Mattawan Takes Final History-Making Step

November 5, 2016

By Dan Stickradt
Special for Second Half

ROCHESTER HILLS — Although Halloween was five days ago, Jarrett Hageman openly admits that he was never so scared in his life than he was late Saturday afternoon.

Even in the broad daylight with no ghosts or ghouls around to spook him.

Walking gingerly up to the penalty spot with the game on the line, the Mattawan senior laced a shot off the left goal post and into the goal in what proved to be the biggest and most memorable score in Wildcats lore.

Hageman’s penalty kick came as his team’s fifth shooter in a shootout and was enough to propel 11th-ranked Mattawan to a 1-0 victory over unranked Dearborn Divine Child in the MHSAA Division 2 Final at Rochester Hills Stoney Creek High School.

Mattawan won the shootout 4-3, making its first, third, fourth and fifth shots to prevail. Nick Hare, Dylan Burkett, Tate Rosenhagen and Hageman tallied in the tie-breaking shootout for the Wildcats. 

Divine Child converted its first three kicks only to see its final two attempts sail over the crossbar. Alex Higgins, Shane Ciucci and Justin Stack finished their PKs for the Falcons.

“I was never so scared as I was walking up there to take the shot,” admitted Hageman. “I mean, I was so nervous. You dream about being (in this position), taking a shot in a shootout. I knew in my heart that I could make it, but I thought I’d missed because it hit the goal post. Thankfully, it went in and we finally won a state championship.”

Mattawan’s journey is somewhat unlike most state powers’ programs. Fielding legions of state-ranked teams dating back to the 1980s, including three previous Final Four squads over its storied history, the Wildcats had never reached the MHSAA Finals until this weekend.

The 1990 squad entered the postseason ranked No. 2 in Class B only to fall short in Regional play. Mattawan also lost in the Semifinals in 1989, 2011 and 2015 — the latter two in Division 2.

This end result leaves veteran coach Kirt Brown, in his 11th season at the helm of the Mattawan program, breathing a sigh of relief.

“We came close in (2015 and 2011), and although I was at a different school (Parchment) way back when, the school got to the semis before I got here,” noted Brown. “We finally got it done this time. I couldn’t be more proud of these guys. This was somewhat of an ugly game. We scrapped and fought. You could see that both teams were tired in the second overtime. It’s wasn’t pretty. But I’ll take an ugly win over a pretty loss any day.”

A year ago, Mattawan made a run to the Semifinals before running out of gas and dropping a 4-2 decision to Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern. That was with all-state Dream Team midfielder Nick King directing the show for a team that scored 102 goals. King graduated  last summer along with a talented class.

This season, Mattawan outscored the opposition 55-19 over 28 total games, pulled of a stunner with a 2-0 upset of No. 1-ranked East Lansing in the Semifinal on Wednesday, and outscored its seven postseason opponents by a combined 14-2.

“We knew we had a good team, but I think when we defeated East Lansing, that’s when we believed it,” offered Brown. “We didn’t have an easy road, either. We beat (Stevensville) Lakeshore in the opening round and they were ranked. We beat Marshall and Holland in the Regionals and they were ranked. Divine Child might as well been ranked. They made a great run to get here, too.”  

Holdover scoring threats Hageman (28 goals, five assists) and junior midfielder Evan Marquess (five goals, 11 assists) carried the Wildcats in their long run this season.

“Last year we were even better, more skilled,” said Hageman. “But the seniors this year have something that no other (senior class) has, and that’s a state championship.

Senior Casey Kirkbride notched his team’s 14th shutout of the campaign. He made eight saves throughout 80 minutes of regulation and two 10-minute overtime periods.

Divine Child held a narrow 13-10 shots edge, including 8-5 with shots directly on frame. Mattawan held an 11-5 edge with corner kicks but could not beat Divine Child’s Evan Mazurek, one of the state’s top junior goalkeepers, until the shootout.

“The defenses both played great; both goalkeeper played really well,” said Brown. “When you get to a shootout, anything can happen.”

It was the end of unranked Divine Child’s Cinderella ride. With several state-ranked teams going out early, the Falcons snuck up and made the deepest run in school history. They knocked off No. 13 Dexter in the Regional Semifinals and also blanked Fenton in the Semifinal on Wednesday; Fenton had spent time in the top 20 before dropping out just before the start of the postseason.

“It was an amazing run by our guys,” said Divine Child coach Dean Kowalski. “I think we were just on the cusp of being a great team. We finally put things together and made a run.

“I didn’t mind being under the radar a little bit,” added Kowalski. “When we saw a lot of very good teams go down, we thought we might have a chance. We knew the talent was there. Defensively, we were very solid. We only gave up one goal in the tournament until the shootout. If we came back on Sunday and played again in another shootout, maybe it would end differently.”

Both goalies made several key plays to keep the game scoreless. 

Kirkbride dove to his left in the second half to stop Ciucci’s blast to the near post. 

Mazurek was quite active clearing the 11 corner kicks and made perhaps the biggest save of regulation, leaping to his left to punch away a 22-yard strike from Marquess that was destined for the far corner with 4:18 to play in the second half. 

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Mattawan’s Evan Marquess (9) works to get around Divine Child’s Jake Pappas. (Middle) Divine Child’s Justin Stack tries to gain possession against a Mattawan field player.

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 [email protected] 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.)