By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Half of this season’s boys soccer finalists have never won an MHSAA championship.
But they’re surely looking forward to another opportunity after just-misses in the past.
Grand Rapids Covenant Christian has finished runner-up in Division 4 the last two seasons. Opponent Birmingham Roeper has made the Semifinals four times including last season and lost in its lone Final appearance. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood has fallen in Semifinals two of the last five seasons, and Williamston fell in overtime in the Division 3 Final only two years ago.
One of the Division 4 teams is sure to celebrate Saturday. Cranbrook and Williamston have their work cut out, however, against two of the most storied programs in MHSAA history. Division 1 is the lone division matching former champions.
Below is Saturday's schedule, followed by a look at each team in the hunt:
Division 1 at Brighton, Noon
Canton (23-0-3) vs. Rochester Adams (13-4-7)
Division 2 at Brighton, 3 p.m.
East Lansing (23-2) vs. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood (19-2-1)
Division 3 at East Kentwood Crestwood Middle School, Noon
Hudsonville Unity Christian (23-1) vs. Williamston (14-3-6)
Division 4 at East Kentwood Crestwood Middle School, 3 p.m.
Grand Rapids Covenant Christian (21-3-2) vs. Birmingham Roeper (22-1)
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, plus weekly coverage of the football playoffs. Radio broadcasts of the Soccer Finals will be available on MHSAAnetwork.com.
Click for links to brackets and scores. All statistics below are through Regional Finals.
Record/rank: 23-0-3, No. 2
Coach: Mark Zemanski, second season (40-2-6)
League finish: First in Kensington Lakes Activities Association Kensington Conference
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2011).
Players to watch: Jack Zemanski, sr. M (5 goals, 17 assists); Carter Schenk, sr. F (14 goals, 6 assists); Hunter Olson, jr. M/F (15 goals, 9 assists).
Outlook: Canton’s undefeated run has included wins over No. 3 Livonia Stevenson (by shootout), No. 9 Plymouth and No. 10 Northville (by shootout in the Regional Final) and one of the ties was against Rochester Adams, this weekend’s championship game opponent. Jack Zemanski and Schenk both earned all-state honorable mentions as juniors, with Zemanski this fall the main distributor to four players with at least 12 goals. Three keepers have combined for 15 shutouts, including a string of seven straight through the middle of the season.
Record/rank: 13-4-7, honorable mention
Coach: Josh Hickey, sixth season (70-33-30)
League finish: Second in Oakland Activities Association Red
Championship history: Division 1 champion 1999, runner-up 2001.
Players to watch: Kevin Lencioni sr. F (17 goals, 5 assists), Lennart Zorn, jr. F (15 goals, 8 assists), Dylan Brown, soph. GK (0.50 GAA, 9 shutouts).
Outlook: Hickey has led Adams to two straight District titles and four total in six seasons, this time after a rather middling 1-1-4 start to the fall. Adams downed No. 4 Fraser 3-2 in the Semifinal in one of only five games the team gave up more than one goal. The ties are many but impressive against honorable mentions Novi, Detroit Catholic Central (which Adams later beat) and Canton, as mentioned above. Brown is one of three sophomore starters and also has a freshman among defenders in front of him.
BLOOMFIELD HILLS CRANBROOK KINGSWOOD
Record/rank: 19-2-1, No. 10
Coach: Chad O’Kulich, 16th season (214-54-24)
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League AA
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Paul Holmes, sr. M (14 goals, 9 assists); Kolin Clark, soph. M (13 goals, 4 assists); Ken Kernen, jr. F (14 goals, 9 assists).
Outlook: Cranbrook’s run has been impressive with three shutouts and its last two wins coming over No. 5 Linden in the Regional Final and No. 9 Dexter in the Semifinal. Both losses were during the first half of the regular season to honorable mention Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, and the Cranes also own a win over Division 3 No. 9 Detroit Country Day. They’ve won nine straight league titles and 11 in 12 seasons, plus three straight Districts and two Regionals in three seasons. Five seniors man the middle and back in front of junior keeper Trevor Stormes, who has 10 shutouts.
Record/rank: 23-2, No. 4
Coach: Nick Archer, 38th season (595-154-72)
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference Blue
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 2013), two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: DeJuan Jones, sr. F (22 goals, 13 assists); Zach Lane, jr. M (15 goals, 7 assists); Elmedin Celovic, sr. M (11 goals, 6 assists), Chris Wallace, jr. GK (15 shutouts).
