By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
GRAND RAPIDS – Goalkeeping and defense were catalysts in last year’s MHSAA Division 3 championship run for the Grand Rapids South Christian boys soccer team.
As the Sailors attempt to replicate last year’s success, those two elements remain vital in their quest for back-to-back titles.
South Christian, top-ranked in Division 3 this week, has had to fill huge holes after the departures of all-state goalie Carter Selvius and all-state Dream Team defender Austin Clark.
“Our defense is really what we’re working on right now, knowing the guys I lost,” Sailors coach Jason Boersma said. “We lost our goalie and two real keys to our defense. It doesn’t automatically get replaced overnight having new players coming in.
“We’re working hard at figuring out what the best line-up is. We’re doing well, and we haven’t had a lot of goals scored on us, so that’s a positive.”
The Sailors surrendered only 13 goals last season, including only a single goal over seven MHSAA tournament victories.
They defeated Williamston 1-0 in a shootout to capture their third MHSAA Final in the last six years.
Selvius was one of the heroes in that game with 14 saves, and Boersma knew his absence in the net would be felt entering this season.
There was no clear-cut favorite to take over in net at the beginning. That allowed Boersma to look at a group of potential replacements.
“That’s why I kept four of them on my team,” Boersma said. “We knew what we were losing, and we had four guys who were somewhat equal. They all had different strengths and weaknesses, and we were going to let them battle it out.”
Junior Jake Tanis earned the job, and has spent a majority of time in the net.
“I’m going to give him as much experience as I can right now with him playing every single game just for more knowledge back there,” Boersma said. “He was more of a field guy, but his best chance to get time on this team was as a goalie. He has a big frame. He’s 6-2, 230 pounds, and so he has good size and is very athletic. He’s really learning right now.”
Senior midfielder Ryan Doornbos is one of eight starters back. He has faith in the players who have filled in at important positions.
“I trust them,” he said. “They’ve done a good job so far in replacing those roles, and I hope they continue to do that the rest of the year.”
Thirteen in all have returned from last season, including standouts Zack DeKock, Emmett DeJong, Sam DeVries and Daniel Sculley.
The Sailors opened the season with nine straight wins, but suffered consecutive losses to East Grand Rapids (2-0) and Caledonia (1-0) during the past week.
Doornbos missed both games with a concussion, while DeKock also is nursing an injury and didn’t play against Caledonia.
“It’s a huge difference with having him on the field for the team chemistry and moving the ball around,” Boersma said. “The effort he brings is phenomenal, and that’s a huge loss without him. He should be back within a week.”
The recent setbacks and injuries haven’t spoiled the Sailors’ outlook. Boersma would rather have them occur now than in late October and November.
“The guys are OK with losses because they learn from them,” he said. “Obviously no player likes to lose and they are competitive, but they are real good at sitting back after a game and knowing that they have to work on this and this.
“They are a very hard-working crew, and that’s one of my favorite things about them. They leave it all on the field each and every day. They know in games they lost that we made small mistakes. We make sure they don’t happen again.”
Boersma believes this team has the talent to make another deep run, but understands it will revolve around defensive adjustments.
“Knowing all the offense we had back, I was incredibly optimistic that we were going to have an opportunity, if we play the game we’re capable of playing, that on paper (we) could be one of the best teams in Division 3 in my mind,” Boersma said. “We also know soccer, and all the years I’ve watched my teams do well it has typically been my defense. You get great teams towards the end, and in the playoffs and there are numerous games you have to win in a shootout. That’s the way it goes in soccer.”
Doornbos hopes this year’s team can follow in the footsteps of last year’s in terms of staying together and creating a positive atmosphere.
“I think we need to keep each other hyped up and really be tight as a family,” he said. “I think that’s what helped us last year; our whole team was a family. We also enjoyed it last year, and that’s how we kept winning because we were having fun. We need to do those things and keep working hard.”
Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him email@example.com with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) South Christian players, in white jerseys, defend their goal against Middleville Thornapple Kellogg last week. (Middle) Key returnee Zack DeKock moves the ball upfield. (Photosby Craig Pollatz.)
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.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.)