By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half
BRIGHTON – It took nearly the entire game for East Lansing boys soccer star DeJuan Jones to find the net in the Division 2 championship game Saturday.
When he did, it not only was worth the wait, but provided the Trojans with the winning margin for their second straight MHSAA championship.
Jones assisted on the game-tying goal late in the second half and scored in overtime to spark East Lansing to a come-from-behind 4-3 victory over Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood in a thrilling, seesaw game at Brighton High School.
It was the fifth MHSAA championship in boys soccer for East Lansing and gave the Trojans back-to-back titles for the first time. Jones scored in East Lansing’s 2-0 victory over Spring Lake in the championship game last year, but this year’s goal was more crucial to the outcome.
“Last year, we were definitely more relaxed through the game, and this year was more of a nail-biter,” said Jones, a senior forward/midfielder who said he will play for Michigan State University next year. “We’ve been determined all year, and we were not going to go out on a loss, especially in the state championship game. We really wanted to make history, and we did it.”
East Lansing, champion of the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue, finished 24-2.
The Trojans held a 2-0 lead late in the first half, but Cranbrook Kingswood made it a one-goal deficit just before halftime. The Cranes added two more goals in the second half and held a 3-2 lead with less than seven minutes to play when Jones set up Elmedin Celovic, who scored the tying goal on a header in the 34th minute of the second half.
“That’s the type of player that he is,” East Lansing coach Nick Archer said of Jones. “He will see someone in a better position and lay the ball off. He’s a very unselfish player, and he has the talent to play both sides of the ball. He’s a real team player.”
The goal not only tied the game, but seemed to fuel East Lansing with some much-needed momentum.
“I just wanted to put it in the back of the net when I saw it coming,” Celovic said. “From there on, we just had to fix every mental breakdown that we had earlier that caused them to come back in the game and take the lead.
“I think after the tying goal before overtime that we did take the momentum. After that, the little huddle we had, we regrouped, and we weren’t going to let them have anything. We were just going to hang on to the ball, and we didn’t want them to come back in the game.”
In the first 10-minute stretch of overtime, Jones provided East Lansing with the lead when he crossed from the left side of the net and put the ball in the far corner in the third minute for an unassisted goal.
“I saw a space in the area where I took a shot before, so once I got there, I knew if I hit the shot hard enough, it would find its way to the back of the net,” Jones said.
The goal capped an incredible postseason run for Jones, who scored in each of East Lansing’s seven tournament games, including a five-goal performance in the District Final. He had 11 goals in seven playoff games and finished the season with 23 goals and 15 assists.
Still, the goal did not immediately end the game as overtime consists of two 10-minute periods, regardless of whether one team scores. The teams switched ends, and that was crucial as a strong wind blew from goal to goal and certainly provided the team with the wind at its back something of an advantage.
East Lansing maintained its momentum and kept Cranbrook Kingswood from scoring. It was the second consecutive victory in overtime for East Lansing, which nipped Mason 3-2 in overtime three days earlier in their Semifinal.
“These last two games, I thought I had a couple of gray hairs to give up. I know I don’t have anything left,” Archer said. “We were very fortunate to come out on top both times.”
Celovic got East Lansing started quickly when he scored in the first minute of the game with assists from Jones and Chris Pridnia.
“We just wanted to start out strong and take the lead early and put pressure on them,” Celovic said.
“When I saw the ball drop back, the first thing on my mind was to not kick it over and just put it in the back of the net.”
Midway through the first half, Zach Lane gave East Lansing a 2-0 lead when he beat the goalkeeper with a low shot to the left part of the net on a free kick. It appeared the Trojans would take that lead to halftime, but Ken Kernen of Cranbrook Kingswood outmaneuvered a defender and scored into the far corner of the net from the left side with five seconds to go to the cut lead to 2-1.
“It was a beautiful goal,” Cranbrook Kingswood coach Chad O’Kulich said. “Kenny has just stepped up his game. It was a fun goal to create; they’re still fighting with six seconds left.
“That goal was a huge momentum-shifter because going into the half down 2-0 against East Lansing would have been tougher. We knew we had the wind, so we felt good regardless of what was going to happen. But to score that goal and shift the momentum for us was huge because now you go into the locker room euphoric and elated and ready to go. And we knew we had the wind.”
With the wind at its back, Cranbrook Kingswood scored twice in the second half to take a 3-2 lead. Kernen tied it with his second goal of the game with a header off a throw-in from Simon Heidingsfelder.
When the clock got inside 10 minutes to go in the second half, East Lansing, playing into the wind and trailing by one, had to find a way to score.
“When we went down, we were a little nervous, but I told the boys, ‘We’ve been here before with Mason and Grand Ledge twice,’ ” Celovic said. “I told them, ‘There is nothing to worry about. We still have 10 minutes, that’s a long time.’
“It was just, ‘Give it everything you’ve got.’ The last 10 minutes of the game we’re down one and just give it everything you’ve got and just play with your heart. That’s what we did, and we just pressured them.”
Both goalkeepers were tested and came up with big saves. Cranbrook Kingwood outshot East Lansing 18-16 as Cranes goalkeeper Trevor Stormes had six saves. East Lansing goalkeeper Chris Wallace made five.
It was a thrilling way for East Lansing to win, but a tough way for Cranbrook Kingswood to lose.
“What a battle, what a game,” O’Kulich said. “To be down 2-0 against an East Lansing team and come back and make it 3-2 just shows the character this team has played with the entire season. They’re never out, they’re never down, and they battle until the last second.
Cranbrook-Kingswood, champion of the Detroit Catholic League AA, finished 19-3-1 and appeared in the championship game for the first time
“We walk out of here with our heads held high, and we walk out with the same positive culture that we’ve had this entire season,” O’Kulich said.
PHOTOS: (Top) East Lansing players including Andy Millar (6) and their fans celebrate the Trojans’ second straight MHSAA Division 2 championship. (Below) East Lansing’s Quinton Hay and Cranbrook Kingswood’s Garrett Powell (16) work for possession. (Top photo by HighSchoolSportsScene.com; below photo by Hockey Weekly Action Photos. Click for all team and action photos from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
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.)