There's a definite Grand Rapids feel to this weekend's MHSAA Boys Soccer Finals.
The higher-ranked teams in all four championship games hail from that city and its near neighbors, and have combined for six MHSAA championships. Their opponents have combined for two titles, and two of the four will be playing in their first Finals on Saturday.
All four games can be watched live at MHSAA.tv. See the schedule below:
- Division 1: East Kentwood vs. Grand Blanc, 3 p.m. at Troy Athens
- Division 2: Hudsonville Unity Christian vs. Petoskey, 3 p.m. at East Kentwood Crestwood Middle School
- Division 3: Grand Rapids South Christian vs. Williamston, noon at East Kentwood Crestwood
- Division 4: Grand Rapids Covenant Christian vs. Hamtramck Frontier International, noon at Troy Athens
Read on for background on all eight teams, including their most impressive wins this fall and some of the players who could make the biggest impacts on the final day of the season. (Statistics below do not include those from Wednesday's Semifinals.)
Record/rank: 21-1-4, No. 1
Coach: John Conlon, 13th season (253-38-22)
League finish: First in O-K Red.
MHSAA championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2010).
Best wins: 3-1 and 2-1 (District Semifinal) over No. 2 Rockford, 2-1 over No. 5 Brighton (Regional Final), 4-0 over Division 2 No. 2 Ada Forest Hills Eastern
Players to watch: Charlie Constantino, sr. M (9 goals, 11 assists); Tyler Moorman, sr. D (10 G/4 A); Josh Hagene, sr. M (8 G/12 A), T.J. Ifaturoti, sr. F (16 G/7 A).
The scoop: East Kentwood has won at least 20 games for the seventh time over the last eight seasons and has been the dominant program in Division 1 of late with MHSAA championships three of the last five seasons. Constantino is considered one of the top players in Michigan high school soccer, and he’s one of 11 seniors on the team. East Kentwood’s only loss was 4-3 to No. 8 Portage Northern.
Record/rank: 16-6-2, unranked
Coach: Greg Kehler, 14th season (217-62-29)
League finish: Second in Kensington Lakes Activities Association West
MHSAA championship history: Class A runner-up 1987
Best wins: 5-3 over No. 4 Rochester Hills Stoney Creek (Regional Semifinal), 4-3 over Lake Orion (District Final).
Players to watch: Chris Sullivant, sr. M (4 G/8 A); Dominic Mastromatteo, sr. F (11 G/6 A), Nick Berklich, jr. F (16 G/2 A).
The scoop: Kehler has 429 wins total between Grand Blanc’s boys and girls teams and took the latter to the 2004 Finals. This run has been a little more unexpected, especially after graduating Mr. Soccer Zach Carroll this spring. But the Bobcats are making good on lessons learned during nine games decided by a goal during the regular season, and have won three one-goal games plus another by two in overtime during the tournament. Sullivant is a four-year standout, and Mastromatteo in particular has been finding the net often during the postseason surge.
HUDSONVILLE UNITY CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 24-2, No. 3
Coach: Randy Heethuis, 19th season (353-62-29)
League finish: Tied for first in O-K Green
MHSAA championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2009), four runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 3-0 over No. 2 Ada Forest Hills Eastern (Regional Semifinal), 2-1 over No. 1 Spring Lake (Regional Final), 2-0 over No. 7 Holland, 2-0 over Division 3 No. 2 Grand Rapids South Christian, 4-0 over Division 4 No. 10 Muskegon Western Michigan Christian.
Players to watch: Jared Timmer, soph. M (6 G/15 A); Jake Love, sr. F (12 G/13 A); Stephan Hooker, sr. M (19 G/8 A); Joe Honderd, jr. F (13 G/6 A); Nick Woldyk, sr. GK (0.76 GAA, 9 SHO).
The scoop: The Crusaders are the reigning runners-up from Division 3 and certainly earned their way here by beating the only teams ranked ahead of them in the most loaded Regional in any division. Unity Christian has shut out four of six opponents during the tournament and 14 total this season. The losses came on opening night to Division 1 No. 8 Portage Northern and to Holland in their second game against each other this fall.
Record/rank: 17-8-2, unranked
Coach: Zach Jonker, third season (35-26-9)
League finish: Third in Big North Conference
MHSAA championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2008), two runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 1-0 (OT) over No. 4 East Lansing (Regional Final), 3-1 over No. 9 Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood (Semifinal), 2-0 and 2-0 over Division 3 No. 7 Elk Rapids.
Players to watch: Louis Lamberti, sr. F (12 G/5A), A.J. Hoffman, sr. F (10 G/6 A), Evan Altman, sr. M (8 G/8 A), Drew Smith, sr. GK (0.92 GAA, 13 SHO).
