Sailors Find Winning Way in 3rd-Straight Meeting of D3 Finalists

By Scott DeCamp
Special for

November 6, 2021

COMSTOCK PARK – Joel Vande Kopple is not concerned with style points.

“Big Dutch soccer,” as he calls it, suited Grand Rapids South Christian just fine this season.

The Sailors made things happen with their length and athleticism, living off set pieces and capturing an MHSAA Division 3 championship with a 3-1 win over Finals rival Grosse Ile on Saturday at Comstock Park High School.

South Christian seized its first state title in six years and the fourth since 2010, featuring three different coaches among those quartet of championships. It was Vande Kopple’s first season with the Sailors after 15 years with Lansing Christian, which he led to the Division 4 title in 2013. His new team solved Grosse Ile after South Christian’s narrow Finals losses to the Red Devils in 2019 and 2020.

“There was just a focus all year long. It was a resiliency that I hadn’t seen before in a soccer team,” said Vande Kopple, whose Sailors finished unbeaten at 22-0-3. “We’ve been down two goals a couple times and they found ways to win, and it was all about getting back here and giving ourselves (a chance) and we did.

“I thought Grosse Ile was a fantastic team. They played great soccer and they made it an amazing game, but it was just one of those things where I think our seniors who have felt that pain weren’t going to let it happen again.”

Saturday marked the fourth-straight Finals appearance for Grosse Ile (21-2-1), which fell to Hudsonville Unity Christian 3-1 in overtime in 2018 before the Red Devils edged South Christian in 2019 (2-1 in a shootout) and 2020 (1-0).

Grosse Ile was No. 2 in the last Michigan High School Soccer Coaches Association Division 3 rankings, while South Christian was No. 5.

“It’s crazy – just to get to the Finals one time, let alone three times and face the same team three times in a row, I don’t think that’s something that anybody would ever expect,” Grosse Ile coach Jon Evans said. “I think it says a lot about both of our programs and our successes that we’ve been able to have.”

South Christian/Grosse Ile soccerSouth Christian scored first on a penalty kick by 6-foot-3 senior Levi DeRuiter 12 minutes into the game. It stayed 1-0 until early in the second half, when senior Logyn Huttenga scored off a set piece to give the Sailors a two-goal lead with 36:24 left in the contest.

Grosse Ile senior Jon Duke gave his team life on his penalty-kick tally with 17:14 left to pull within 2-1.

But with the Red Devils in desperation mode during the game’s final moments, 6-6 junior Sam Medendorp put it away on a goal with 2:42 left.

South Christian lost its top three goal scorers from last season to graduation, but the Sailors found ways to manufacture offense.

“At the beginning of the year, I didn’t know how we were going to score goals. And then one of the first practices, Levi chucks it in 60 yards and we said, ‘Ah, we can do something with that,’” Vande Kopple said with a laugh.

“We don’t really have natural goal scorers, but we just find ways to get it done.”

Vande Kopple noted how poetic it was that Medendorp notched the goal that put it away for South Christian. 

The coach said that the lanky, animated forward is the biggest cheerleader on the team, encouraging teammates to keep their heads up.

Medendorp said the Sailors’ size was a big threat, especially on set pieces and corners.

“It was very different (this season),” Medendorp said. “Our whole coaching staff was (in) their first year here. It was very good to add new ideas and new people into the program. (Vande Kopple) was very personal, which was very important to me and especially the team, and he just pushed all of us harder and better and was very organized in how he coached.”

Shots were even between South Christian and Grosse Ile at nine apiece.

South Christian senior keeper Luke VanTol made five saves, while Grosse Ile junior Hayden Watson turned away three shots.

“You know, we weren’t the better team on the day,” said Evans, who is 136-8-10 in six seasons at the Red Devils helm. “If we play this game 10 times, who knows how the results would turn out, but today wasn’t our day. They took advantage of their set pieces like we assumed they would, and they put the ball in the back of the net."

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Grand Rapids South Christian players celebrate their Division 3 championship Saturday. (Middle) The Sailors’ Alex Leenstra (11) winds up while Grosse Ile’s Jon Duke (4) moves in to defend. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.)