Preview: Stories of Glory Soon to be Told

November 2, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Tying together all four MHSAA Boys Soccer Finals to a common theme is impossible this season. But all four games have stories to tell.

In Division 1, Ann Arbor Skyline is ranked and facing an unranked opponent – but that unranked opponent is the most frequent champ of this decade, East Kentwood. In Division 2, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern is top-ranked and expected to win its first boys soccer championship – but takes on another of the most successful programs in state history in Detroit Country Day.

Division 3 pits the top two-ranked teams at the end of the regular season – Grosse Ile and Hudsonville Unity Christian. Division 4 offers Leland a chance to also win its first MHSAA title in boys soccer – but the Comets must face Ann Arbor Greenhills, coming off its first title won just a year ago.

Saturday's Finals kick off at noon and 3 p.m., with Division 3 followed by Division 1 at Novi and Division 4 followed by Division 2 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

 16-4-2, No. 10
Coach: Chris Morgan, eighth season (119-31-37)
League finish: Second in Southeastern Conference Red.
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2013.
Players to watch: Gabe Kellman, soph. M (8 goals, 5 assists); Bryce Schaner, jr. F (7 goals, 1 assist); Oskar Shiomi-Jensen, jr. F (6 goals, 2 assists); Kyri Wixom, sr. GK (0.54 goals-against average).
Outlook: Skyline quickly found itself as one of the few ranked teams left in the Division 1 tournament, helping that effort by knocking out No. 3 Saline in the District Final – which also avenged two of Skyline’s losses. The Eagles have given up only one goal during the postseason – to Warren DeLaSalle in the Semifinal – and allowed 11 goals total this fall. Wixom is a rock in goal behind a defense of seniors Tobin Brenner, Marco Althoen, Omar Hassan and junior Jamie Palms.

 17-3-4, unranked
Coach: John Conlon, 19th season (351-58-45)
League finish: Fourth in Ottawa-Kent Conference Red
Championship history: Five Division 1 titles (most recent 2016).
Players to watch: Giuseppe Calabrese, sr. M (14 goals, 14 assists); Damir Sabanovic, sr. M (7 assists); Uriel Garcia, sr. M (13 goals, 4 assists); Louis Schultz, jr. GK (0.52 goals-against average, 12 shutouts).
Outlook: The Falcons are playing for their sixth championship in 12 seasons and peaking at the best time with five straight shutouts – including one that eliminated No. 7 Midland Dow in a Regional Semifinal. Schultz has saved 91 percent of shots he’s faced, and East Kentwood hasn’t given up more than two goals in a game – and has given up more than one only three times.

Division 2

 19-5-2, unranked
Coach: Steve Bossert, fourth season (58-28-10)
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Championship history: 14 MHSAA titles (most recent 2011), one runner-up finish.
Players to watch: Kevin Tang, sr. M (15 goals, 9 assists); Gabe Akeel, sr. M (15 goals, 10 assists); Elbert Yi, sr. M (5 goals, 8 assists); Jon Dougherty, sr. GK (11 shutouts).
Outlook: After previously playing in Division 3, Country Day is seeking its first Division 2 championship with an experienced group coming off its second straight Regional title. Additionally, Bossert was an assistant for six of the past Finals championships. Dougherty made the Division 3 all-state second team last season, and Yi and sophomore forward Justin Harris (6 goals, 6 assists this fall) earned honorable mentions.

 23-0-1, No. 1
Coach: Daniel Siminski, fifth season (94-10-12)
League finish: First in O-K White.
Championship history: Division 2 runner-up 2015.
Players to watch: Nate Texer, sr. F (25 goals, 6 assists); Jordan Okito, sr. F (17 goals, 13 assists); Jonathan Kliewer, jr. GK (0.43 goals-against average, 14 shutouts); Aiden O’Connor, jr. D.
Outlook: Forest Hills Northern’s seniors were freshmen when the team fell in a shootout in their first championship match appearance in 2015, and they’ve been aiming for this opportunity. The Huskies have outscored their five postseason opponents by a combined 26-3, avenging their lone non-win this fall (a draw against Grand Rapids Northview) with a 3-1 District Semifinal victory. Okito made the all-state second team and O’Connor the third last season.

