Shut-Down Defense Nets Unity D3 Win

November 1, 2014

By Ron Rop
Special for Second Half

KENTWOOD – When a team plays defense like Hudsonville Unity Christian is used to playing, it sure takes a lot of pressure off the offensive players when they often need to score only one score.

That air-tight defense was on display Saturday in the MHSAA Division 3 Boys Soccer Final as the Crusaders defeated Williamston 1-0 on a sunny, yet windy and chilly afternoon at Crestwood Middle School.

How good has the Crusaders’ defense been of late?

Saturday’s title game saw Unity’s 17th shutout in its last 19 games. And that string of shutouts came after Unity allowed nine goals in its first six games, including its only loss, 4-3, at the hands of Grand Rapids Christian.

For the Crusaders, it was the program’s fourth title with the last coming in 2012 in Division 2.

“We really emphasize team defense, all 11 defending together,” Unity coach Randy Heethuis said. “Williamston played a great game. They beat us to a lot of balls, especially late in the first half. Things got a little better for us in the second half.”

It was the early going of the opening half that produced the only goal the Crusaders would need.

A 50-yard free kick off the foot of senior defender Trent Vegter found the head of fellow senior Jared Timmer for the game’s lone goal with just 6½ minutes elapsed off the first-half clock.

“Trent Vegter played it in and No. 17 (Josh Flint) was man-marking me the entire game – give him credit, he was doing very well – but I kind of snuck in behind him and he missed it,” Timmer said. “And I just tried to put it back post, and it just went over the keeper’s hands.”

It was Timmer’s team-leading 30th goal of the season.

And with a solid defense, that single goal took off a lot of pressure off the Crusaders.

“When we scored that first goal, it was like OK,  we had only given up two goals in the last 18 games, but you don’t know if a goal like that is going to hold up,” Heethuis said.

Unity Christian finished the season 24-1 while Williamston ended 14-4-6.

The Hornets had a solid attack from the outside, led by junior forward Zach Griffin, the team’s leading scorer throughout the season.

“They had a few dangerous moments, and it was not one that we could cruise through by any stretch of the imagination,” Heethuis said.

In the latter stages of the opening half, Williamston did make some noise in the offensive end when Jacob Topp found Josh Ward, who narrowly missed with a shot from a sharp angle.

In the second half, as Williamston was trying to mount offensive pressure in an attempt to produce a tying goal, the Unity defense took control with center back Nick Dykman, Jacob Brinks, MacKenna Senti and Bryce Schreur leading the way along with goalkeeper Lucas Ohlman.

With 14 minutes remaining in the game, Unity nearly added a second goal when Timmer unloaded a 30-yard shot that caused some problems for Hornets goalkeeper Jake Iannarelli. With the ball rolling free in front of the goal, Carson Brinks was able to get a foot on the ball, but could not find the net.

From there, the Crusaders were able to run out the clock and celebrate another MHSAA soccer title.

“At the beginning of the year, we talk to the kids and tell them the season is going to be broken up this way,” Heethuis said. “The first thing is to compete for a conference title. That is goal No. 1. Then, after that, we are going to take on the state tournament, and you’ve got three little tournaments. You have three games to win the district, you get by that and it’s two more to be regional champs and two more to be state champs. They focused on the games they needed to, and we came out on top.”

“We told the boys it would be a one-goal game,” Williamston coach Brent Sorg said. “We knew they are a very good team. But you know what? We liked the way we matched up with them. We are a very good team.”

“Their goalkeeper didn’t have to deal with much, their back do an incredible job of screening and blocking shots and winning the first ball, and it’s a credit to them,” Sorg added.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Unity Christian's Jared Timmer maintains possession Saturday despite a challenge from Williamston junior Ian Petri. (Below) Williamston's Zach Richardson (11) attempts to get the ball away from Unity's Carson Brinks. (Click for all team and action photos from 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.)