East Lansing Breaks Free for 4th Title

November 2, 2013

By Tom Kendra
Special to Second Half 

KENTWOOD – Ben Swanson-Ralph was just looking to making something happen, to break the ice.

The senior forward did more than that – scoring what proved to be the game-winning goal late in the first half in East Lansing's 2-0 victory over Spring Lake on Saturday at Crestwood Middle School in the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Boys Soccer championship game. 

"Out of all the goals I've ever scored in soccer, this was the best," said Swanson-Ralph, an all-stater last year as a junior, who finished his senior season with 15 goals and 12 assists.

"I've always dreamed about playing in the state championship game and scoring a goal, but to actually have it happen, is indescribable. I'll remember it my whole life." 

Swanson-Ralph picked up a loose ball about 25 yards in front of the goal, slid past a defender and then skidded a low shot into the right side of the net past Spring Lake keeper Joe Czajka. That tally broke a scoreless tie with 10:19 remaining in the first half.

The goal was critical because, up until that point, the game was progressing according to the plan of upset-minded Spring Lake. 

While East Lansing was dominating possession and shots and generally keeping the ball in the Spring Lake end, the Trojans had been unable to break through. The defensive-oriented Lakers, like a boxer that allows his opponent to wear himself out, would have loved to go into halftime with a scoreless tie at cold and windy Pat Patterson Field.

Instead, Swanson-Ralph's goal gave his team the cushion and confidence it needed to open up its high-octane offensive attack, according to 38th-year coach Nick Archer. 

East Lansing, which finished 25-2, won its fourth MHSAA boys soccer championship. The Trojans also won titles in 1987, 2002 and 2005, to go with two runner-up finishes.

"I am so proud of these kids," said Archer, whose team outscored its seven postseason opponents by a combined score of 22-1, including a 3-0 victory over No. 2 Linden in the Regional Final. "There is so much pressure these days. I just want them to enjoy this moment." 

East Lansing, which finished with an 8-3 edge in shots on goal, came out on fire in the second half - with close-range chances by junior DeJuan Jones and sophomore Ian Carroll being stymied by Czajka, the Lakers' last line of defense.

The consistent EL pressure finally broke through again with 33:55 remaining in the game, when Spring Lake was over-aggressive on a corner kick. 

The Trojans countered the Lakers' attack as Jones and Carroll broke into the open and then played a give-and-go game up the length of the artificial field in Kentwood. As they approached the goal, Carroll veered into the corner, drawing a defender, and then gave it back to Jones, who punched it into the back of the net. It was the 28th goal of the season for Jones, the Trojans' leading scorer.

"Ian and I hang out a lot and we know what the other one is thinking," said Jones. "We came out in the second half and tried to turn up the pressure and get another goal. It doesn't matter to us who scores; really, we just want to win." 

The Lakers had a couple of scoring opportunities the rest of the way, notably from senior striker Nic Ellingboe and sophomore Keegan George. The East Lansing defensive corps of Grant Brogan, Michie Nimsombun, Torey Redmond, Andy Millar and goalkeeper Blair Moore were up to the challenge on each occasion to preserve the lead. Moore had to make just one save.

Spring Lake, which finished 16-7-3, played in its second MHSAA championship game in the past three years under 13th-year head coach Jeremy Thelen. The Lakers fell to Auburn Hills Avondale, 2-1, in the 2011 Final. 

This year's Spring Lake team entered the tournament unranked with an underwhelming 10-6-3 record, but gained momentum when it stunned neighboring rival Fruitport, 2-1, in the District Semifinal. Fruitport had defeated Spring Lake twice in the regular season.

"Right now, it's hard for these kids to end with a loss," said Thelen. "But these kids will realize in time what a great season it was, especially since this tournament run was a bit unexpected."

Click for full box score. 

PHOTOS: (Top) East Lansing goalkeeper Blair Moore steps in front of a shot as Spring Lake's Ryan Zietlow attempts to deflect. (Middle) East Lansing's DeJuan Jones (2) heads the ball during Saturday's game. (Click to see more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.)