A Grand Charge to the Semifinals

October 29, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Grand Blanc soccer coach Greg Kehler knew what needed to happen as the regular season was drawing to an end. He just hoped it would before time ran out on his senior-dominated team.

Exactly half the Bobcats’ games this fall had been decided by a goal. They scored only 32 during the 18-game regular season. Somehow, despite that lack of offense, Grand Blanc entered the District tournament two weeks ago 10-6-2 after finishing second in its division of the competitive Kensington Lakes Activities Association.

But as the playoffs began, Kehler was still waiting to see his players show the necessary edge to turn close calls into close wins. And time was running short – 17 of the team’s 25 players are seniors, and the next loss would be their last.

“What was really so frustrating with me is I’ve been with these guys, some for three years (and) one guy is a four-year guy. And it was almost like I was talking to them and telling them I can’t do this,” Kehler said. “We can talk. We can write up things all we want, change formations, run different plays. But it’s gotta come on the field. They’ve got to find a way to do that and get everyone on board.”

The seniors came through. Their teammates followed. The Bobcats have won five tournament games and will face Utica Ford on Wednesday for the opportunity to play in an MHSAA Final for the first time since finishing runner-up in Class A in 1987.

Grand Blanc (15-6-2) gets a Second Half High 5 amid a run that has to be considered at least a little unexpected. The Bobcats might have a bevy of seniors, but graduated Mr. Soccer Zach Carroll and all-state second teamer Yamann Sahlool this spring. They didn’t add to Carroll’s string of four league titles and probably wasn’t a favorite to reach the season’s final week.

But Kehler's group has found its collective scoring touch with 18 goals during the postseason, beginning with a 7-1 win over Flushing in their District opener.

The Bobcats haven’t been able to avoid close games since – the last four have been decided either by a goal or in overtime – but Grand Blanc has come out on top in each, including 5-3 over No. 4-ranked Rochester Hills Stoney Creek in a double overtime Regional Semifinal.

That's the biggest tournament win on paper, and especially considering the Bobcats had lost to Stoney Creek 4-0 earlier this fall. In the rematch, they trailed 3-1 and only forced overtime by scoring off a corner kick with less than a minute to play in regulation.

But it was how Grand Blanc finished the game before that set the tone for its continuing success.

The Bobcats trailed Lake Orion 2-0 in the District Final, then took a 3-2 lead before the Dragons tied it up again with less than 14 minutes to play. Grand Blanc junior Nick Berklich then knocked home the game-winner with just a minute left.

“A lot of things from that game carried over to Stoney Creek,” Kehler said. “When we lost 4-0, I thought we played well. But we had mental mistakes, and we were playing a different formation than now, and after that game we changed some things. We thought we were better than a four-goal difference against them.”

Kehler, in his 14th season coaching the varsity – and with more than 400 wins combined leading both the boys and girls programs – has never had a team quite like this one. Nearly half of his seniors played junior varsity last season, and he wanted to keep them all although his teams generally go only about 20 or 21 players.

Only five seniors start, but all contribute especially in practices made more competitive by the ability to put out a second team that can run an opponent’s formation and scheme and challenge the first teamers.

Although his defense is a little on the younger side (but with two two-year juniors), the offense is paced by four-year varsity standout Chris Sullivant and three-year player Dominic Mastromatteo. The latter scored four goals last week – three against Stoney Creek and the winner against Walled Lake Central.

Those two seniors also were part of some significant close calls before this fall. Last season ended with a 1-0 loss to Walled Lake Northern in a Regional Semifinal. The 2010 team fell to Sterling Heights Stevenson in a Semifinal shootout. Before those two entered high school, Grand Blanc also lost a 2008 Semifinal in overtime to Livonia Stevenson.

And even that 1987 loss, to East Lansing, was 2-1 in overtime.

But Kehler believes all of the recent close calls are paying off. These Bobcats have found that extra when it counted, an edge they’ll try to keep for two more games.

“I knew we’d be good, but we kinda struggled early. I was kinda questioning if we had what it took,” Kehler said. “Every year with the players you have coming back, you’re optimistic. But … I’m very pleased with how we responded to this season and how it unfolded.”

PHOTO: Grand Blanc’s Ali Mukhtar (11) works to control possession against Saginaw Heritage earlier this season. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com)

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 [email protected] 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.)