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Alpena aims to end district title drought

The Alpena High boys soccer team is hoping the third time is the charm on Saturday.

For the third time this season, the Wildcats will take the field against Gaylord and after a pair of close defeats, Alpena is hoping to gain the upper hand when the teams meet in a Division 2 district final in Gaylord.

Game time is set for 5 p.m.

Alpena advanced to Saturday’s district final with authority on Tuesday, blanking Bay City John Glenn 7-0. The win marked a new single-season program record for the Wildcats (17-4-2), who also advanced to their first district final since 1997.

A win Saturday would give Alpena its third district title in program history after titles in 1986 and 1997 and would be the latest in an impressive string of accomplishments for the Wildcats, who have also set new single-season program records for shutouts and goals scored this season to say nothing of several individual records that have fallen.

It’s the sort of season Alpena coach Tim Storch envisioned the Wildcats would have when he took over the program in 2011.

“It’s tremendously gratifying for me. I came here in 2011 with that as a goal of mine–to make this program relevant,” Storch said. “That’s the word I used for nine long years. By gosh, I think we’re pretty relevant right now.”

To do it, the Wildcats will have to get by their Big North Conference rival, who enters the matchup with an 18-3-2 record and hopes to winning its first ever district championship.

The two teams met twice in September with Gaylord winning both matchups. Early in the month, Gaylord handed Alpena its first loss, winning 2-0 in Alpena during a game that saw Gaylord keeper Jacob Pietrzak turn aside several quality Alpena scoring chances.

Gaylord triumphed again later in the month, beating Alpena 2-1 in Gaylord with a second-half goal to break a 1-1 halftime tie.

The Wildcats know beating Gaylord won’t be easy, but they’re feeling confident after winning two playoff games by a combined score of 12-0.

The Blue Devils advanced to the district final after scoring a pair of second-half goals in a 2-1 win over Cadillac on Tuesday.

“I think that will be a hard game, but we have big potential to win,” Alpena senior striker Ivo Arvidsson-Ullberg said. “Both games we played in were super close and the third time we’re going to win.”

It’s been a long journey for Alpena to get back to this point. Good teams have come and gone, records have been set and the Wildcats have played some close playoff games. But since their 1997 title, the Wildcats have been one-and-done in the state tournament in every year but two and have just two playoff wins to their credit before this season, the last of which came in 2004.

In Alpena’s first playoff game with Storch as coach in 2011, the Wildcats lost to Traverse City West 5-1 in the district semifinals.

“We made big strides. It’s a good beginning, but hopefully this is just the beginning,” Storch said after that loss. “We want to get a point where we’re just satisfied with being .500. We want to start looking at winning league titles and districts.”

Eight years later, the Wildcats are just 80 minutes from realizing that dream.

“Certainly we had two great games with them,” Storch said of Gaylord. “Hopefully, the third time is the charm for us. They come in as the No. 1 seed, we’re the No. 2 seed so it’s kind of the way the MHSAA drew it up. I’m happy the seeding system is successful and we’re going to get a third shot at them.”