Nichols Lends Winning Past to West's Present

July 28, 2020

By Tom Spencer
Special for Second Half

Thirteen Novembers ago, Drew Nichols, then a senior captain, took a bus ride home from Troy High School with the Traverse City West boys soccer team. The Division 1 boys soccer championship trophy was happily along for the ride as the Titans had just beaten Livonia Stevenson 1-0 in the Final.

Last November only an overtime loss prevented the now-West assistant varsity coach from taking a very enjoyable similar bus ride. The loss was at the hands of Troy Athens, and the ride home departed this time from Comstock Park.

Perhaps this November he’ll get another shot from Comstock Park, one of two sites to be used for the coming season’s championship tilts. He plans to be on the sidelines again with head coach Matt Griesinger as the Titans dream of yet another long postseason run (COVID-19 permitting, of course).

While many would think there would be a world of difference in the two long November bus rides after a Division 1 Final with differing results, Nichols believes there really wasn’t.

“The way I saw it, both 2006 and 2019 bus rides had a bunch of exhausted players that fought hard in the pinnacle game of the year,” Nichols pointed out. “I'm not saying there wasn't some pain for the boys to be on the losing side, but in the end I think they still recognized the amazing achievement it was.

“I think everyone that played or watched that 2019 game recognized that it was a moment away from ending in a win,” he continued. “They held their heads high and should command the respect of the program for being only the second team in its history to reach that game.”

Nichols became the varsity assistant coach at West in 2015 after coaching the Titans’ JV two seasons. Griesinger took over the head coaching position at the same time from the Titans’ first coach – and now athletic director – Jason Carmien.

Nichols and Griesinger guided the Titans to Regional appearances in 2015, 2016 and 2019. Nichols said he doesn’t know what to expect in 2020 with all the uncertainties the nation and world are facing.

“The COVID interference has been disastrous on so many levels, and it will certainly disrupt the quality of play for the 2020 fall season,” Nichols said. “We had a strong result last year and have a lot of returning players, so on paper we have the potential for another great season. 

“However, the landscape of fall sports and soccer in particular will be so different this year that it's impossible to know how everything plays out,” he continued. “There was a huge loss of development without club soccer or college camps over the spring and summer. From my perspective, the best way to help is to make sure players come into the season fit and focused.”

Nichols, whose wife Andrea gave birth to their daughter Quinn after last season, expects to have an impact on future generations regardless of how sports weather the impact of COVID-19. 

“The game finds its way into the hearts of kids much earlier than they meet me, but I really enjoy being a positive influence on their growth and appreciation for what the game can offer,” he said. “I don't pretend to be the absolute authority on anything, but I have perspective to share and hopefully the time spent in our program will foster their appreciation of the game itself and the skills (and) values it can teach you.”

The West program has produced two Michigan Mr. Soccer Award winners during the school’s 20-year history in the sport, Dalton Michael (2016) and Casey Townsend (2006 and 2007). Nichols has ties to both.

Michael and his twin brother Donovan are now playing at Western Michigan University, and both played under Nichols. Townsend went on to a stellar career at University of Maryland and played in Major League Soccer. He was the No. 5 overall pick in the 2012 MLS draft and played for Chivas USA and DC United. All of that came after he scored the only goal in that 2006 Division 1 Final, with Nichols a teammate.

Nichols, a midfielder who went on to play at Hope College, made the all-state third team with nine goals and five assists as a senior that fall at West. He and Townsend had played side by side since their beginning soccer days at Traverse Bay Area Youth Soccer and with its premier club, NorthStorm.

“I sometimes forget just how much Casey has accomplished because first and foremost he is just a goofball friend of mine,” Nichols said. “We played together in our formative years, so even though he was the difference-maker in a lot of games, it was hard for us to recognize just how high his ceiling was at the time. Clearly we found out when he progressed into college and the professional leagues, and it was a blast to watch.”

Carmien, the coach of the 2006 championship team, recalls the connection Nichols and Townsend had.

“Drew scored some big goals and really was an anchor to our team,” Carmien said. “Drew caused a lot of turnovers and created transition scoring opportunities by combining with Casey or playing balls in behind defenses.”

Carmien anticipates Nichols will continue with Griesinger to foster the Titans’ success.

“Drew was a great player, he was a key piece in some very good Titan teams,” Carmien said. “I am proud to see him on the sidelines, working with our kids at practice and still involved in the program.  We have alumni that still follow us each fall, and last year was a lot of fun; (I’m) glad Drew was a part of it, and hopefully we can have continued success.”

Carmien and Griesinger have impacted Nichols’ coaching style, which is also linked to his studies abroad as a student at Hope. He played some soccer in the Spanish cities of Murcia and Pontevedra as he earned academic honor roll recognition all four years at Hope.

“My expertise comes from my development as a player through high school, college, and afterwards playing and engaging the soccer community in a variety of countries,” Nichols said. “My coaching style comes heavily influenced by Jason Carmien, the founding father of the West soccer program. 

“He trained me as a high school player and then again as a coach when I joined the staff around 2013,” Nichols elaborated. “Of course, more recently, head men's coach Matt Griesinger has challenged our staff and the program to exceed the high standards set by Jason.”

Nichols is not a school teacher. He manages payrolls for several companies as the director of operations for Integrative Payroll Services in Traverse City. Still, he intends to stay with coaching for the foreseeable future.

“My ‘career’ goal is to merely engage the soccer community where I live and stick around as long as I can offer value,” he said.  “Obviously I was drawn to give back to the program I participated in as a player, and that's as far as it will likely go. With my daughter's birth this year, odds are good that you'll see me in the girls coaching pool in a few years.”

Rest assured, no matter where he is, Nichols will always remember the feeling of winning a state championship.

“It was amazing,” he said. We had a chip on our shoulder the whole playoff run since we were the nobodies from up north, so to win brought a mixed bag of feelings – excitement, accomplishment, relief, vindication,” he said.

“We didn't play particularly well, but most teams don't once they make it to that game. Nerves take their toll, just like with a big rivalry game, so anything can happen. That has become even clearer now that I have coached both rivalry games and a state Final. That day we were fortunate to have a future All-American to clinch it for us.”

But, as a coach, Nichols said he is “hoping to leave it one of many in the West program trophy case.”

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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) Drew Nichols was a standout midfielder for Traverse City West during the mid-2000s, and led from the sideline as the Titans’ assistant varsity coach during last season's Division 1 Final. (Middle) Nichols, left, enjoys a celebratory photo in 2006 with then-West coach Jason Carmien and teammate Dan Kellogg. (Below) Nichols and his wife welcomed a daughter after last season. (Photos courtesy of Drew Nichols.)

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.)