A cadre of top prep soccer stars are getting a chance to shine away from the friendly confines of the Olympic Peninsula.
After a couple of years of appealing to join Washington Youth Soccer’s Regional Club League (RCL) — one of upper echelons of select soccer in Washington state — Storm King’s U19 select boys team is showing players from smaller schools can more than hold their own against big city squads.
Following a split of games last weekend, Storm King is in second place in the RCL’s U19 Division II, their lone loss coming Saturday to an undefeated team from Pasco.
Sequim’s Michael McAleer, who coaches the team alongside Kevin Parker and Steve Methner (and previously with Aaron St. George), said the local squad of prep stars from Sequim, Port Angeles and Port Townsend are clicking so well in part because of their skills and in part because, for many of them they’ve played for years together.
“What we did really well was create a culture of a positive, fun, team-first mentality,” Michael McAleer said.
“These boys love each other like brothers and trust each other; it’s why our passing and offensive build up is so pretty to watch. It’s also why are team defense is so suffocating for our opponents.”
In all but one of eight games in the RCL’s second division, Storm King has held opponents to two goals or less as they match up against squads from Seattle, Everett, Federal Way, Puyallup, Snohomish County and beyond.
The team includes a quartet of Sequim High seniors — Reid Parker, Navy Thomas-Brenske and team captains Mike McAleer, Ryan Tolberd — as well as 2018 SHS grad Chris Morgan, plus Port Angeles standouts Stuart Methner and Kaleb Baier, each of whom have each played at least six seasons on Storm King teams.
“It’s a really good group — it’s fun to play (with and) against each other,” said SHS junior Eli Gish, an outside defender and wing for Storm King, a two-year starter at Sequim High and a second-team All-Olympic Leaguer as a sophomore.
The lineup features some serious firepower, with six players who’ve earned All-Olympic League honors, including Tolberd, who owns the single-season scoring record at Sequm High, and Methner, who led the peninsula in scoring in 2018 with 24 goals.
“We have such good individual players and good chemistry,” said Methner, a midfielder in his ninth year as a Storm King player.
Foes during the high school season, Storm King players area teammates in the “offseason.” While games in the RCL and other leagues don’t have the same energy as prep games, Methner said, “(we) can bring in the best players on the peninsula, and it’s a lot more competitive.”
Other Storm King members include Sequim High senior all-leaguer Adrian Funston, SHS seniors Angel Servin and Keith Wilwert, Port Townsend High senior all-leaguer Silas DeWyse and PT High senior Trillium DeWyse, as well as exchange students Alvaro Mediavilla and Nico Zingaro.
“We love each other and love playing for each other,” said midfielder Mike McAleer, a nine-year Storm King player and second team All-Olympic League player.
That kinship — and a bit of freedom from coaches to freelance play on the field — seems to have Storm King rolling in the RCL.
“We’ve also given them a lot of freedom to experiment, try new skills, and be creative — which is scary as a coach, but in the end allows for unfettered individual growth of the player,” Michael McAleer said. “We coaches committed to one another 10 years ago that we wouldn’t micromanage them during games. As long as they stick to our principles, they are free to play with their own instincts.”
Those instincts are honed during a season that stretches from June into mid-December, when Storm King and other select teams battle for top spots in a President’s Cup tournament that spills into January and February.
Storm King players generally see two practices per week — “We do a lot of running and high-paced drills,” Methner said — and games on weekends, sometimes on both Saturday and Sunday.
“We make practices as competitive as possible,” Michael McAleer said. “We learned years ago that if a drill didn’t have a winner and loser, they weren’t going to be all that interested. Our practices are pretty intense. It’s our team culture that has kept them together for so long.”
This majority of players from this iteration of Storm King began in Division 2 of the North Puget Sound League (NPSL) as 9- and 10-year-olds, moved up to Division 1 and won the league multiple times.
Last year, the NPSL placed the team a year above their age bracket and the team still managed to finish third against teams with older players.
Two years ago, the team applied for entry into the RCL, McAleer said, but were denied. Coaches were asked to more information as to the teams records in tournaments and the coaches credentials, he said.
“We’ve always known we’re capable,” Mike McAleer said. “Our record has shown we belonged here for years.”
Playing in a college showcase helped with finally gaining admittance, Michael McAleer said.
“We are the only team in the RCL league coached by volunteers,” the Storm King coach said.
“The truth is, if we lived in Seattle we would have lost half of these kids to better teams years ago with more high level coaching,” McAleer said, “but out here on the peninsula, Storm King was the only legitimate option unless you commit to traveling hours for every practice.
“The coaches have grown with them, and now we’re one of the best teams in the state.”