Leland Gets Defensive to Score 1st Title

November 3, 2018

By Jeff Chaney
Special for Second Half

COMSTOCK PARK – All season long, the Leland boys soccer team has been an offensive force.

Heading into Saturday's MHSAA Division 4 title game at Comstock Park High School, the Comets had scored 158 goals over 27 games, and out-scored their opponents by 139. 

But against reigning champion Ann Arbor Greenhills, Leland needed to show off some solid defense – and play under a little more pressure.

The Comets did just that, winning the program's first MHSAA Finals boys soccer title with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Ann Arbor Greenhills. 

"We had a few teams in the past that we thought may make a run, but nothing compared to this group.," said Leland coach Joe Burda, whose team ended the year with a 24-1-3 record. "We have soccer players everywhere, and these guys wanted this so bad ever since July. As a coaching staff we are so proud of them. They set their goal, and they did it." 

The did just that by controlling tempo with solid defense, passing and an offensive attack that was quieted Saturday but showed Gryphons coach Lucian Popescu why his team was facing Leland in its return to the championship match. 

"They pushed harder, especially 10 minutes after the game started," said Popescu, whose team ended with an 11-9-3 record. "I thought there were times we were able to match them, but the tempo was higher on their end."

Leland scored the only goal six minutes and 54 seconds into the first half, when junior midfielder Jesus Calderon-Balcazar sent through a nice unassisted one-touch finish.

The Comets had several chances after that, most coming off the explosive play of senior captain and forward Cobe Lund. But they were held out of net the rest of the way.

Leland out-shot the Gryphons 12-5.

"We were only one goal up, but that is all you need to win the game," said Lund, who ended his impressive senior season with 42 goals and 18 assists. "It is scary being up only one goal, but we held on and we got the win."

And got that win in front of a good majority of the town of Leland, which made the trip south to cheer on the Comets.

"This was the goal ever since boot camp," Lund said. "I remember I gave a speech-type thing then. I said we have to work harder and get our fitness up, because I wanted to win state. This was the season basically, and we made history and I am so happy. We worked so hard for this."

Ann Arbor Greenhills keeper Leo Fried had a busy day in net for the Gryphons, and played extremely well with 10 saves. 

Leland goalie Gavin Miller also was solid, stopping three Ann Arbor Greenhills shots 

"I thought we came out a little timid at first, but then we started attacking," Burda said. "Our boys want to play on the ground and play possessive, and they controlled the offense and they controlled the game. They were chasing us the whole second half. It was obvious desperation, but I think our boys kept their composure and we really stepped it up in the last 20 minutes. We just passed the ball around and kept the ball at our feet.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Leland hoists its first boys soccer Finals championship trophy Saturday at Comstock Park. (Middle) Greenhills keeper Leo Fried snags a Leland header before it reaches his net.

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 tomspencer@chartermi.net 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.)