KALAMAZOO — When he was just 3 years old, Max Keenan was out in the yard kicking around a soccer ball.
With a father who played and coached professional soccer, Keenan was not just kicking, he was learning.
“We’d go in our front yard and we had a net and he’d just come out and play with me,” the Hackett Catholic Prep junior said. “He’d have me dribble, shoot, do whatever.”
Those fundamentals have paid off.
Keenan is part of an Irish squad that is 6-0-2 so far with an eye gazing toward the MHSAA Division 4 soccer tournament in November. Led by Keenan and junior Brennan Creek and bolstered by an experienced and talented cast, Hackett debuted in the first state coaches poll of this season as the No. 4 team in its division.
The Irish have flirted with a Division 4 title, losing to Burton Genesee Christian, 3-2 in overtime, in the Final two years ago and Muskegon Catholic Central, 4-3 in overtime, in a Semifinal last year.
“The special part for me is I played Michigan high school soccer,” said Max’s dad, Chris Keenan, who was born in Manchester, England, and came to the United States at age 14. “There’s a tradition here, and to watch Maxwell go through it and play in those events is just unbelievable.
“His freshman year, Hackett played in state final. He had an unbelievable season. I played in the (MHSAA) Final with Gull Lake and actually lost that game, 3-2 (to Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett in 1983).”
Chris Keenan also was runner-up for Michigan’s Mr. Soccer Award in 1984 and made the all-state Dream Team.
Now he watches his son begin the journey.
“Maxwell has grown up around soccer his whole life,” his dad said. “I would watch soccer all the time, so he would grow up almost like a gym rat.
“He is nationally known. We have a lot of colleges right now interested in him.”
Max Keenan and good friend Creek give the Irish a powerful 1-2 punch.
Keenan leads the team with 12 goals, while Creek has nine. Each has four assists.
Last year, Creek was second team all-state and Keenan third team.
“Max and Brennan were on the field together from probably 4 years old,” Chris Keenan said. “They’ve participated and trained. They’ve got these skill sets.
“They’re both being looked at for D-I (college soccer). For me, I look at those two, I think having each other as teammates they’re a force to be reckoned with right now.”
The Irish prepared for the Southwestern Athletic Conference season with a tough nonleague schedule, including Division 2 defending champ Mattawan (0-0 tie) and D-3 reigning champ Grand Rapids Catholic Central (2-1 win).
“We’re fortunate to have all sorts of competitive teams in our conference and nonconference schedules,” Hackett coach Ian Troutman said. “Divisions 1 through 4, the teams that we play or scrimmage, most of our offensive players make an impact right away. But Brennan and Max definitely draw a lot of defensive attention.
“They really help us open up everything else, and in some circumstances they can be dominant on their own.”
Said Creek: “The harder competition makes us play more defensive. In the playoffs, defense wins games. It’s just preparing us for the best.
“The Mattawan game didn’t feel like a win, but it was definitely a success.” The win against GRCC “was a big one; that was huge.”
Troutman took over the Irish reins three years ago.
With the open position and with his son entering his freshman year, Chris Keenan said he had no desire to apply for the job, although he has a solid pedigree: two NCAA Division I national championship games as a player; induction into three halls of fame including Gull Lake’s; his selection as the 14th pick in the 1988 professional draft; a pro career with the San Diego Nomads and Detroit Rockers; plus his time as a pro soccer coach and owner of Kingdom Indoor Center since 2004.
“I don’t coach my son,” Keenan said. “I am listed as a volunteer assistant coach at Hackett. I don’t go to the tryouts, I don’t go to the training sessions. I go and sit on the bench.
“The head coach makes substitutions, gives the team talk. I like being on the bench to be involved, to watch. Ian’s a really good coach. I want my relationship to be dad-son, not coach.”
Building a contender
Starting on the varsity team as a freshman was a challenge, Max Keenan said.
“It was pretty hard,” he said. “We had big seniors I had to go against, but I think after a while they started giving me more respect after I kept scoring goals and playing well.”
He and Creek grew up playing together on club teams and push each other on the field.
“It’s just kind of a competition,” Keenan said. “We always try to one-up each other. Since we’ve been playing together for who knows how many years, we just have a really great connection.
“If he moves, I know where I’m gonna go and he’s gonna give me the ball. It’s just like we’re on the same page every single game.”
In spite of losing all-state goalkeeper Matthew Carpenter to graduation, the Irish have two solid stoppers in senior Joe Carr and sophomore Breyton Franklin.
“I think the two goalkeepers we have that were switched back and forth have benefited from the competition and just driving each other to improve,” Troutman said.
“Breyton’s done very well and he’s certainly a starting goalkeeper some days, and he can come off the bench and make an impact as well.”
Troutman said Carr has been a platoon player since his sophomore season.
“He’s a really smart kid who understands the game,” Troutman said. “He’s athletic and he’s got great hands.
“The skill set from baseball has transitioned well to goalie, and it has served us well in many games.”
Carr was a defender before going in net.
“It helps me read what the defense is going to do because I can think, ‘What would I do?’” he said. “It helps me kind of predict how the defense is going to move with the attacking players.”
He said sharing time in net can be difficult.
“That just means I have to work harder in practice,” Carr said. “Usually when I’m on the sidelines, coach has me throw on my game jersey and I go in on defense or in the game somehow.”
Getting in a playoff game, even briefly, whetted Franklin's appetite.
“It was during the playoffs (last season) and I got to have one save against Lawton, and then I came right back out,” he said. “It was a great experience.
“Watching how the game’s played at the varsity level drastically improved my view of the game: the increased speed of the game, what I have to do. My expectations rose. It gave me a better standard.”
Junior Aidan Gillig is third in team scoring with four goals and four assists, while sophomore Stephen Hough has three goals and two assists.
More keys to this season will be sophomores Connor Wurtz, Hough and Anders Johansson, Troutman said.
“They started in the state semifinal game last year as freshmen,” he added. “They continue to build off that experience from last year.”
Keenan and Creek are not only Irish teammates, but they have three Super Y League national titles between them. Each has one and they have one together playing on the Kingdom club team.
Creek sees a difference between his roles on his high school and club teams.
On the club team, players are the same age but “in high school, I try to help out the younger kids and help them improve.
“The competitive side of soccer makes it fun. That’s what I enjoy,” he added. “Since I’ve been younger, day in and day out, I’ve been working hard and practicing every day. Getting frustrated at myself for messing up is probably the hardest part.”
Other seniors on the team are Jacob Wurtz, who was all-state honorable mention last season, Matthew Sherwood, Jackson Bradshaw and Johnathon Benjamin. Other sophomores are Daniel Amat, Ryan Cook, Michael Benjamin and Ricardo Ochoa. Freshmen are Charles Prom and Tobias Kuhn.
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Kalamazoo Hackett's Brennan Creek, left, and Max Keenan share a laugh this season. (Middle top) Keenan controls the ball during play this fall. (Middle) Hackett coach Ian Troutman and Chris Keenan. (Middle below) Creek works to keep possession while getting away from a defender. (Below) Senior keeper Joe Carr and sophomore keeper Breyton Franklin. (Action photos by Jennifer Bodway Burhans; head shots by Pam Shebest.)
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.)