By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Five teams will look to make history Saturday as they play for their first MHSAA boys soccer championships. And at least two are assured of doing so.
The Lower Peninsula Division 1 and 4 championship games feature four teams looking to win for the first time, including first-year school Bloomfield Hills. Spring Lake in Division 2 also is going for its first Finals win, but against three-time champion East Lansing and one of the state’s winningest coaches in Nick Archer.
Only in Division 3 is a team assured of adding to its trophy collection. Flint Powers Catholic is hoping for its first title since 1996, but must beat reigning champion Grand Rapids South Christian to earn it.
Below is Saturday's schedule, followed by a look at each team in the hunt.
Division 1 at Troy Athens, Noon
Bloomfield Hills (16-2-5) vs. Ann Arbor Skyline (20-1-5)
Division 2 at East Kentwood Crestwood Middle School, Noon
East Lansing (24-2) vs. Spring Lake (16-6-3)
Division 3 at Troy Athens, 3 p.m.
Grand Rapids South Christian (21-1-3) vs. Flint Powers Catholic (14-8-2)
Division 4 at East Kentwood Crestwood Middle School, 3 p.m.
Grand Rapids Covenant Christian (22-1-3) vs. Lansing Christian (21-0-1)
All four Finals will be streamed live on MHSAA.TV and available on a subscription basis. A one-day pass costs $9.95 and allows access to all four games plus the Lower Peninsula Cross Country Finals. A month pass costs $14.95 and allows fans to also watch live the Volleyball Semifinals and Finals and Lower Peninsula Girls Swimming & Diving Finals. Radio broadcasts of the Soccer Finals will be available on MHSAAnetwork.com.
Click for links to brackets and scores. All statistics below are through the Regional Finals.
ANN ARBOR SKYLINE
Record/rank: 20-1-5, No. 3
Coach: Chris Morgan, fourth season (53-17-16)
League finish: Second in Southeastern Conference Red
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Alec Lasinski, jr. F (32 goals, six assists); Nick Russo, sr. M (11 assists, three goals).
Outlook: Skyline has improved in the win column each season during its four as a varsity program and won its second straight District title two weeks ago. The Eagles beat No. 5 Caledonia and honorable mentions Okemos and Salem to win the Regional and advance to the championship game. Lasinski earned an all-state honorable mention as a sophomore and leads an offense that has outscored opponents 74-15 with 14 shutouts this fall.
Record/rank: 16-2-5, unranked
Coach: Dougie Macaulay, first season (16-2-5)
League finish: Second in Oakland Activities Association White
Championship history: First season as a school.
Players to watch: Alex Joneson, jr. F; Griffin Hamel, sr. GK (statistics not submitted).
Outlook: This is the first year of Bloomfield Hills soccer and school, which was created by a merger of Lahser and Andover. Lahser won one MHSAA title and finished runner-up twice during its history. The only teams to score more than one goal on Bloomfield Hills this season were the two that beat the Black Hawks, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek and Birmingham Groves. Bloomfield Hills has won 13 straight, including avenging that loss to Groves with a 4-1 win in the District opener.
Record/rank: 24-2, No. 4
Coach: Nick Archer, 38th season (572-152-72)
League finish: Second in Capital Area Activities Conference Blue
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2005), two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: DeJuan Jones, jr. F (25 goals, eight assists); Tommy Lammers, sr. M (six goals, five assists); Ben Swanson-Ralph, sr. F (14 goals, 12 assists).
Outlook: East Lansing advanced with its first Regional title since 2007, but was poised for such a run after claiming the league and District titles in 2012 with Swanson-Ralph making the all-state first team and Lammers earning an honorable mention. The Trojans spent much of this season ranked No. 1 before a couple close losses near the end to No. 6 DeWitt and Division 1 honorable mention Okemos. East Lansing then beat DeWitt and No. 2 Linden on its way to this championship game.
Record/rank: 16-6-3, unranked
Coach: Jeremy Thelen, 13th season (200-70-11)
League finish: Second in Lakes 8 Conference
Championship history: 2011 runner-up.
