Preview: Finals Provide 1st & 2nd Chances

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

November 6, 2020

This Michigan high school boys soccer season started with unpredictability because of COVID-19. It will end Saturday with opportunities – some enjoyed for the first time, others as second chances.

The Division 4 Final is guaranteed to produce a first-time champion, as Adrian Lenawee Christian and Grandville Calvin Christian are both first-time finalists. Division 2 is similar – DeWitt is seeking its first title, and Richland Gull Lake is seeking its first outright after earning a pair of shared championships more than two decades ago.

And then there are the second chances. In Division 3, Grosse Ile and Grand Rapids South Christian will meet on the season’s final day for the second-straight year; Grosse Ile claimed a 2-1 shootout win in 2019. In Division 1, Detroit Catholic Central and Traverse City West both are seeking the second championships in their programs’ histories – West after finishing second in Division 1 in 2019.

Here’s Saturday’s schedule:

Division 3: Grosse Ile vs. Grand Rapids South Christian, noon
Division 4: Adrian Lenawee Christian vs. Grandville Calvin Christian, 3 p.m.

Division 1: Traverse City West vs. Detroit Catholic Central, noon
Division 2: DeWitt vs. Richland Gull Lake, 3 p.m.

All of Saturday’s Finals will be broadcast live and viewable with subscription on, with audio available on See below for glances at all eight finalists, and come back to Second Half later Saturday for coverage of all four championship games. (The Michigan Power Rating noted below is derived from a team's success and strength of schedule and was used to seed Districts at the start of the postseason. The MPRs listed were where teams ranked at the start of District play.)

Division 1

Record: 12-0-3 
Michigan Power Rating: No. 1
Coach: Gene Pulice, ninth season (121-27-23)
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League Central
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2017.
Players to watch: Clay Moscovic, sr. F (7 goals, 2 assists); Jack Leuker, sr. M (5 goals, 6 assists); Ali Jaffer, soph. F (8 goals, 5 assists); John Browning, sr. GK (0.47 goals-against average, 6 shutouts).
Outlook: The Shamrocks are back at the Finals for the second time in four seasons to cap a run that’s included wins over No. 3 Mattawan and No. 6 Warren De La Salle Collegiate, one of three opponents that dealt them a draw during the regular season. (The others were No. 15 Fenton and No. 5 Troy Athens.) Moscovic made the all-state third team and junior midfielder Vincent Stockton (five goals, one assist this fall) earned an honorable mention in 2019.

Record: 22-1-2
Michigan Power Rating: No. 2
Coach: Matt Griesinger, sixth season (191-23-13)
League finish: First in Big North Conference
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2006, runner-up 2019.  
Players to watch: Blade Kalbfleisch, sr. GK (1.08 goals-against average, 7 shutouts); Gavin Michael, sr. F (24 goals, 10 assists); Colin Blackport, jr. M (19 goals, 29 assists); Tony Gallegos, sr. F (18 goals, 9 assists).
Outlook: West is seeking to take the final step after falling to Troy Athens in last season’s Division 1 Final, and the Titans defeated Athens in Wednesday’s Semifinal to get that chance. West hasn’t lost since falling to De La Salle in its opener, and outscored its five postseason opponents by a combined 20-2. Gallegos made the all-state second team last season and Kalbfleisch earned an honorable mention. Senior Kaden Ales (8 goals/11 assists) and juniors John Hirschenberger (11/9) and Cooper Davis (8/7) fill out a high-scoring midfield.

Division 2

Record: 13-4-2 
Michigan Power Rating: No. 6
Coach: Joe Ishraidi, sixth season (70-45-14)
League finish: Third in Capital Area Activities Conference Blue
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final. 
Players to watch: Patrick Woodbury, sr. GK (1.18 goals-against average, 6 shutouts); Landon Hungerford, sr. M (24 goals, 9 assists); Zach Stephan, sr. F (9 goals, 15 assists); Victor Toune, sr. M (8 goals, 14 assists).
Outlook: Ishraidi, a former DeWitt standout during the first decade of the 2000s, has the annually-competitive Panthers heading into their first championship game. DeWitt dipped to 11-12-2 just two seasons ago but is 27-8-6 since, with wins this playoff run over No. 14 Dearborn Divine Child and No. 5 Riverview. Hungerford made the all-state first team, Toune the second and Woodbury earned honorable mention in 2019.

