The signs of youth

A tough start to the season got even tougher for the Alpena boys soccer team on Tuesday.

Two first-half goals and a lot of scoring chances were more than enough to propel Traverse City Central past the Wildcats to an eventual 3-0 win at Wildcat Stadium.

The loss dropped Alpena to 0-3 in Big North Conference play and 1-5 overall. The Wildcats haven’t won a game since defeating Tawas 2-0 in the opening game of the Sunrise Side Soccer Challenge Cup nearly two weeks ago.

“All things considered, they’re the favorites for the league championship and they went into the regional round last year and lost on penalty kicks,” Alpena coach Tim Storch said of the Trojans. “For us to play competitively, it’s a positive sign. But clearly, we’ve got eight starters to replace and we gave up two goals in the first half that were just gifts.”

Alpena entered the season with eight starters to replace from a year ago and the Wildcats’ youth showed on Tuesday. Dakota Knechtel had one of Alpena’s best chances less than two minutes into the game, but from there the game belonged to Central. The Wildcats were also playing without speedy striker Willie Santos Perez.

“They out-chanced us, there’s no question, but we were competitive,” Storch said. “We were trying to blend some people in. All-in-all, it’s better, we’re making strides.”

Grant Dulude scored less than six minutes into the game and from there, Alpena’s defense had a hard time slowing the Trojans down. Central’s footwork and speed kept Alpena keeper Gray Martin on his toes all night and at times Alpena’s defenders had a difficult time keeping up with the Trojans.

Martin kept the Wildcats in the contest with several acrobatic and well-timed saves. Early in the first half, Central’s Matt Grost was able to sneak by Alpena’s Giulio Fantasia for a chance, but Martin got to the ball. A short time later, Noah Mitchell-Ward had a point-blank chance which Martin got a hand on.

“Gray did a fine job in goal, but he’s got to make that one save and he knows it. He’s very capable, he made some good saves and all-in-all he played a very solid game,” Storch said.

With seven minutes left, Sam Hunter weaved his way through Alpena’s defense and narrowly missed to the right of the net. It served as a prelude for a few minutes later when Jack Dulude muscled his way past three Alpena defenders and flicked a shot by Martin to put Central ahead 2-0.

The Wildcats finally got a break at the half, but Central didn’t slow down once the second half began. The Trojans had several good chances, but sent the majority of them wide of the net and had one shot that hit a post.

Alex Oliver netted Central’s final goal of the net with 2:22 remaining after he beat an Alpena defender for the ball off of a free kick. The Trojans nearly added a fourth goal with a minute left when Ryan Haworth send a cross to Jack Dulude from the left side and Dulude sent the ball just left of the net.

Alpena will host Alcona at 7 p.m. on Thursday and won’t resume conference play until next Tuesday against Ogemaw Heights at home. Alpena’s first three conference games-against Central, Traverse City West and Petoskey-have all resulted in losses by a combined 15-1 score.

That’s how we have to open up with a team that’s replacing eight starters,” Storch said. “All-in-all, I think our guys have to gain some confidence that they’ve grown and played competitively against these teams.”

James Andersen can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.