The scoop: The Northmen loaded their schedule with tough competition early, and it’s paid off at the end. Their losses are nearly as impressive as their wins: to Division 1 honorable mention Warren DeLaSalle and No. 4 Rochester Hills Stoney Creek and to Division 2 No. 8 Bloomfield Hills Lahser during a 1-5-1 start. Petoskey is 16-3-1 over its last 20. The team also finished MHSAA runner-up in 2009 before making District exits the last two seasons.
GRAND RAPIDS SOUTH CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 20-2-3, No. 2
Coach: Jason Boersma, second season (36-7-5)
League finish: First in O-K Gold
MHSAA championship history: MHSAA champion 2010, runner-up 2007.
Best wins: 2-0 over No. 3 Whitehall, 1-0 over No. 9 Grosse Ile (Semifinal).
Players to watch: Erik VerHoef, sr. GK (0.43 GAA); Kyle Doornbos, sr. D/M (6 G/12 A); Marlon Bykerk, jr M/F (14 G/13 A); Cody Kok, jr. M (13 G/6 A).
The scoop: The 17 shutouts by VerHoef and Zach Medendorp rank among the most in MHSAA history for one season, and total the team has given up only 10 goals. Seven Sailors have scored at least six goals, with senior Alex Klunder adding his ninth of the season in Wednesday’s Semifinal to push the team into the championship game. South Christian’s only losses came to Division 2 No. 2 Forest Hills Eastern and No. 3 Unity Christian.
Record/rank: 19-7-1, honorable mention
Coach: Brent Sorg, eighth season (106-69-12)
League finish: Second in Capital Area Activities Conference White
MHSAA championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 3-1 and 2-1 (SO, Semifinal) over No. 7 Elk Rapids, 2-0 and 3-2 (Regional Semifinal) over No. 8 Freeland, 2-0 over No. 10 Frankenmuth (Regional Final), 2-1 over Division 4 No. 1 Lansing Christian, 6-2 over Division 4 No. 9 Ann Arbor Greenhills.
Players to watch: Hunter Lyle, jr. M (16 G/6 A); Zach Sundin, sr. F (19 G/6 A), Ross Needler, sr. M (17 G/16 A), Phil Erickson, sr. M (10 G/3 A).
The scoop: Williamston has won nine of its last 10 after also stacking the schedule early. The Hornets fell early to ranked Division 2 teams Holland, East Lansing and Haslett, plus Division 3 No. 5 Detroit Country Day and tied Division 1 honorable mention Birmingham Brother Rice during the first half of the season. But Williamston has been building toward this type of run with five straight seasons of either increasing or equaling the previous year’s win totals. This season’s District title was its second straight and fourth under Sorg.
GRAND RAPIDS COVENANT CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 19-4-1, No. 8
Coach: Mike Noorman, ninth season (106-64-11)
League finish: First in River Valley Conference
MHSAA championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 2-1 over No. 10 Muskegon Western Michigan Christian, 2-1 over No. 2 Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Central (Regional Semifinal), 2-0 over honorable mention Leland (Semifinal).
Players to watch: Jordan Van Oostenbrugge, sr. M/F (16 G/11 A); Corbin Prince, jr. F (16 G/12 A); Austin Brower, jr. GK (1.23 GAA/11 shutouts).
The scoop: Combined, Van Oostenbrugge and Prince have scored more than half of their team’s goals and more than the Chargers have given up this season. The District title was Covenant Christian’s third in five seasons and the team has increased its win total in each of the last four. The Chargers have 11 seniors, but also start two talented sophomores.
HAMTRAMCK FRONTIER INTERNATIONAL
Record/rank: 17-2, unranked
Coach: Nasser Algahim, third season (51-4)
League finish: Does not play in a conference.
MHSAA championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 4-2 over No. 4 Birmingham Roeper (District Semifinal), 2-0 over No. 9 Ann Arbor Greenhills (Regional Semifinal), 1-0 over No. 1 Lansing Christian (Regional Final), 2-0 over No. 5 Genesee Christian (Semifinal).
Players to watch: Baleegh Algahim, sr. F, (23 G/10 A); Habeb Ghaleb, soph. M, (21 G/8 A), Mujeeb Nahshal, jr. M, (5 G/15 A), Mohammed Alfahad, sr. M (5 G/11 A); Ammar Abdullah, soph. GK (0.78 GAA)
The scoop: Frontier International is in just its third season as a program, but made the Division 4 Semifinals in 2010 and returned to Regionals last fall. Playing as an independent, the Knights faced a schedule loaded with bigger schools from all over the Detroit area, with losses only to Pontiac Notre Dame Prep and Berkley. Although unranked, no team aside from Unity Christian in Division 2 has knocked out as impressive a group of ranked opponents during the tournament this fall.
PHOTO: Hudsonville Unity Christian senior Logan Walters (21), here in last season's Division 3 Final against Detroit Country Day, will try to help the Crusaders to their second MHSAA title in three years.
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 email@example.com 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.)