'Underdog' Western Building on 2017 Run

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

September 27, 2018

DETROIT – Few equate competitive soccer with teams from Detroit, especially those in the Detroit Public School League. And that’s just fine with Detroit Western coach Forest Farmer and his players.

Being an underdog can work to one’s advantage.

Western is one of two schools in the PSL (Detroit Cass Tech is the other) that sponsors a boys soccer team that competes in the MHSAA Playoffs. Western’s program had its beginnings during the 2002-03 school year, and last season the Cowboys came of age.

Western won the school’s first District title in the sport by defeating Dearborn Fordson, 7-1, in the final. The Cowboys had opened tournament play by downing Wyandotte Roosevelt, 6-1, and then defeating, U-D Jesuit, 2-1 in a shootout, in the District Semifinal.

Western lost to Detroit Catholic Central, 3-0, in a Regional Semifinal, and the Shamrocks went on to win the Division 1 championship.

That was Western’s only loss, as the Cowboys finished 18-1-2. This season they are 4-2.

Since the MHSAA began sponsoring the boys soccer tournament in 1982, all but three Class A/Division 1 championships have been won by public schools in suburban Detroit or more recently Grand Rapids, or by members of the Detroit Catholic League.

It’s a struggle for programs like Western and Cass Tech to be successful. Coaches from established programs often don’t look to schedule teams like Western and Cass Tech because there’s at least the perception that teams from the city won’t be competitive and the games will be lopsided.

“We basically play whoever we can,” said the 50-year-old Farmer, who’s now in his sixth season as Western’s head coach. “We’re able to schedule 13 to 14 games while others play 18 or so. We’re not in a league. We’d like to get into a league.”

Farmer said he’s grateful for programs like those from Birmingham Seaholm and Birmingham Brother Rice that annually schedule Western. By playing these established programs, the Cowboys are able to gauge where they are as a team and better prepare for the MHSAA tournament. 

Farmer jumped at the opportunity to coach at Western. He played soccer at Rochester Adams and dabbled in coaching other sports, like baseball and football, before he returned to soccer. He said initially he had difficulty convincing students to participate. But once they bought into what he was trying to teach, the numbers started to increase.

Western doesn’t have a freshman or a junior varsity team, but there are 22 athletes in the program. Sure, Farmer would love to have a sub-varsity team help feed the varsity. But the silver lining is he is able to coach his players all four years of their high school careers.

“I’m tough on them. All of the kids want to learn, and they know what to expect,” he said. “And the parents love it. I get tremendous support. Here, I get to run the team like I want to. It’s old school.”

A handful of Farmer’s players have gone on to play in college, including Dylan Borzcak, a sophomore midfielder at Oakland University. Generally, Farmer will encourage his players to go to college, first and foremost. Then, if they do plan on playing soccer, he often suggests somewhere like nearby Schoolcraft College to get their feet wet – as Borzcak did before transferring to Oakland.

Steve Sanchez, 17, is one of four seniors on Western’s team. Not only has soccer been his main sport throughout his life, but he’s never played anything else. Even so, Sanchez, a defender, does not plan on playing soccer in college. He has a 3.5 grade-point average and is planning on majoring in engineering.

“My family has always been a soccer family,” he said. “My dad (Paramon Sanchez) played soccer when he was younger, and I grew up watching my brother, Paramount, play (at Western).

“This year our team is a work in progress. We lost eight seniors off of last year’s team but, yeah, we’re getting better. There’s no one individual who can outperform anyone else, so we’re all competing.”

Angel Magana is a junior striker and, like Sanchez, is a team captain. Magana, 16, started playing soccer at age 7 but, unlike Sanchez, plans on playing soccer in college. Magana’s brother, Brayan, is a freshman on the Western team.

“I pretty much like everything about the sport,” Angel Magana said. “I like scoring. This is the first year I’m playing striker, and I try to make the effort to score. I was a center mid last year and scored two goals. This year I’ve got 10.

“Winning the District was a great feeling. Underdogs? For sure. All of the Catholic schools and the others see us that way. I definitely consider ourselves as the underdogs. I like to have others feel that way. It’s great to show that we can play with them.”

Tom Markowski is a contributing writer for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at tmarkowski@statechampsnetwork.com with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Western's Angel Magana, left, defends against Fordson during last season's District Final. (Middle) Western coach Forest Farmer. (Below) The Cowboys are off to a 4-2 start this fall. (Top photo courtesy of Southgate Press & Guide; middle photos courtesy of Detroit Western’s soccer program.)

Storch Returns to Retirement After Elevating Alpena Teams From Cellar to Contenders

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

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 tomspencer@chartermi.net 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.)