Season Split Elevates Spring Lake, Fruitport, with Possible Rematch Ahead

By Tom Kendra
Special for

October 8, 2021

The phrase “good loss” is both an oxymoron and a way for coaches to spin a bad outcome into something positive.

It’s also a comment which both coaches referenced after visiting Spring Lake’s 3-1 boys soccer victory Wednesday over neighboring rival Fruitport, which came into the game undefeated and sporting a lofty No. 3 state ranking in Division 3.

Spring Lake coach Jeremy Thelen said a 4-2 loss to Fruitport earlier this season provided the fuel his team needed to turn its season around.

“It’s more effort and more focus,” said Thelen, explaining how his team, which started this season with just two wins in its first six games, has put together a 10-game unbeaten streak.

“We have the mentality that it is going to be complete work from start to finish. I’m really proud of the guys for bouncing back.”

In that first meeting on Sept. 1, Fruitport came out more aggressive and motivated, tallying two goals in the first five minutes to stun the Lakers, who never recovered as their season record dipped to 2-2-2. Thelen went back to the drawing board and made some tactical changes, but he believes more important than that, his team was humbled by the loss to its rival and determined to not let it happen again.

Spring Lake has been a different team since, winning its next four games by a whopping 15-1 combined margin, including a 3-0 shutout of powerhouse Hudsonville Unity Christian.

Then came a “good tie” against conference foe Grand Rapids West Catholic, in a game where the Lakers allowed the game-tying goal in the final 30 seconds.

That lone blemish over the past five weeks led to a players only meeting and another reset. While the Fruitport loss taught the team the value of a fast start, the West Catholic tie emphasized the importance of finishing.

“It was basically us senior guys that got everyone together and talked about the tradition here at Spring Lake and how we have to work to keep it going,” senior forward Keegan Fritsche explained. “Since then, everything has changed.”

Fritsche led the new-look Lakers attack in Wednesday’s Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue Tournament semifinal game, scoring the first two goals after a scoreless first half. Senior midfielder Kole Pattyn moved up and tallied another goal to make the score 3-0, before Sean Gieske got Fruitport on the board with a breakaway goal with less than five minutes remaining.

The Lakers were the more aggressive team from the start, which showed in the final stats as they held a 10-3 edge in shots and 7-2 edge in corner kicks.

Spring Lake/Fruitport soccerMost of the play occurred in Fruitport’s end, as a great effort by Trojans junior keeper Justin Laus kept the game scoreless for the first 53 minutes. The Lakers’ relentless pressure finally broke through as Fritsche scored twice in a three-minute span, assisted by Conrad Bush and Jack Mulder.

“It felt good to get some revenge on them, since they beat us in the regular season,” said Pattyn, one of the team’s emotional leaders. “I really think the biggest change in our team is just attitude and heart. It’s crazy how much of a difference that makes.”

Spring Lake was able to turn the tables despite being without two of its best players for the conference semifinal game – seniors Porter Saunders and Link Dephouse. The rest of the team rose up in their absence, starting with the leaders on the back end, senior keeper Aidan Parker and junior mid-back Jaxson Tober.

Thelen is not sure whether those two injured seniors will be back for Monday’s conference championship game against visiting Unity Christian. His primary goal is to have his team at full strength starting with the District Semifinal on Oct. 19 and going forward from there.

Spring Lake, which made it all the way to the Division 2 championship games in 2011 and 2013, improved to 11-2-3 with the victory. The Lakers entered the week ranked No. 11 in the Michigan High School Soccer Coaches Association Division 3 rankings.

Fruitport (12-1-3), which was ranked No. 3 in that same poll, experienced defeat for the first time this season, which is something coach Dan Hazekamp has been hoping for – he just wishes it could have been at the hands of someone other than the Trojans’ archrival.

“I’ve been saying for a month now that we need to lose a game,” said Hazekamp, who is in his fourth year as the Trojans’ coach. “We needed to get that monkey off our back and then learn from it.”

Whether or not the setback turns into a “good loss” remains to be seen. Hazekamp hopes to see a more aggressive and focused team Monday when Fruitport travels to Holland Christian for the battle for third place in the conference tournament.

No matter what happens, it has been a breakthrough season to remember at Fruitport.

In addition to the win over Spring Lake, the Trojans also notched a huge 1-0 conference win over Unity Christian on Sept. 22. Fruitport also picked up satisfying nonconference wins over local rivals Mona Shores, Whitehall, North Muskegon and Oakridge.

The future looks even brighter as the Trojans are led by an outstanding junior class, notably Laus in goal, defender Noah Fehler, midfielder Bode Anspach and forwards Jackson Rebone and Gieske. Sophomores Eli Aldridge and Brady Brown also have played key roles all season.

Fruitport has a bye in the opening round of Districts, giving it eight days after Monday’s conference consolation game to prepare for the postseason – which could feature a third and final matchup, a rubber game if you will, against Spring Lake.

"We’re young, but we’re never going to use that as an excuse for losing a game,” said Hazekamp, who is assisted by Steve Hazekamp and Drew Maus. “We need to get back to work. If we handle ourselves the right way after this loss, there’s a good chance we might see Spring Lake one more time.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Spring Lake’s Kole Pattyn (right) and Fruitport’s Bode Anspach break on the ball during Wednesday’s league tournament matchup. (Middle). Spring Lake’s Keegan Fritsche (16) works to keep the ball from Fruitport’s Noah Fehler. (Photos by Kyle Turk/Grand Haven Tribune.)

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 [email protected] 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.)