Division 3

 27-1, No. 1
Coach: Jon Evans, third season (74-5-2)
League finish: First in Huron League.
Championship history: Division 3 champion 2002.
Players to watch: Brendan Eblin, sr. GK (0.36 goals-against average, 22 shutouts); Christian Drzyzga, sr. M (9 goals, 11 assists); Jacob Sawicki, sr. M (52 goals, 21 assists); Benedek Tanyi, jr M (30 goals, 15 assists).
Outlook: After suffering its lone loss last season to Country Day in a Regional Final, Grosse Ile is playing in its first Final since 2002 and with just an early defeat to Detroit U-D Jesuit. After that loss, the Red Devils went on a run of 21 straight shutouts (including the last over No. 3 Lansing Catholic) before giving up a goal in their Regional Final win – and they came back with another shutout in the Semifinal. Sawicki made the all-state second team last season, and Eblin, Drzyzga and Tanyi all earned honorable mentions. Junior midfielder Max Aston added 13 goals entering the week.

 22-2-1, No. 2
Coach: Randy Heethuis, 25th season (465-79-42)
League finish: First in O-K Green.
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 2014), four runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Kadin Shaban, jr. F (29 goals, 20 assists); Evan Nieuwenhuis, jr. D (12 goals, 3 assists); Chase Rozeveld, sr. F (13 goals, 4 assists); Grant Balcer, jr. GK (0.27 goals-against average, 17 shutouts).
Outlook: Unity Christian won its first Regional title since 2014 and after suffering its lone defeat a year ago in a Regional Semifinal to Grand Rapids South Christian – which Unity beat in the District this year. The Crusaders eliminated the No. 5 Sailors, No. 7 Paw Paw and No. 9 Ludington during this run. Shaban made the all-state first team as a sophomore, and senior midfielder Dan Hoeksema is another key cog offensively with eight goals and 10 assists entering the week.

Division 4

Record/rank: 11-8-3, unranked
Coach: Lucian Popescu, ninth season (149-68-17)
League finish: Third in Detroit Catholic League AA
Championship history: Division 4 champion in 2017, three runner-up finishes. 
Players to watch: Zachary Zimmerman, sr. M (31 goals, 9 assists); Leo Fried, sr. GK (1.35 goals-against average, 6 shutouts); Robert Keller, sr. M (1 goal, 6 assists); Neil Bazaj, sr. M (2 goals, 10 assists).
Outlook: Greenhills entered the postseason unranked and with a sub-.500 record, but has outscored six playoff opponents by a combined 22-2 and eliminated No. 6 Adrian Lenawee Christian and No. 4 Burton Genesee Christian. Zimmerman made the all-state first team last season, and Fried and Bazaj also were among standouts on the championship team. 

Record/rank: 23-1-3, No. 2
Coach: Joe Burda, ninth season (177-38-10)  
League finish: First in Northwest Conference. 
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final. 
Players to watch: Cobe Lund, sr. F (41 goals, 18 assists); Owen Kareck, jr. D (5 goals, 3 assists); Nick Saffell, sr. F (16 goals, 11 assists); Michael Roberts, jr. M (24 goals, 6 assists). 
Outlook: After seven straight league, six District and two Regional titles over the last seven seasons, Leland will play for an MHSAA championship for the first time. The Comets’ only loss came in the second game of the season, against Cadillac, and the only goals they’ve given up in six postseason games were two to No. 3 Kalamazoo Hackett in the Semifinal (not counting two penalty kicks in the shootout portion of a 1-0 win over top-ranked Muskegon Western Michigan Christian in the Regional Final). Lund made the all-state first team last season, and Kareck and Saffell earned honorable mentions.

PHOTO: Ann Arbor Greenhills' Neil Bazaj passes upfield to a teammate during last season's Division 4 championship win.

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.)