By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half
BRIGHTON – A perfect season by the Burton Genesee Christian boys soccer team had a perfect finish.
Four-year senior Jesse Oliver scored in overtime to give the Soldiers the winning margin in a 3-2 victory over Kalamazoo Hackett on Saturday in the MHSAA Division 4 championship game at Brighton High School.
It is the first MHSAA state championship in any sport in school history.
“I would say that definitely was the perfect ending to the season,” Genesee Christian coach Doug Anderson said, moments after having a bucket of cold water dumped on his head.
Anderson didn’t mind the gesture.
“It’s definitely worth it because it means that we won,” he said. “I didn’t want to prepare a losing speech for these guys, and I didn’t have one ready.”
The feeling of scoring the game-winning goal in overtime was overwhelming for Oliver.
“It’s exhilarating. It’s amazing,” he said. “This isn’t something you get to do every day. I really didn’t expect it, but I was in the right spot at the right time.
“It’s surreal. It really is surreal.”
Genesee Christian (28-0) had leads of 1-0 and 2-1 before being forced into the two 10-minute overtime sessions. Oliver broke the tie when he scored from right in front of the net on a pass from junior Riley Buchalski.
“The ball was at the end line, and it was juggling around a bit,” Oliver said. “I was crashing toward the middle, and the ball just shot out. I was in the right spot at the right time and put it in with my left foot.”
Oliver, who stands 6 feet, 5 inches, was not the most likely player to score the goal. But as a senior, it was a fitting finish.
“Jesse is my holding man,” Anderson said. “He has a couple of goals from set pieces and stuff, but he’s our stalwart back there; our workhorse, and I’m so happy for him. He has played all four years. He didn’t play a lot as a freshman, but he just kept getting better and better.”
Genesee Christian made it to the title game with a shootout victory over top-ranked Lansing Christian in the Semifinal.
“I’m sick and tired of these overtime games and the guys trying to give me a heart attack, but it does make it more exciting,” Anderson said. “Obviously, I would have liked to have a shutout, but it gets all the guys into it, and in the end we won, and that’s all that matters.”
Junior Cole Russell, who scored the first goal of the game for the Soldiers, praised both Oliver and Buchalski for the game-winning goal.
“Jesse’s composure to keep it down and put it in the back of the net to give us a 3-2 lead in the state championship game was unbelievable,” Russell said. “Riley was a beast in overtime. He was everywhere.”
Russell, a junior, gave Genesee Christian a 1-0 lead when he beat a defender and the goalkeeper, who came out of the net, and found the back post from about 30 yards out. Ryan DeWeese picked up an assist on the goal.
“Ryan DeWeese, it was all him,” Russell said. “The ball he gave me was unbelievable. I could not have asked for a better ball. I had the easy job, to be honest. It was all him.”
Russell also had an assist on Genesee Christian’s second goal. With the game tied 1-1, Russell got the ball to junior Tyler Rose in front of the net, and Rose scored on a header.
Kalamazoo Hackett (21-5-1) was in its fifth MHSAA championship game and first since 1995. The Irish had not lost in a Final and this time battled back twice from one-goal deficits.
Senior Will Knoll tied the game 1-1 in the 51st minute with an assist from Kieran O’Brien, and junior James Amat made it 2-2 in the 73rd minute on a free kick from 25 yards. The Irish scored twice on a team that had allowed just 10 goals in 27 games.
“Those were very quality goals by them, and they did frustrate us a little bit,” Anderson said. “They have a good team, and they played good defense against us.”
It was a highly entertaining game with several chances and close calls by both teams in addition to some fine saves by goalkeepers Zach Noecker (Genesee Christian) and Matthew Carpenter (Kalamazoo Hackett).
In particular, the last five minutes of the first half were thrilling. The highlight came when Carpenter was caught out of the goal, and the Irish players had to defend in his absence. Amat made two saves in a flurry in front of the net.
Russell nearly score in that span as well as his shot went just over the net and just under the crossbar on the goal posts used for football. He is one of many who have played together since the fourth grade.
“We had a feeling that when we were juniors and seniors that we were going to win the state championship, and we did,” Russell said. “Our teamwork is tremendous, and I am so proud of everyone who played on this team, from the person who played the least minutes to the player who played the most.
“We all put in the work for this, and we earned it.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Genesee Christian's Riley Buchalski works to keep control of the ball during Saturday's Division 4 Final. (Middle) Kalamazoo Hackett's Jacob Wurtz tries to push the ball past a defender.
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.)