Alpena boys soccer team aims to stay in thick of Big North Conference race | News, Sports, Jobs

News File Photo Alpena High soccer players Gabe Glawe (2) and Jacob Beaubien (5) run a play off a corner kick during a game at Park Family Field at Wildcat Stadium earlier this season.

ALPENA — Longtime Alpena boys soccer Coach Tim Storch knew his team had the potential for a special season in 2022 — he just hoped the Wildcats could unlock it.

With just a few games remaining in the regular season, the Wildcats have shown Storch and their opponents just how talented they are.

With three games left in conference play, the Wildcats sit firmly entrenched in third place in the Big North Conference standings. Alpena (11-4-3, 4-2-2 BNC) trails only Traverse City West (6-0-1 BNC) and Petoskey (5-2 BNC).

A third place finish would match Alpena’s best finish — which the Wildcats also did in 2019 — but the Wildcats still had an outside shot at first place Entering Tuesday night’s game with Gaylord.

Alpena tied Gaylord 3-3 on Tuesday.

“To have three games left in the season and still be talking that we’re mathematically in the mix for first place, that’s almost sacrilegious to say in soccer for Alpena,” Storch said Tuesday. “Our goal when I started was to make us relevant. I think we’ve done that. Maybe not every single year, but way more than when we first started out. It’s a credit to a lot of people.”

One of Storch’s goals for Alpena has always been to make the Wildcats relevant in conference play. That goal has been easier to achieve in some years more than others, but the Wildcats’ progression under Storch has made them a tough opponent who can play with anyone.

Alpena’s success this season — particularly in conference play — has been impressive, not just for the wins, but for the teams it’s beaten.

The Wildcats have scored two wins over Traverse City Central this season and rallied to tie Traverse City West last month, marking the first time Alpena hasn’t been beaten by West in boys soccer.

“Coming back and tying them early in the year, you hate ties, but that was a good tie for our program,” Storch said.

Results like these were almost unheard of when Storch took the reins of the program in 2011. In his first season, the Wildcats were shutout in their games against West and Central, finishing fifth in the conference. Things improved slightly in 2012, but Storch said those early seasons became a struggle from technical and mental standpoints.

“Those early teams — 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 — we had some talented players, but just not enough,” Storch said. “Many times we were beaten before we ever took the field. It was always a terrible feeling getting on a bus to wherever and I think everybody in the league had mercy on us.”

Things began to change in 2016 when Alpena won a then program-record 14 games and played consistent, competitive games against the conference’s upper echelon. In 2019, Alpena won 17 games and lost to just two opponents all season — West and Gaylord.

“We got to a point where we said, ‘You know what? We can take Petoskey, we can take Cadillac, we can take Central,” Storch said. “Then it got to a point where we had to get back to beating Gaylord. West has always been that Bugaboo for us too.”

With balance all over the field, the Wildcats have shown a knack for comebacks this season. Alpena has had five such games this season and four resulted in wins.

Two of those games were against West and Central in the last two weeks.

On Sept. 22, Alpena rallied to tie West 1-1 with a late score from Austin Townsend.

Just five days later, Central built a 3-1 lead at home before Alpena rallied for a 4-3 win. Jacob Beaubien tied the game with 12 minutes to play and Jack Cook netted the game winner with just three minutes left.

Wins like these help a program grow, but they also build confidence. Storch hopes to see the two things go hand in hand as the Wildcats approach a crucial stretch to end the regular season and begin postseason play.

“You’ve got to come in thinking, ‘You know what, we’re going to win today.’ I don’t want them to be cocky where they leave their game in the locker room, but I want them to come in with a bit of a swagger,” Storch said. “This is crunch time. Talk to me in two weeks. If we maintain that swagger, then we have a chance to be playing for a district title and that’s where I want us to be.”

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