Grand Ledge Writes Championship Chapter

September 29, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

GRAND LEDGE – Brendan Garfield plays for one of his town’s most storied sports teams.

But someday, he may be known as an author of another successful chapter in Grand Ledge athletics.

During the spring, Garfield plays for the Comets’ baseball program under Pat O’Keefe, the winningest coach in MHSAA history in his sport. Grand Ledge annually is the team to beat in the Lansing area every baseball season, and it’s considered a privilege to wear that uniform and play for the legendary coach – even in what’s otherwise a football town.

But Garfield's position in spring also gives him a unique perspective on what he and his teammates have accomplished this fall, and really going back to last season, in bringing the Comets’ boys soccer program into mid-Michigan’s elite and relevance in their neighborhood.

Grand Ledge on Wednesday clinched its first Capital Area Activities Conference Blue championship, to go with a program-best 9-0-3 start with CAAC Gold Cup play starting next week. That tournament combines the top teams from all three divisions of the league, and Grand Ledge has a strong argument to be the top seed after winning the Blue and making the Cup championship game a year ago.

“People don’t expect us to be good, which is harder, but we don’t really look for the recognition. We just know we’re that good, and that’s all that matters,” said Garfield, a three-year starter for the Comets at defender. “We’re expected to win (in baseball), but I almost like not being expected to win. Because last year for the Gold Cup, everyone expected us to be out first round, but we really didn’t feel that was going to happen.

“We’re Grand Ledge. When you think about Grand Ledge soccer, it’s not really, ‘Uh oh.’ It’s, ‘Yeah, we might be a close game, but you should win. But last year, we definitely felt we were competing every single game we were in.”

And that’s certainly carried over to this fall.

Garfield is one of 13 seniors on a team, and one of six that make up a defensive back that has given up only five goals this fall – and gave up only one over the 10 games between the team’s opening-day win against DeKalb, Ill., and Wednesday’s clincher against the Rams. If the Comets stopped playing today, they’d be tied with the 2013 Saline team for fewest goals given up in a season. As it is, they will make the MHSAA record book list as long as they don’t give up more than seven more the rest of the way.

Grand Ledge is unranked this week in Division 1, but expect that to change soon. In addition to a tie earlier against now-Division 2 No. 1 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern, the Comets opened this week with a draw against Division 2 No. 2 East Lansing – which then lost to Okemos on Wednesday to allow Grand Ledge to secure the league championship outright.

It actually was a loss to Okemos last season that showed eighth-year coach Scott Dane what might be in store for his team.

Grand Ledge lost a home game 1-0 to the Chieftains last September to move to 6-3-2, but felt they deserved to win. From that day on, momentum started to roll. The Comets beat the Chieftains 3-2 in the Gold Cup semifinals in October before then losing to East Lansing in the final and eventually finishing 11-7-2.

Fast forward to the first game of this fall, against DeKalb at an event in Fort Wayne, Ind. Grand Ledge trailed 2-0 by halftime, and Dane was OK with that – he was playing his full roster and figured his guys were sorting things out.

But Grand Ledge came back to win that game 3-2.

“That’s when I thought mentally we’re really good out there. Game one and you’re going to have that mentality? We won the next day 1-0 (over Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran) and I thought, OK, maybe we’ve got something here,” Dane said. “Let’s put it together and see what happens.

“At the beginning we knew we could compete with anybody. But early on we started putting it together.”

Dane, who played at Holt, coached the junior varsity at Lansing Catholic and also serves as executive director of the Capital Area Soccer League club program, took over a Grand Ledge program that had been solid but with only a few spectacular moments during its recent past.

The school is the second-largest by enrollment in the CAAC, but again, Grand Ledge is a football and baseball town. On the boys side, cross country, wrestling and track & field teams also have had their share of success – and the school’s most notable alum, Al Horford, won two college basketball national championships at University of Florida and this offseason signed with the Boston Celtics.

But there’s room for soccer too, and room on Dane’s team for multi-sport athletes. Garfield is one of three baseball players, and there also is a pair of lacrosse players among others in the lineup. During the winter, many Grand Ledge soccer players also form indoor teams with some of their football-playing classmates – and those games, while not entirely serious all the time, give younger players a chance to gain some experience.

And as this team shows, experience definitely pays off.

Senior Blaine Teahan is a third-year varsity goalkeeper and second-year starter, and he has nine shutouts while giving up only 0.42 goals per game. In front of him at backs are Garfield and seniors Parker Fitzgerald, Owen Schuchaskie and Jared Simmer, and senior Erik Seelman is the holding, or defensive, midfielder.

Senior forward Kyle Salisbury leads the offensive effort with six goals and eight assists, while junior midfielder Nate Cox has five goals and junior mid Aric Phinney has three. Garfield hadn’t scored a goal or tallied an assist all season until Wednesday – when he sent home a loose ball for the game and title-clinching score.

During Tuesday’s practice, less than a day after tying the heralded Trojans and a day before making program history, those players couldn’t have been having more fun racing around during mini games against each other and with just a little goofing off during what was an otherwise laid-back practice.

“I love high school sports. Because quite honestly, we’ve got some kids who aspire to play in college out there, but none of them are top recruits,” Dane said. “Two years ago we had Luke Menne, who is at Michigan State now and obviously a very good player, and we didn’t have the season we’re having.

“I almost call them sometimes a bunch a misfits, who are out here, just playing soccer and having an unbelievable time doing it. It’s the beauty of high school sports. This is the pinnacle of some of their athletic careers, and they’re reveling in it. And that’s awesome.”  

Garfield has been around the program more than most; in addition to coming up as a freshman, his brother Zach played before graduating in 2014. Brendan saw his teammates reacting differently after losses last season to Okemos and East Lansing – they felt they should’ve won instead of just being glad to be in the hunt. He saw their disappointment with his after they lost to Caledonia 4-1 in a Division 1 District opener, which seemed far too early for their season to be done.

Drawing from baseball, he’s brought an approach of having higher expectations to this team. The seniors have set the level, and the juniors are playing up to it. Dane sees those new expectations as well; the top for Grand Ledge now is a team like this capable of playing at an elite level, not just being competitive with the best.

But there’s still plenty to prove and accomplish.

“I don’t think we’ve made it yet, to be honest,” Teahan said. “I’d like it to be that way, and maybe in the future we’ll become that. (But) I don’t think we’re recognized by all our peers as one of the top programs.

“Now people are coming out to our games, mainly our friends, but I think as we go, especially in the Gold Cup, I’ll think we’ll get a good showing and we can make it part of the school culture. Grand Ledge soccer has not been a powerhouse in any sense of the word, but lately we’ve really picked it up. We beat Okemos at Okemos two times in a row, we’re right in there with East Lansing and if we play them in the Gold Cup, I think we’ll get the win. We’re rising up as a big name in soccer.” 

Geoff Kimmerly joined the MHSAA as its Media & Content Coordinator in Sept. 2011 after 12 years as Prep Sports Editor of the Lansing State Journal. He has served as Editor of Second Half since its creation in Jan. 2012. Contact him at with story ideas for the Barry, Eaton, Ingham, Livingston, Ionia, Clinton, Shiawassee, Gratiot, Isabella, Clare and Montcalm counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Ledge's Kyle Salisbury (3) moves the ball ahead during a game versus Jackson this fall. (Middle) Hudson Morgan (20) works to gain possession against Haslett. (Below) Comets coach Scott Dane (third from left) speaks to his team after its win over Lansing Sexton. (Photos courtesy of the Grand Ledge boys soccer program.)

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.)