Scoring & Sharing, Visser Eyes Eagles' Rise

October 1, 2018

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

GRAND RAPIDS – Grand Rapids Christian senior Tommy Visser had a difficult time deciding which aspect of soccer he enjoys the most – scoring goals or distributing.

The question wasn’t easy considering he does both equally well.

“Obviously scoring goals is a ton of fun, but at the same time setting other people up and seeing their reactions when they score or leading up to it is fun,” Visser said. “I think they are pretty equal. Assisting and scoring is a lot of fun.”

Midway through the season, Visser is already in double figures in both goals (11) and assists (15) while helping lead the Eagles to an 11-1 start and No. 2 state ranking in Division 2.

Grand Rapids Christian’s only loss is to top-ranked Forest Hills Northern.

Visser, a four-year varsity player and returning all-state first teamer, is one of the most highly regarded in the state and the catalyst of a veteran Eagles squad that boasts 14 seniors.

“He definitely meets all the hype,” Eagles coach Bruce Pobocik said. “He’s one of the most athletic soccer players I’ve had the privilege to coach, and he’s just a very committed competitor. He has just worked his tail off year after year to become one of the most skilled players, hands down, in the state.”

Visser, who recorded 17 goals and 15 assists as a junior, possesses qualities that set him apart from other players.

Vision, quickness, unselfishness and playmaking abilities are just a few of the attributes that have opposing coaches scrambling to find ways to contain him.

“I’ve had him since his sophomore year, and each year he has continued to get faster, stronger, more technical and more creative with his abilities,” Pobocik said. “He’s our captain, and really is the glue that connects the defense and offense. All play goes through his feet, and he’s a two-touch player who makes the guys around him better.”

Visser is constantly marked by other teams, but he takes it in stride while finding opportunities for his teammates.

“I just continue playing and not worry about it too much,” Visser said. “I have to change up my runs and move positioning, but I think it’s been good because it’s helped me grow as a soccer player. It gives more space and time for my teammates. They have more time to get the ball and attack.”

Pobocik points to Visser’s affinity for spreading the wealth as a reason why he is so hard to stop.

“He looks to connect with his teammates and put them in positions to be successful,” Pobocik said. “And I think that’s why he’s so dangerous. He’s not a player that is going to try and take everyone every time. When he’s double teamed, he’s going to make you pay by putting others in dangerous spots.”

Visser was a highly-recruited college prospect and attracted the attention of several Division I programs.

He received scholarship offers from Michigan State and Western Michigan University, and also considered Calvin College before committing to Butler University.

“For me, Butler was a great fit because it’s a combination of strong academics and a strong soccer program with a coaching staff that I liked,” Visser said.

Visser isn’t thinking about his college future just yet – he’s focused on helping the Eagles make a deeper run in the MHSAA tournament.

Last season, Grand Rapids Christian lost to eventual champion Holland in a Division 2 Regional Final.

“Last year really motivated us to not be satisfied,” Visser said. “We want to go big, and I think it really pushes us to continue working hard each practice and try to get better throughout the season.

“We all get along great and have played together for a while. We have a lot of different players that can impact the game, and all parts of our game are solid.”

While the offense is generated through Visser, the Eagles also have a stout defense behind a superb backline and two capable goalies in senior Daniel Wonder and junior Grayson Parks.

“We knew what we had coming back, and we had big hopes,” Pobocik said. “So far they’re exceeding expectations. Guys have really stepped up in their roles and are playing great team soccer. We’ve had some surprises with guys we didn’t expect to be contributors that are, and that’s been fun.”

The Eagles are two-time reigning Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold champions, but have their sights set on more.

“Losing last year (in the Regional Finals) has us hungry to extend beyond that,” Pobocik said. “They have clear eyes as far as our vision of going deep in the postseason.”

Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Tommy Visser keys the Grand Rapids Christian offense as a scorer and distributor. (Middle) Visser works to get past an opponent this fall. (Photos courtesy of the Grand Rapids Christian boys soccer program.)

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.)