Outlook: The Trojans followed last season’s championship with four shutouts to start 2014, and their lone losses were to top-ranked Mason and honorable mention DeWitt, the latter in a shootout. East Lansing avenged that Mason loss by beating the Bulldogs in the Semifinal and also beat No. 3 Spring Lake and DeWitt during this tournament run – and Division 1 No. 1 Okemos during the regular season. Jones has committed to play next season at Michigan State University and could be a finalist for Mr. Soccer.
HUDSONVILLE UNITY CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 23-1. No. 1
Coach: Randy Heethuis, 21st season (395-66-30)
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Green
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2012), four runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Trent Vegter, sr. D/M (14 goals, 22 assists); Jared Timmer, sr. M (29 goals, 22 assists); Andrew DeJong, sr. F (21 goals, 6 assists); Carson Brinks, sr. F (17 goals, 13 assists); Lucas Ohlman, sr. GK (0.51 GAA, 15 shutouts).
Outlook: Unity Christian has won three of the last seven MHSAA titles in Division 2, including in 2012, and makes the move into Division 3 with a strong senior class looking for one last crowning achievement. Nine of 12 seniors start for a team that has shut out 16 of its last 18 opponents including No. 6 Grosse Ile 3-0 in the Semifinal. The lone loss was to Division 7 No. 3 Grand Rapids Christian, 4-3.
Record/rank: 14-3-6, No. 4
Coach: Brent Sorg, 10th season (132-83-21)
League finish: First in CAAC White
Championship history: Division 3 runner-up 2012.
Players to watch: Josh Ward, jr. M (11 goals, 13 assists); Aidan Pace, sr. F (6 goals, 9 assists); Zach Griffin, jr. F (18 goals, 3 assists); Brian Ganton, jr. F (14 goals, 5 assists).
Outlook: Williamston has taken a step into the elite over the last four seasons with four District and two Regional titles and a just-miss overtime loss to Grand Rapids South Christian in the 2012 Final. This Hornets run included wins over No. 7 Frankenmuth, No. 3 Flint Powers Catholic and regular-season victories over Division 1 No. 1 Okemos, Division 2 honorable mention DeWitt and Division 4 No. 3 Kalamazoo Hackett. Ward made the all-state second team last season as a sophomore, and Pace earned an honorable mention.
Record/rank: 22-1, No. 4
Coach: Ed Sack, 17th season (226-113-21)
League finish: First in Michigan Independent Athletic Conference Blue
Championship history: Class D runner-up 1995.
Players to watch: Simon Roennecke, soph. F (35 goals, 34 assists); Max Whipple, sr. F (42 goals, 19 assists); Calvin Lind, jr. GK (1.06 GAA, 10 shutouts).
Outlook: Roeper took on its share of Detroit area teams with multiple wins during the regular season over No. 10 Plymouth Christian and honorable mention Allen Part Inter-City Baptist, and avenged an early overtime loss to honorable mention Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett with a win at the end of the regular season and then another in overtime in the Regional Final. Whipple made the all-state first team last season as a defender and ranks among the highest scorers in MHSAA single-season history; Roennecke made the all-state second team last season, and his assists tie for eighth-most for one fall in the MHSAA record book.
GRAND RAPIDS COVENANT CHRISTIAN
Coach: Mike Noorman, 11th season (145-70-17)
League finish: First in River Valley Conference
Championship history: 2013 and 2012 runner-up.
Players to watch: Travis Bouwkamp, sr. F (20 goals 33 assists), Jared Minderhoud, sr. M (24 goals, 6 assists); Colin Riemersma, jr. F (32 goals, 10 assists).
Outlook: Covenant Christian has fallen by a goal in both of the last two Division 4 Finals and graduated a strong senior class this spring. But Bouwkamp, an all-state first-team selection in 2013, has led a new group of standouts as they’ve outscored opponents by a combined score of 102-23. Covenant beat No. 3 Hackett in the Regional Final and then No. 9 Muskegon Western Michigan Christian in the Semifinal, and the losses all came to much larger schools including Division 2 No. 6 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern and No. 8 Holland Christian.
PHOTO: East Lansing's DeJuan Jones will attempt to lead the Trojans to their second straight Division 2 championship and fifth MHSAA title overall.
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 email@example.com 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.)