Preview: Perfect Time to Peak

November 4, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Four of eight finalists at Saturday's MHSAA Boys Soccer Finals are playing to take home the champion's trophy for the first time in their programs' histories.

And considering that none of seven teams that play in leagues won them this fall, claiming the highest title will be even more special.

Burton Genesee Christian is the reigning Division 4 champion and does not play in a league. The other seven finalists finished anywhere from second to fourth in their respective conferences, preparing to peak at the most opportune time and then making the most of the last three weeks.

Saturday's Finals kick off at noon and 3 p.m., with Division 4 followed by Division 1 at Rochester Hills Stoney Creek and Division 3 followed by Division 2 at Comstock Park. All will be broadcast live 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.


 15-3-5, No. 19
Coach: John Conlon, 17th season (308-52-37)
League finish: Third in Ottawa-Kent Conference Red
Championship history: Four Division 1 titles (most recent 2012). 
Players to watch: Haris Dzafic, jr. GK (0.50 goals-against average, 13 shutouts); Adis Guric, jr. F (10 goals, 9 assists); Narcis Sprecic, sr. F (11 goals, 7 assists).
Outlook: East Kentwood has risen from three seasons without District titles to make its fifth Division 1 Final over the last decade – and in grand fashion, eliminating among others No. 4 Rockford, No. 20 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, No. 16 Traverse City West and No. 14 Novi on the way. The Falcons have won 12 of their last 13, and 10 by shutout during that run, while avenging two losses to Rockford by beating the Rams 1-0 in the District Final. Junior forward Adrian Diaz had 11 goals as well entering the week, and senior midfielder Jeo Garcia had nine goals and eight assists.

 19-4-2, No. 6
Coach: Todd Heugh, sixth season (96-21-16)
League finish: Third in Oakland Activities Association Red
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 1997), one runner-up finish. 
Players to watch: Mason Maziasz, sr. GK (0.53 goals-against average, 15 shutouts); Shamik Patel, sr. M (8 goals, 10 assists); Sami Sami, jr. F (12 goals, 4 assists).
Outlook: Athens is making its deepest run under Heugh, who played on the 1989 Class A championship team and led Rochester to the Division 1 title in 2002 while boys coach at that school from 2000-05. The Redhawks entered the postseason with two straight losses but have outscored six playoff opponents by a combined 18-4 – and avenged an earlier loss to Rochester with a 2-1 Semifinal win. Junior forward Cole Valentine adds another scoring option up front, entering this week with nine goals and four assists.


 12-7-4, unranked
Coach: Dean Kowalski, second season (27-15-5)
League finish: Fourth in Detroit Catholic League AA
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.  
Players to watch: Shane Ciucci, sr. F (9 goals, 9 assists); Justin Stack, sr. M (8 goals, 5 assists); Evan Mazurek, jr. GK (1.25 goals-against average, 8 shutouts).  
Outlook: Divine Child was riding an 0-4-2 stretch into this postseason, but stormed back to make the Finals for the first time with five shutouts in six games, including 2-0 over No. 13 Dexter in the Regional Semifinal. Ciucci earned an all-state honorable mention as a junior and is one of 11 seniors including eight who start. Seven players had scored at least three goals heading into this week, including also seniors Alex Higgins (seven) and Noah Cieglo (six). Kowalski took over the program last season after a decade as an assistant.

 21-4-2, No. 11
Coach: Kirt Brown, 11th season (149-75-23)
League finish: Third in Southwest Michigan Athletic Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.  
Players to watch: Jarrett Hageman, soph. F (27 goals, 5 assists); Evan Marquess, jr. F (5 goals, 11 assists); Casey Kirkbride, sr. GK (0.68 goals-against average, 12 shutouts).
Outlook: Mattawan made the Semifinals last season but graduated 11 seniors from that team, and yet has taken the next step for the first time. The Wildcats also have won at least 20 games for the second straight season under Brown, despite playing in a league including Division 1 No. 2 Portage Northern and No. 18 Portage Central – and suffering three of their four losses this fall to those two teams. Mattawan has won eight straight, a streak that started with a 1-0 win over No. 7 Coldwater and during the tournament has included shutouts of No. 16 Stevensville Lakeshore, No. 8 Holland and No. 1 East Lansing and also a win over No. 12 Marshall.


 17-3-3, No. 4
Coach: Tony Rowe, fifth season (81-23-10)
League finish: Second in Saginaw Valley League
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2013). 
Players to watch: Chase Knoblock, sr. F (10 goals, 13 assists); Andrew Simon, jr. M (6 goals, 15 assists); Steven Tuttle, sr. M (12 goals, 11 assists).
Outlook: After leading the Chargers to the Division 3 title in his second season in 2013, alum Tony Rowe has them back in the Final after a run that has included wins over No. 7 Clawson and No. 13 Lansing Catholic. Powers has outscored its six postseason opponents by a combined 27-2 and is on a 14-game unbeaten streak. Knoblock and Simon earned all-state honorable mentions last season but have plenty of scoring help in addition to Tuttle; junior forward Bryan Lendzion led with 17 goals entering this week, and junior midfielder Mason Smith had scored 13.

 20-1-4, No. 1
Coach: Brian Hughes, seventh season (record N/A)
League finish: Second in O-K Blue.
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Langston Cooper, jr. (12 goals, 4 assists); Fernando Garcia, sr. (21 goals, 12 assists); Alec Winden, jr. (18 goals, 18 assists).
Outlook: Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s first run to an MHSAA Final also has included the first District and Regional titles in program history. The team’s only loss this fall was to Division 2 No. 2 Spring Lake, and the playoff run has included wins over No. 2 Hudsonville Unity Christian, No. 8 Paw Paw and No. 12 Charlevoix. In addition to the high scorers above, senior midfielder Josh Steffes is a key contributor; he made the all-state second team last season.


 22-2-1, No. 6
Coach: Doug Anderson, eighth season (131-43-11)
League finish: Does not play in a conference.  
Championship history: Division 4 champion 2015.  
Players to watch: Cole Russell, sr. M (21 goals, 16 assists); Zach Noecker, sr. GK (0.63 goals-against average, 15 shutouts), Caleb DuPree, sr. F (27 goals, 9 assists).
Outlook: Going back to last season’s perfect run, Genesee Christian won 33 straight games including the first five of this fall, and has now won nine straight while also challenging itself in losses to much larger Fenton and Lake Fenton. The Soldiers haven’t given up a goal in the postseason, outscoring six opponents by a combined 24-0, with the latest shutout over No. 3 Ann Arbor Greenhills. Noecker, Russell and senior midfielder Riley Buchalski (5 goals, 5 assists) made the all-state first team last season, and DuPree made the second team.

 13-8-4, unranked
Coach: Bill Moulatsiotis, sixth season (72-49-7)
League finish: Tied for third in Lakes 8 Conference
Championship history: Division 4 runner-up 2008. 
Players to watch: Jose Zambrano, jr. F; Connor O’Neill, sr. GK; Jose Mojica, jr. M. (Statistics not submitted.)
Outlook: Muskegon Catholic Central has been one of the surprises of the tournament, downing No. 4 North Muskegon, No. 9 Grand Rapids Covenant Christian and No. 18 Kalamazoo Hackett after falling to North Muskegon and Covenant Christian during the regular season. But Zambrano was an all-state second-team pick last season and O’Neill and Mojica were honorable mentions, so the upsets can’t be entirely shocking. The Crusaders have won 10 of their last 13 games.

PHOTO: Genesee Christian's Caleb DuPree (left) works to maintain control of the ball during last season's Division 4 Final win over Kalamazoo Hackett.

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.)