Record: 15-2-1
Michigan Power Rating: No. 3
Coach: Matt Streitel, fifth season (68-27-7)
League finish: Tied for first in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference
Championship history: Class B co-champion in 1993 and 1988, runner-up in 1983. 
Players to watch: AJ Boucher, jr. M (3 goals, 19 assists); Eron Sylejmani, sr. M (21 goals, 15 assists); Tyler Corstange, jr. F (15 goals, 6 assists); Braden Minehart, fr. GK (0.22 goals-against average, 8 shutouts).
Outlook: Streitel has had the program building to this point, following up last season’s 17-1-1 finish with second-straight league and third-consecutive Regional championships – and a 2-0 win over DeWitt on Sept. 26. The Blue Devils defeated top-ranked Holland and avenged a loss to No. 12 St. Joseph during this playoff run. Sylejmani made the all-state second team last season, and Boucher made the third team.

Division 3

Record: 18-0-1
Michigan Power Rating: No. 4
Coach: Jason Boersma, 10th season (166-42-24)
League finish: First in O-K Gold
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2015), three runner-up finishes.  
Players to watch: Jeff Herrema, sr. F (11 goals/14 assists); Nik Schepers, sr. GK (0.57 goals-against average); Thom DeVries, sr. M (12 goals/6 assists); Boston Knapp, sr. F (15 goals, 5 assists).
Outlook: The majority of last season’s top players are this season’s standouts again, with Herrema a returning all-state first teamer and Schepers having earned an honorable mention in 2019. Herrema isn’t expected to start; he reportedly suffered a shoulder injury two weeks ago. The Sailors haven’t lost again since falling in last year’s Final, with that lone draw this season with Division 1 Caledonia. South Christian downed No. 5 Wyoming Lee and No. 7 Hudsonville Unity Christian early this postseason and advanced to Saturday with a shootout win over No. 1 Elk Rapids. Junior Levi DeRuiter (3 goals/13 assists) is another cog helping to make the offense go.

Record: 19-1-1
Michigan Power Rating: No. 2
Coach: Jon Evans, fifth season (114-6-9)
League finish: Second in Huron League
Championship history: Division 3 champion 2019 and 2002, runner-up 2018.
Players to watch: Clayton Lafayette, jr. M (4 goals, 16 assists); Bosh Tanyi, sr. M (45 goals, 8 assists); Drew Cardinal, soph. F (7 goals, 11 assists); Hayden Watson, soph. GK (0.30 goals-against average, 15 shutouts).
Outlook: Despite graduating eight players who earned all-state recognition last season, Grosse Ile is right back where it ended 2019. Tanyi is the offensive force after earning an all-state honorable mention in 2019, with four teammates putting up double-digit assists including as well freshman midfielder Ali Khaled (2 goals/14 assists) and junior midfielder Jon Duke (2/12). The Red Devils’ lone loss was to Division 2 No. 5 Riverview – the teams split this fall – and they tied Elk Rapids early. Grosse Ile has outscored its five playoff opponents by a combined 26-1.

Division 4

Record: 15-2-1 
Michigan Power Rating: No. 6
Coach: Nate Sharpe, fifth season (91-34-3)
League finish: First in Independent Soccer League
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final. 
Players to watch: Francisco Cabrera, sr. M (9 goals, 9 assists); Gabe Henley, sr. F (14 goals, 8 assists); Evan Hendershot, sr. GK (0.88 goals-against average, 7 shutouts); Brennan Griffith, sr. M (24 goals, 14 assists). 
Outlook: Lenawee Christian went over 20 wins for the second time in three seasons and has advanced to the Finals for the first time, with notable postseason wins over No. 12 Hillsdale Academy and top-ranked Plymouth Christian Academy. Sharpe does have experience at this level of the tournament; he led Hudsonville Freedom Baptist to the Division 4 title in 2009 and has more than 200 career coaching wins. Hendershot made the all-state second team last season, junior midfielder Jacob McKelvey (4 goals, 3 assists) made the third and Cabrera earned an honorable mention.

Record: 19-0-2 
Michigan Power Rating: No. 9 
Coach: Karel de Waal Malefyt, 11th season (146-60-24)
League finish: First in O-K Silver
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Ethan DeJager, sr. GK (0.10 goals-against average, 18 shutouts); Lukas Lindhout, sr. F (20 goals, 11 assists); Jake DeYoung, sr. F (13 goals, 7 assists); Jack Hollebeek, jr. F (13 goals, 9 assists).
Outlook: Calvin Christian is in the midst of a two-year surge that has seen it go a combined 39-2-3 with a pair of league and District titles. The Squires defeated No. 10 Wyoming Potter’s House Christian and No. 14 Leland during this first-time Finals run, and downed its five playoff opponents by a combined 24-1. The regular-season draws came to Division 3 No. 5 Wyoming Lee and Division 1 Hudsonville. DeYoung earned an all-state honorable mention last season. Junior midfielder Nolan Karel (7 goals, 14 assists) and senior midfielder Luke Yonker (2 goals, 17 assists) have been leading distributors.

PHOTO: Traverse City West's Tony Gallegos (13) works to get past a Troy Athens defender during the 2019 Division 1 Final.

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 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.)