NOVI – For three quarters of the Division 1 championship match Saturday at Novi High School, undefeated Okemos’ offense was lifeless against New Baltimore Anchor Bay.
The Tars paid close attention to Jack Guggemos, and the Chiefs had no answers until suddenly, their preparation for a late-game, must-score scenario played out with a dream result.
Down by a goal, Okemos (20-0-4) scored two within two minutes, 17 seconds of each other during the final 10 minutes to claim its third Finals title in a physical 2-1 victory.
Ben Hussey scored off a great assist from Guggemos to tie the game at 1-1, and Aidan Antcliff scored the game-winner on a free kick from 20 yards out with seven minutes, 42 second to play.
“I just tried to get to the end line, and Ben was there,’’ said Guggemos. “He made a great run to the box and tapped it in. You have to deal with what’s thrown at you.
Guggemos had a lot to live up to. His coach and father, Brian, won a Class B title as a senior at Mason in 1989.
“No pressure, right,’’ Jack said, laughing. “It’s a great feeling being able to celebrate this with him.’’
Antcliff knew his shot was in once he booted it.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,’’ said Antcliff, who scored just his second goal of the year. “It was a great shot. I practice that shot in the summertime. I got the opportunity in this game, and I made the most of it. Once I hit it, I knew it was going in.’’
Anchor Bay (22-2-1) made its first appearance in Final, while Okemos won the 2004 Division 1 title and was the B-C champ in 1984.
Okemos was led by all-state senior Guggemos, who set the school record with 45 goals this fall. Anchor Bay featured three past all-state players in Tanner Hodgson (first team), twin brother Carson Hodgson (second team) and goalie Evan Linsley (second team).
The Tars made sure Guggemos was surrounded any time he had the ball, sometimes with as many as three defenders.
“He was part of our game plan,’’ said Tars coach Nate Williams.
“It was a great game between two great soccer teams. We knew even up 1-0 we couldn’t take our foot off the gas.’’
Neither team generated offense in the first half, with most play at mid-field.
With 2:03 left in the first half, junior midfielder Francesco DiLorenzo blasted a shot past the Okemos keeper to give the upstart Tars a 1-0 lead heading into halftime.
Anchor Bay came out even more aggressive in the second half with the lead and a chance at the state title.
Guggemos was shackled, but he got free to send a pass near the net with 9:59 left that Hussey redirected into the net to tie the game at 1-1.
“It’s funny because my assistant coaches were talking about it,’’ said Okemos coach Brian Guggemos. “I’ve been doing it long enough to know you need to prepare for moments where you’re going to be down a goal. In the last three weeks we’ve practiced being down a goal. We’ve tried to make sure we were prepared for it. We said look, if we’re down a goal here’s the formation. We went into it right away, and then I told Ben and Owen (Brewer), our two forwards, get in there and crash the goal. That obviously turns the game around a little bit.
"Aidan hits a banger to win the state championship. We also practice those things everyday this time of the year. The guys have listened to the things we needed to do in practice. They paid attention, and that attention to detail has been pretty good for us."
PHOTO (Top) Okemos celebrates its first Finals championship since 2004 on Saturday. (Middle) Anchor Bay's Tanner Hodgson (14) works to control possession with Okemos' Ben Hussey defending. (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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.)