Preview: Seeking Storybook Endings

November 2, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

We’ll have a first-time Division 1 champion this fall. It’s guaranteed. We could have first-time winners in Divisions 2 and 4 as well.

And if one of the four past champions playing in Saturday’s MHSAA Boys Soccer Finals wins again, they all have great stories too – be it the contenders looking for first titles since 1995 and 2001, an unranked power that made its way to the final day after a slow start, or the lone returnee from last year’s last day that missed out on another title falling by one goal.

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

Division 1

 20-2-4, No. 5
Coach: Gene Pulice, sixth season (80-24-19)
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League Central.
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Drake Midgley, jr. M (11 goals, 10 assists); Ryan Pierson, sr. F (30 goals, 13 assists); Kevin Blossfield, sr. GK (0.12 goals-against average), Andrew Nicholsen, jr. GK (0.37 goals-against average).
Outlook: Detroit Catholic Central will make its first appearance in an MHSAA championship game in this sport, with Wednesday’s Semifinal the second time it had reached that level of the tournament (and second time in three seasons). This run has included wins over No. 18 Novi in the District Final and No. 12 Plymouth in the Regional championship game before the Shamrocks eliminated No. 4 and reigning champion East Kentwood to earn the Finals berth. Blossfield and Nicholsen have split time in goal and combined for 16 shutouts this fall.

 22-1-2, No. 15
Coach: Joel Sharpe, 21st season (221-170-41)
League finish: First in Lakes Valley Conference.
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Ray Daniels, sr. F (17 goals, 8 assists); Alex Dalou, sr. M (10 goals, 14 assists); Nik Palafox, sr. M (16 goals, 15 assists), Ellton Pllumbaj, jr. F (14 goals, 10 assists).
Outlook: Walled Lake Central’s first run to a Final also has included its first Regional title in this sport, with a win over No. 10 Rochester in the Regional Semifinal and four shutouts over six total tournament games. In fact, the combination of junior keepers Brian Ostepanko, Jackson Bowers and Zaid Alsorachi has totaled 20 shutouts in 25 games this fall as they’ve saved nearly 93 percent of shots they’ve faced. A streak of 16 straight shutouts through the District Final tied the MHSAA record set in 2008, and the 20 total are tied for fourth most in one season. Dalou earned an all-state honorable mention last season.

Division 2

 17-9-1, unranked
Coach: Nick Archer, 41st season (660-176-75)
League finish: Fourth in Capital Area Activities Conference Blue.
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2014), two runner-up finishes. 
Players to watch: Ansu Lebbie, sr. F (9 goals, 5 assists); Alden Metzmaker, sr. F (12 goals, 3 assists); Almir Celovic, sr. M (3 goals, 5 assists); Petrus Martens, sr. M (8 goals, 3 assists).
Outlook: East Lansing likely is the surprise of the tournament after starting this season 2-4-1. But another championship this weekend would be the program’s third in five years. The Trojans beat No. 14 Haslett and No. 15 Goodrich on the way to this week after avenging near the end of the regular season an early loss to Division 3 No. 7 Williamston. East Lansing has won nine of its last 10 including two games by shootout and a third in overtime.

 18-5-2, No. 8
Coach: Greg Ceithaml, 21st season (270-152-38) 
League finish: Second in Ottawa-Kent Conference Green.
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Sam Accardo, sr. M; Jose Penaloza, sr. F; Owen Beird, sr. M; Daniel Arellano, sr. F. (Statistics not submitted.)
Outlook: Wednesday’s Semifinal win over No. 7 Coldwater was a first for the Dutch, coming off the second Regional title in program history. Holland heads into this historic final step riding a string of four straight shutouts and with a 26-2 scoring margin over six tournament games. The Dutch also eliminated No. 19 Holland Christian, in the District Final, and No. 4 Grand Rapids Christian in the Regional championship game. Arellano and Penaloza made the all-state first team last season, and Accardo earned honorable mention.

