Mason Comes Back, Comes Through in D2

November 7, 2015

By Butch Harmon
Special for Second Half

COMSTOCK PARK – The soccer season ended Saturday similarly to how it started for Mason.

The big difference was that the Bulldogs were hoisting the Division 2 championship trophy at the end.

Mason earned its fourth boys soccer championship with a 3-2 victory against Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern in the Division 2 Final at Comstock Park. The teams played to a 2-2 tie through regulation and overtime before Mason outshot Forest Hills Northern 4-3 in a shootout.

Mason almost didn’t make it to overtime as Forest Hills Northern scored a late goal with 2:32 remaining in regulation to take a 2-1 lead. With time running down, however, Mason turned up the pressure in a frenzied effort to tie the match. That effort paid off when, with 38 seconds left, Christian Jordan knocked a shot in during a scramble in front of the Forest Hills Northern net that tied the game.

“We just went full out,” Jordan said. “After they scored to take the lead I thought we were about to lose. We just attacked the net. We made a play called number six, and Caleb Graham took a shot on goal. It bounced right to me, and I just poked it in. When I scored that goal, I just ran to our student section and was pointing at them. It was incredible.”

Fellow senior captain Holden Dippel had a little more confidence in the comeback than his teammate did.

“I knew we could come back,” Dippel said. “We’ve been down and have come back before this year. It happened to us in our first game of the season against Williamston. We fell behind by a goal and came back. We started the season this way, and we ended it with a comeback.”

To complete the comeback, however, the Bulldogs needed to go through a pair of 10-minute overtime periods that were scoreless, sending the match into the penalty-kick shootout.

Dippel gave Mason the early lead when he scored in the first round after Forest Hills Northern missed its first penalty kick.

Both teams scored in the second round of the shootout with Travis Barrington scoring for FHN and John Kingman answering for Mason.

In the third round Forest Hills Northern missed again while Mason’s Tristan Pease scored to put Mason up 3-1 with two rounds left.

FHN then cut the margin to 3-2 on a goal from Hunter Barrington, and Mason was unable to answer. Northern’s Diego Compean kept the Huskies’ hopes alive with another score, but Mason’s Lirim Shefkiu then scored the deciding goal, setting off a wild Mason celebration for its first soccer title since winning Division 2 in 1997.

“It feels so good,” Dippel said. “We’ve been talking forever about getting a state title. This is just insane. To win it in our senior year like this is just crazy.”

Mason coach Nick Binder knew exactly what his players were feeling, as he was a member of that title team in 1997.

“As a coach I feel so great for these kids,” Binder said. “I’ve known a lot of these kids since they were 5 and 6 years old. This is exciting for the whole community. It’s always been a goal of this team to win a state title. Growing up playing soccer in Mason, it’s always a goal to win a state title.”

The title was hard-earned as Mason needed to battle from behind for almost the entire match.

Forest Hills Northern took the first lead at 15:13 of the first half when junior Evan VanNortwick scored.

Mason came back to tie the match at the 31:15 mark of the second half when Jordan scored on a header, making the score 1-1.

The two teams then battled it out as the second half wound down. Forest Hills Northern applied some heavy pressure late, and with 2:32 remaining in regulation Travis Barrington scored on a header giving the Huskies the 2-1 lead and pulling them within seconds of a first-ever soccer title.

“We just had 38 seconds to go but they got one on us,” Forest Hills Northern coach Daniel Siminski said. “It was a scramble in front of the net, and it’s hard to describe. (Mason) earned it. It is what it is. I have no regrets because the kids did all they could do. There were 118 teams that started the tournament in Division 2, and we ended up playing on the final day. We knew our season was going to end one way or another.”

Forest Hills Northern ended the season with a 22-2-3 overall record. Saturday’s appearance was its first in an MHSAA Boys Soccer Final.

Mason ended with a 24-3 overall record.

“Our guys just kept battling,” Binder said. “Even when we were down at halftime, they believed. They believed at the end of regulation and they believed in the shootout. Their confidence never wavered.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) A Mason player looks for an opening with Cameron Leitz (12) blocking the way. (Middle) Forest Hills Northern’s Hayden Strobel heads the ball while surrounded by Mason defenders.

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.)