The Alpena boys soccer team won't have to wait long to test itself against quality opponents.
For the second straight season, the Wildcats will host the Sunrise Side Soccer Challenge Cup, which begins at 11 a.m., today at Wildcat Stadium.
The eight-team tournament brings six of the same schools who participated last year and one newcomer. The returning schools are Troy Athens, Midland, Lapeer East, Midland Dow, Cadillac and Walled Lake Central. The newcomer to the group is Alpena's Big North Conference rival Gaylord, who replaces Tawas from last season.
The Wildcats will play Lapeer East at 11 a.m., Walled Lake Central at 2 p.m. and Midland Dow at 5 p.m. The tournament deviates from the Swiss Style used last year and all teams have set opponents this time. This is done to avoid scheduling conflicts due to conference matchups later in the season. For example, since Alpena will play Gaylord and Cadillac in conference games, it will not play them on Saturday.
Alpena hopes to fare better in the tournament the second time around. Last season, Alpena opened the tournament with a 2-1 win over Tawas, but struggled against Midland Dow in a 4-1 loss and lost a close one to Walled Lake Central, 3-2.
Wildcats coach Tim Storch is entering his fourth season at the helm of Alpena's program and hopes the tournament will be a good start to the season. Storch likes what he's seen from his team so far and hopes to improve on last year's 8-12-1 record.
2nd annual Sunrise Side Soccer Challenge Cup at Alpena
Alpena vs. Lapeer, 11 a.m.
Athens vs. Midland, 12:30 a.m.
Alpena vs. Walled Lake Central, 2 p.m.
Athens vs. Midland Dow, 3:30 p.m.
Gaylord vs. Midland, 5 p.m.
Cadillac vs. Lapeer, 6:30 p.m.
Gaylord vs. Walled Lake Central, 11 a.m.
Cadillac vs. Midland Dow, 12:30 a.m.
Gaylord vs. Lapeer, 2 p.m.
Cadillac vs. Midland, 3:30 p.m.
Alpena vs. Midland Dow, 5 p.m.
Athens vs. Walled Lake Central, 6:30 p.m.
"It's tremendous," Storch said of the competition. "We're looking forward to that. It will be really good competition for us to kick off the season and get us started and ready for league play, because it starts next week.
Storch said feedback from the inaugural tournament was very positive, particularly from Troy Athens coach Todd Heugh, who replaced Storch at Athens when he came to Alpena.
"(It was) outstanding. Personally, he said it was the best experience he could have ever hoped for from a team bonding experience (standpoint). To come up here on a weekend and to literally be together for 48 hours," Storch said.
Athens won the tournament last year, going 3-0 and defeating Midland 2-0 in the championship game.
James Andersen can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.