Players to watch: Nic Ellingboe, sr. F (19 goals, seven assists); Kyle Zietlow, jr. M (10 goals, 12 assists); Keegan George, soph. F (13 goals, six assists).
Outlook: This is Spring Lake’s second Division 2 Final appearance in three seasons, and the Lakers are riding a seven-game winning streak including a shootout victory over Fruitport after losing to the Trojans in the league championship game. In fact, Spring Lake could make a run at three Finals berths in four seasons next fall; Ellingboe and defender Adam Ross are the only senior starters.
FLINT POWERS CATHOLIC
Record/rank: 14-8-2, No. 6
Coach: Tony Rowe, second season (28-15-2)
League finish: First in Saginaw Valley Association
Championship history: Class B champion 1996.
Players to watch: Jared Pechette, sr. M (10 assists, eight goals); Christian Mansour, sr. M (15 assists, five goals); Charlie Emmert, sr. F (13 goals, three assists).
Outlook: Powers has piled up successes with two league titles under Rowe, a 2003 graduate in his first varsity coaching position. The Chargers are riding a 12-game unbeaten streak after beginning the season 3-6. Although Powers has only six seniors, three start in the midfield with Brad Tuttle joining Pechette and Mansour.
GRAND RAPIDS SOUTH CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 21-1-3, No. 1
Coach: Jason Boersma, third season (58-8-8)
League finish: First in O-K Gold
Championship history: Two titles (most recent 2012), one runner-up finish.
Players to watch: Marlon Bykerk, sr. M (11 goals, 17 assists); Cody Kok, sr. M (11 assists, nine goals); Nick VanderHorst, sr. M (13 goals, three assists), Zac Medendorp, sr. GK (0.45 goals-against average, 15 shutouts).
Outlook: South Christian is playing for its third title in four seasons led by a talented midfield including 2012 all-stater Bykerk and honorable mention Kok and a keeper whose shutout total makes the MHSAA record book (Medendorp earned his 16th in the Semifinal against No. 5 Whitehall). The Sailors’ lone loss this season was in their opener, 1-0 to Division 2 honorable mention Grand Rapids Christian – and South Christian won the rematch 2-1.
GRAND RAPIDS COVENANT CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 22-1-3, No. 1
Coach: Mike Noorman, 10th season (127-66-14)
League finish: First in River Valley Conference
Championship history: 2012 runner-up.
Players to watch: Corbin Prince, sr. M (27 goals, 15 assists), Travis Bouwkamp, jr. F (23 goals 16 assists), Cole Bleyenberg, sr. F (12 goals, nine assists), Austin Brower, sr. GK (0.28 GAA, 13 shutouts).
Outlook: After falling short to Hamtramck Frontier International in last season’s Division 4 Final, Covenant Christian has dominated in its quest to finish the run this fall. Brower was an all-stater as a junior and Prince made the second team. They are two of 11 seniors on a team that started with seven straight shutouts and has given up only three goals during the postseason despite dispatching of No. 2 Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Central and No. 10 Bellaire during the run.
Record/rank: 21-0-1, honorable mention
Coach: Joel Vande Kopple, sixth season (114-15-5)
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Jordan Terry, sr. F (26 goals, 11 assists), Martin Lang, Jr., jr. F (18 goals, eight assists), Brayan Guzman-Ortiz, jr. F (11 goals, six assists), Alex McDowell, soph. M (11 goals, five assists).
Outlook: The Pilgrims didn’t enter the tournament among the top 10. But Lansing Christian proved its skill early with wins over Division 2 Haslett and Division 3 Williamston, and then beat Division 4 honorable mention Genesee Christian and No. 7 Bloomfield Hills Roeper on the way to this first Final. Terry is a returning all-stater and a dangerous scorer, but the defense is talented as well – the Pilgrims didn’t give up a goal in the playoffs until Roeper scored one in the Semifinal.
PHOTO: Grand Rapids South Christian’s Marlon Bykerk (4) advances the ball during last season’s Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final win over Williamston. He and his team return to the championship game Saturday. (Click to see more from High School Sports Scene.)
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.)