Division 3

 20-2-1, No. 3
Coach: Tony Rowe, sixth season (100-26-11)
League finish: Third in Saginaw Valley League.
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2013), one runner-up finish.
Players to watch: Mason Smith, sr. M (17 goals, 26 assists); Bryan Lendzion, sr. F (26 goals, 12 assists); Brendan Tilden, sr. GK (0.45 goals-against average, 13 shutouts); Kyle Genord, sr. M (3 goals, 16 assists).
Outlook: Last season’s Division 3 runner-up just missed its third championship, falling 1-0 to Grand Rapids Catholic Central in the 2016 Final. A number of last year’s contributors are back for another shot – Smith made the all-state first team last fall, while Tilden made the third team and Lendzion earned an honorable mention. Junior midfielder Blase Haynes also had 14 goals heading into this week, and junior midfielder Garret Delamielleure added seven goals and 12 assists. The Chargers downed No. 5 Detroit Country Day in the Semifinal after beating No. 9 Lansing Catholic in the Regional Final.

 18-4-2, No. 16
Coach: Kris Anderson, seventh season (79-63-8)
League finish: Second in Lakes 8 Conference.
Championship history: Division 3 champion 2001, two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Ben Knoer, sr. M (24 goals, 4 assists); Caleb Schoon, sr. F (17 goals, 12 assists); Lucien Chasse, sr. M (9 goals, 9 assists); Kyle Wendt, fr. GK (1.30 goals-against average, 9 shutouts).
Outlook: Ludington shook things up with its Semifinal win over No. 4 Grand Rapids South Christian, which continued the Orioles’ longest run since that championship season of 2001. They have won 12 of their last 13 games, with only a loss to Division 4 No. 3 Muskegon Western Michigan Christian breaking up the streak. Knoer and Schoon have combined to score more than half the team’s goals, but they’ve had plenty of helpers feeding them opportunities; junior midfielder Will Flewelling also had nine assists heading into this week, and senior midfielder Lynn Richard had seven assists and eight goals.

Division 4

 19-6-1, No. 5
Coach: Lucian Popescu, eighth season (139-60-14)
League finish: Third in Detroit Catholic League AA.
Championship history: Three MHSAA runner-up finishes (most recent 2010).
Players to watch: Zachary Zimmerman, jr. M (31 goals, 24 assists); Evan Marx, sr. M (17 goals, 13 assists); Matthew Pumphrey, sr. M (13 goals, 12 assists); Leo Fried, jr. GK (1.18 goals-against average, 13 shutouts).
Outlook: Greenhills also made the Semifinals last season before breaking out this week to reach its first Final since back-to-back runner-up finishes in 2009 and 2010. The Wednesday win over reigning champion and No. 14-ranked Burton Genesee Christian was just the latest of an impressive string that included defeats of No. 6 Hillsdale Academy and No. 13 Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central in the Regional and No. 12 Manchester to open the District. Zimmerman earned all-state honorable mention last season. Junior midfielder Neil Bazaj added 20 assists heading into the week.

 19-1-2, No. 4
Coach: Ian Troutman, third season (record N/A)
League finish: First in Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 1995), one runner-up finish.
Players to watch: Brennan Creek, jr. M (40 goals, 37 assists), Aidan Gillig, jr. M (17 goals, 11 assists); Jacob Wurtz, sr. M (2 goals, 6 assists); Max Keenan, jr. F (41 goals, 14 assists).
Outlook: Hackett is back in the Final for the second time in three seasons; the Irish fell to Genesee Christian in a shootout in the 2015 championship game and then lost in overtime in the Semifinals a year ago. This time, Hackett downed No. 8 Buckley in the Semifinal, No. 11 Hartford in the Regional Final and No. 17 Kalamazoo Christian in the District Final. There’s plenty of firepower – the Irish have outscored six postseason opponents by a combined 34-3 and have 12 games with at least five goals. Creek made the all-state second team last season, while Keenan made the third team and Wurtz earned an honorable mention.

PHOTO: Flint Powers Catholic’s Mason Smith (10) works to elude a pair of Grand Rapids Catholic Central players during last year’s Division 3 championship game.

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.)