By Keith Dunlap
Special for Second Half
NOVI – Hudsonville Unity Christian junior Jordan Bruckbauer was likely the only player on his team who remembered his first goal of the 2018 season, which came earlier this fall before the playoffs began.
But it’s a safe bet nobody on his team, or anyone else in the Unity Christian athletic program, will ever forget his second.
With 7:09 remaining in the first half of overtime of the MHSAA Division 3 championship game, Bruckbauer simply saw an opportunity and pounced on it.
The ball was loose in the box, Bruckbauer won the race to it, and volleyed the ball into the goal to give No. 2 Unity Christian a 2-1 lead over No. 1 Grosse Ile.
Bruckbauer’s second goal of the year turned out to be the championship-clincher, as
Unity Christian added an insurance goal during the second half of overtime en route to a 3-1 victory.
It was Unity Christian’s first MHSAA Finals championship since 2014.
“I always kind of picture in my head doing something great,” Bruckbauer said. “But then sometimes it never really happens. Having it happen is a dream come true. It’s indescribable.”
Unity Christian (23-2-1) had to rally against a Grosse Ile team that was hard to score on in 2018.
Grosse Ile took a 1-0 lead with 3:24 left in the first half on a goal by senior Christian Drzyzga, who fired a shot from roughly 25 yards out that deflected off a defender and into the goal.
At that point, it wasn’t illogical to think that would be the game winner, since Grosse Ile had a run of 21 straight shutouts during the regular season and had given up just one goal during the MHSAA tournament going into the game.
But Unity Christian answered less than a minute later, as junior Kadin Shaban got fouled while pursuing a loose ball in the box and converted the ensuing penalty kick to tie the game at 1-1 with 2:42 left in the first half.
The second half didn’t yield many quality scoring chances on net, and the only real close call before Bruckbauer’s goal came early in overtime when Shaban hit the post on a free kick from 30 yards out.
Then, Bruckbauer jumped on the loose ball and put Unity Christian in control.
“I just saw an opportunity and wanted to capitalize,” Bruckbauer said. “I wasn’t a big goal scorer on the year, but saw a chance and wanted to capitalize.”
Unity Christian put the game away with 7:18 left on a goal by Shaban, who took advantage of a gambling defense that had players up the field by going on a mini breakaway, shielding the lone defender back from the ball and then chipping a shot over the keeper’s head to make it 3-1.
It was Shaban’s 31st goal of the season.
“Two evenly matched teams going at it, and both teams defended really well,” Unity Christian head coach Randy Heethuis said. “It was good for us to score right after they scored to tie it up. In the second half, we thought we were really putting some pressure on them at the end of the game. We wanted to start out hard and fast in overtime. Credit to Jordan for getting the biggest goal of his life.”
Grosse Ile finished its season 27-2, with its only other loss coming to Detroit U-D Jesuit.
“They are very similar to U-D in their size and athleticism,” Grosse Ile head coach Jon Evans said. “We knew it was going to be a battle. They won a lot of 50-50 balls, and a lot of that can change games. They then got on the end of a couple (chances).”
PHOTOS: (Top) Unity Christian players climb to the front of the stands to celebrate winning Saturday’s Division 3 Final. (Middle) Grosse Ile’s Jacob Sawicki works to get past Unity Christian's Zach DeVries.
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.
“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@example.com 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.)