goalie Brian Ostepanko, who made three saves during a shootout in a Regional Semifinal win over Rochester.

“I have played with him a couple of times,” Pierson said. “I played with him this past season on a showcase team. He is a solid keeper and had a great season.

“I was pretty confident. I have a system that works, and I think it worked out. I was pretty confident I was going to the (right) side, and he guessed the other way.”

An understandably somber Walled Lake Central head coach Joel Sharpe said he had no issue with the foul call.

“I’m not going to argue that,” Sharpe said. “It looked like it. When you dive in and you put someone in the box the caliber of a player Pierson is, bad things are going to happen.”

Before Pierson’s goal, the game was a defensive struggle with few quality scoring chances; it seemed destined for a shootout.

With about 30 minutes remaining, Catholic Central (21-2-4) did start to tilt the field in its favor and carried the play, collecting eight shots and five corner kicks during the second half alone.

“We had a couple of guys that we changed around a little bit, but we executed the game plan better,” Pulice said. “We had the same formation, but we executed our game plan better. I thought myself it was a matter of time before Ryan got pulled down in the box. They were on him all game. It’s one of those things where you are trying to stick to your game plan and know it will work.”

Not helping the cause for Walled Lake Central (22-2-2) was a game-ending knee injury to senior defender and captain Karl Tavadia with 33 minutes to play.

Tavadia was the main player marking Pierson up to that point, and Sharpe said he had to move a forward back to help defend Pierson.

Walled Lake Central will bemoan not only its luck with Tavadia getting hurt, but also a glorious scoring chance that came up empty in the final minute of the first half.

With the half winding down, a ball was served into the Catholic Central box and deflected to the foot of a Walled Lake Central player who was right in front of the goal line with an open net in front of him.

But the volley went straight up in the air, hit the crossbar and landed on the goal line to allow Catholic Central enough time to recover defensively.

“Their hearts are breaking, and no matter how good of a season this is and how great of an accomplishment it was to get to the Finals, it’s never easy to console these guys for everything they put into it,” Sharpe said.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Catholic Central’s Ryan Pierson celebrates connecting on a penalty kick that ended up as the Division 1 Final’s only goal. (Middle) The Shamrocks were able to stop this scoring attempt by Walled Lake Central’s Ray Daniels (8).

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.)