GR Catholic Central Clinches 1st Title

November 5, 2016

By Dan Stickradt
Special for Second Half

ROCHESTER HILLS — There’s a ton of pressure being ranked No. 1 in the state, a target for every opponent to try to knock off the perch.

There’s ample pressure just being ranked in the top 20 in one of the state’s four divisions.

Top-ranked Grand Rapids Catholic Central understood that fact entering the Division 3 postseason. 

In a tournament where upsets were the norm, the Cougars kept their composure and made a run to the school’s first boys soccer MHSAA championship with a 1-0 victory Saturday over fourth-ranked Flint Powers Catholic in the Division 3 Final at Rochester Stoney Creek High School. 

Catholic Central (19-1-4) defeated four ranked teams in its final four games of the postseason and outscored its six postseason opponents by a 21-4 margin.

“It was a challenge with so many good teams out there. But there were some life lessons about being No. 1 and playing like it. A lot of life lessons just about getting here,” smiled Catholic Central coach Brian Hughes. “I told them before the game that I didn’t really care if we won today or lost. They already won based on the (journey) to get here and the fact that we had to beat some really good teams to play in the state finals. They did it together. No one individual accomplished this.”

It marked the first-ever Finals appearance for Catholic Central, which took over the top spot in the Oct. 9 coaches association rankings and firmly held its position. The Cougars, who had never won a Regional before this season, solidified their lofty ranking on the season’s final day. 

On the counterattack, Catholic Central broke the stalemate with 25:29 in the first half with its first shot attempt of the contest. 

Junior forward Langston Cooper broke free down the right side before slipping a cross into the penalty box. Sophomore forward Jim O’Neal was in open space to one-time a shot from six yards out past Powers goalkeeper Brendan Tilden.

“I was in the right position. But to be honest it was all Langston. He did all the work down the side to get the cross over to the middle,” said O’Neal, who recorded just his sixth goal of the season. “It was unusual to score on our first shot, but we’ll take it any way we can get it.”

Defensively, Catholic Central stifled several of Powers Catholic’s attempts. Anchored by senior center back Josh Steffes, a Division I college prospect, and junior goalkeeper Noah Hughes, GRCC left the Chargers (17-4-3) completely frustrated and unsatisfied.

“We’ve had some good talent in the past — all the talent in the world. We just could never get it done before,” said Steffes. “We knew since the beginning of the season that this was possible.”

Catholic Central shut down the Powers Catholic foursome of Chase Knoblock, Bryan Lendzion, Steven Tuttle and Mason Smith, who came in with a combined 52 goals on the season. Powers had outscored its six previous postseason opponents by a commanding 27-2 margin with four shutouts in the playoffs and 11 total clean sheets on the season.

“We had a great run, but to be honest I don’t care if we were ranked fourth or 104th. I don’t think the guys are satisfied for just being here,” said Powers Catholic coach Tony Rowe. “We have a ton of juniors coming back, and I know they’ll remember what it feels like to lose this game.” 

Powers Catholic came out and controlled play for most of the first half, with a shot by Knoblock only 20 seconds into the game which Hughes leapt high to snare. The Chargers just could not penetrate Catholic Central’s defense, which yielded just 20 goals over 24 games. 

“I am proud of this group for what they accomplished the past few years,” continued Rowe. “The seniors set the tone. We’ve won league championships, Districts and Regionals over the past (four years). They did a good job of making it here. We had some chances. If we would have put one in early in the game, things might have been different. (Catholic Central) is a very good defensive team. (Their) tall kid, number 11 (Josh Steffes) had them very organized, and they had him shadowing our best offensive player the whole game.” 

Hughes picked up six saves for his team’s 11th clean sheet in 24 games.

Tilden finished with six saves for Powers Catholic, including two where he had to punch aside consecutive shots in the second half by GRCC’s Fernando Garcia.

Both teams traded off 10 shots in the contest, with Catholic Central holding a 7-6 edge with shots directly on frame. There were no corner kicks in the game, although both teams had several long throw-ins into the penalty box.

All attempts were thwarted except O’Neal’s games-winning tally.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s Fernando Garcia (7) works for possession against Flint Powers Catholic’s Dominic Ruth. (Middle) GRCC’s Langston Cooper (4) gets position while Trevor Purman defends.

Storch Returns to Retirement After Elevating Alpena Teams From Cellar to Contenders

By Tom Spencer
Special for

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 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.)