By Jeffrey Norris
Special for Second Half
COMSTOCK PARK – By his own words, Adam Skehan is a pretty emotional person.
But when he gets on the soccer field – and more importantly, inside the goal box – Skehan has nerves of steel.
The Grosse Ile senior goalkeeper showed them Saturday at the MHSAA Division 3 Final at Comstock Park High School, coming up with several big saves including a huge point-blank stop late in regulation against Grand Rapids South Christian.
That save allowed Skehan's Red Devils to extend the game into overtime, and ultimately win it in a shootout, where once again Skehan came up big with two saves to propel Grosse Ile to a 2-1 win over the Sailors.
"When I was going into the shootout, I was so scared," Skehan said. "But I put all the emotions behind me, and came out and played for my team. And now I am so happy. After that last save, I don't even know, I just started crying."
Skehan stopped two shootout attempts by South Christian players, including the last of the game by senior Rylee Visser.
The Sailors also had one of their shots hit the sidebar of the goal in a game that was measured by inches throughout.
The win Saturday came a year after an overtime Division 3 Final loss to Hudsonville Unity Christian, and gave the Red Devils their second title in program history to go with the first earned in 2002.
"This is something we have been after for four years," said Grosse Ile coach Jon Evans, whose team has advanced to the Semifinals four of the past six seasons. "We always felt like we could get here, but it was always just getting over the hump. This year we were fortunate to win in a shootout."
And Evans is fortunate to have a keeper like Skehan leading the way.
Skehan finished with seven saves, and came up big especially during the second half and overtime when South Christian was pushing the tempo.
"I would say they definitely had more chances than we did, especially going into the second half when we had the lead," said Evans, whose team ended with a 24-2-1 record. "They really applied the pressure, but Adam came up big a couple of times and made some big saves for us to even get us to overtime. "
The Red Devils got on the scoreboard first when junior midfielder Bosh Tanyi scored on a hustle play at the 26:34 mark of the first half.
Tanyi got loose on a through ball and beat South Christian keeper Nik Schepers when Schepers attempted to play the ball and Tanyi got by him.
That score held up after 40 minutes of play, but that didn't bother South Christian coach Jason Boersma.
"We had seven games this year where we were down one and came back and won,” said Boersma, whose team ended with a 21-5-2 mark. "That shows a ton about the determination that these guys have. I told the guys before the game that I don't know what is going to happen, but I said it is going to be a great game. And I said if we get down one, I need someone to grab that ball out of the back of the net and run it back and play tough."
That player was senior midfielder Reese Bos, who played inspired soccer during the second half and overtime.
He tied the game at the 20:59 mark of the second half when he beat Skehan to the ball and headed it into the back of the net.
The Bos goal was the first given up by Skehan and the Grosse Ile defense all tournament. Bos had a couple of other chances, but Skehan stopped them.
"Everything was happening very fast. We just let off for the worst seconds that we could have," Skehan said of Bos' goal. "We gave up a goal, and that happens, but we came back and finished strong."
PHOTOS: (Top) Grosse Ile celebrates its Division 3 Final shootout win over the Sailors. (Middle) South Christian’s Thom DeVries (8) and Grosse Ile’s Max Aston work to gain possession.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.)