Pilgrims Complete Mission for Respect, Title

November 2, 2013

By Tom Kendra
Special to Second Half

KENTWOOD – Grand Rapids Covenant Christian was on a mission to take the final step after losing in last year’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 boys soccer championship match.

Apparently, somebody forgot to let Lansing Christian know.

The Pilgrims were on a mission of their own – for respect – and they walked off the Crestwood Middle School field with plenty of it Saturday after a dramatic 1-0 victory over Covenant Christian that earned the Division 4 championship.

“We loved being the underdogs today,” said Lansing Christian sophomore keeper Chase Hansen, who helped his team withstand a furious Covenant rally over the final 20 minutes. “There was a lot of pressure at the end, but I just handled it by playing goal the way I’ve always been taught.”

Jordan Terry, the Pilgrims’ all-state senior forward, scored the game’s only goal 7 minutes into the second half, taking advantage of a brief open moment against the Covenant defense, and whipping a point blank shot from the 18-foot box over the head of keeper Austin Brower for the game’s only score.

The goal came after Brower, an all-state keeper, thwarted several other quality scoring chances by Terry and junior teammate Martin Lang Jr.

“I can’t really describe exactly what happened on that goal; it was just a split-second and the ball was on my (left) foot,” said Terry, who finished his senior year with 27 goals and 11 assists for the high-scoring Pilgrims. “I just had a go at it, and it got in there on the top of the net.”

Lansing Christian (22-0-1) came into the game with an outstanding record and on a recent hot streak, but was still considered an underdog because of the outstanding soccer tradition and superior size of Covenant.

The Pilgrims were playing in their first-ever championship game and failed to make it out of Regionals the past three years. And, in spite of their unbeaten record, they could only manage to garner honorable mention status in the final Division 4 soccer coaches poll.

Led by four double-digit goal scorers in Terry (26 goals), Lang Jr. (18 goals), Brayan Guzman-Ortiz (11 goals) and Alex McDowell (11 goals), Lansing Christian outscored its six postseason opponents by a combined score of  22-1. The Pilgrims used their speed to overwhelm one larger opponent after another.

“We can’t do anything about how small we are, so we try to change the game,” sixth-year Lansing Christian coach Joel Vande Kopple said.  We wanted to get the ball out on the pitch and run.”

Terry’s goal appeared to stun the Chargers, who dominated the final 30 minutes of play but were unable to convert on myriad scoring chances. Derek Dykstra nearly scored on a backward kick with 19:18 remaining; Corbin Prince, Travis Bouwkamp and Cole Bleyenberg had good looks down the stretch; and Jared Minderhoud was just high on a great chance off a corner kick with 6:29 to play.

“We just couldn’t find the back of the net today,” said 10th-year Covenant Christian coach Mike Noorman. “That’s really the only thing we didn’t do. They are obviously very good, and we didn’t capitalize on the chances that we had.”

Lansing Christian also had several other good scoring opportunities, most of them in the first half. Lang clanked a shot off the post 9 minutes into the game, and the Covenant defense almost scored a costly “own goal” 13 minutes before halftime.

The final minutes were a flurry of activity, as Lansing Christian defenders, notably Zach Hagy, Nick Ballein, Gabe Loredo and Josiah Granger, fought valiantly to protect the precarious one-goal lead. After the final seconds ticked off, the Pilgrims swarmed Coach Vande Kopple while the Covenant players lay strewn all over the field in disbelief.

“To be honest, in those last few minutes we were just holding on,” said Vande Kopple, whose team finished unbeaten, with one 0-0 tie in the sixth game of the year against Jackson.

The loss was particularly devastating for Covenant since it lost by a goal in last year’s Division 4 title game as well, 3-2 against Hamtramck Frontier International.

Covenant, which finished 22-2-3, was champion of the soccer-rich River Valley Conference and defeated No. 2-ranked Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Central (1-0) in a shootout in the Regional Final and highly-touted Bellaire (3-2) in the Semifinal. But once again, their quest for an MHSAA championship came up one game short.

On the other side of the field, Vande Kopple was struggling to find the right words.

“I don’t think I will realize exactly what we just did for a few weeks,” Vande Kopple said. “When it hits me, I’ll be able to explain it a whole lot better.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Lansing Christian huddles after claiming its first MHSAA title. (Middle) Jordan Terry celebrates after scoring the game's lone goal. (Click to see more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.)