By Perry A. Farrell
Special for Second Half
NOVI – Either Adrian Lenawee Christian or Grandville Calvin Christian was going to make history Saturday at the MHSAA Division 4 Final at Novi High School.
Both were primed to win a boys soccer title for the first time.
In dramatic fashion senior Francisco Cabrera made sure it would be Lenawee Christian, turning a great rush down the right sideline into a goal by senior Gabe Henley with 22 seconds left to stun Calvin Christian and give the Cougars a 2-1 victory.
Battling sore shins, Cabrera made it happen when his teammates needed it most by sending a pass into Henley to set up the go-ahead goal.
“I saw the left back make the runoff. I knew it was time,’’ said Cabrera. “Big players show up in big moments. I think I was lucky a teammate got on that one. I was going to try and look for a shot. I just put it out there, and a teammate came through. I have no words for when I saw the ball go in. Glory to God. We deserved this. The team and the school.’’
Henley scored both goals for the winners and kept an eye on Cabrera while he was making his run down the field.
“It was beautiful; his hustle along the outside,’’ said Henley. “Once I saw that he had beaten the defenders and I knew I was positioned backside … it laid out perfectly. I couldn’t have asked for anything better; right to my foot and be able to tap it in. I was hoping we could finish it there. We’ve played one time 110 minutes, and it’s just grueling. We just knew we could finish there.’’
Calvin Christian kept the pressure on in the early going and converted when Abraham VandenHoek directed a header into the net with 21 minutes, 2 seconds left in the first half on an assist from Andrew Heeringa to give the Squires a 1-0 lead.
Meanwhile, Lenawee Christian’s offense was being shut down by the Squires. In the first 25 minutes, the Cougars (16-2-1) had one shot on goal.
But 38 seconds into the second half, Henley fooled the Calvin Christian keeper and rolled in a shot to tie the score, 1-1. The goal was just the third allowed all season by the Squires.
“We really needed something to get going,’’ said Henley. “Anyone can score in the beginning, but we’ve kept our cool. We’ve been scored on, one of two goals, and we’ve come back. We were confident we could come back. We needed that.’’
“Let’s Go Blue’’ blared from the Lenawee Christian stands as the Cougars carried the momentum with time ticking away, although Calvin Christian just missed netting a second goal with five minutes to play.
“I felt like we played a little scared at the beginning,’’ said Lenawee Christian coach Nate Sharpe. “The halftime talk was you have to go out and play the way that got us here. You can’t be scared. They stepped up and did it for most of the half. We got an early one in that second half to bring it up. That gave them hope and belief that they could do it. Then it was just a battle back and forth in the midfield.
“We caught them on a transition at the end of the game. They were all up, the ball bounced up. We played it up to Franny (Cabrera); Franny beats them down the line and plays a great ball to Gabe.’’
The loss was the only one this fall for Calvin Christian, which finished 19-1-2.
“We play a lot better,” Squires coach Karel de Waal Malefyt said. “This was our first time here, and it showed.’’
PHOTOS: (Top) Adrian Lenawee Christian's Scott Knoll (3) works to gain possession while Calvin Christian's Joseph Bos defends Saturday. (Middle) Evan Hendershot comes up with a save for the Cougars. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
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 email@example.com 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.)