BY JAMES COOK
TRAVERSE CITY — Thirty-four Big North Conference games.
Traverse City West capped off a run of three straight years without a setback in league play with a 2-1 victory Tuesday over Petoskey.
One might think that win would bring a sigh of relief to forward Brad Richey, one of three Titan seniors who have been on varsity for each of those three campaigns.
"I'd say it's not as much a relief as an expectation for us," Richey said. "We're expected to win, so to go out there (and win) is something we have to do."
Twin brothers Dan and Brandon Montgomery are the other two West players to enjoy the three-year ride, although they were promoted to varsity midway through their sophomore seasons.
Richey transferred to West from Florida as a sophomore and slid right into a prominent role in an already-established program.
"It speaks a lot to the tradition of the program," West coach Jason Carmien said. "Kids come into our program understanding that the bar has been set pretty high. We've had some success. Since the program's inception, we've just built it up. This group is really focused. They don't take a game off, and they understand that to win a championship, you have to play every game on the schedule and you can't take nights off. We've had our share of luck. We've come back to tie quite a few times. Central, in particular, has had our number, and for some reason we've always had the bounce go our way and been able to get a result. This group has been very consistent and they've worked very hard. They have a lot of pride. And one of our goals every year is to win (the conference). They've worked toward that, and they really take pride in that. To not lose a game speaks to their consistency."
Over the last three years, West has posted BNC marks of 9-0-1, 9-0-3 and 10-0-2 — each time claiming the league crown.
That's a 28-0-6 mark over that three-season span. Five of those six ties have come against Traverse City Central, with one against Petoskey in 2011.
Of those five deadlocks with Central, one stands out to Carmien.
"We were down 2-0 to Central and Mitch Taplin was our senior captain and he scored a goal on a penalty kick to tie that game," Carmien said of a 2010 matchup with the Triojans. "That kind of typified their season. There were 12 seniors on that team and we'd go on to win the district final that year. And I think coming back in that game was a big turning point in that year, because we were down 2-0 at home and were able to come back and tie that game."
"It really goes back to coach Carmien's great coaching," Richey said. "We've had varying degrees of talent every year, but every year he gets us playing really well for our conference season."
To finish off this year's unblemished BNC slate, the Titans had to hold off a furious Petoskey comeback attempt.
"It's always a battle going to Quick Road," Richey said of Petoskey's home field. "They have a good team up there. Every time you're away in conference after three straight years of wins, everybody's gunning for us, so it's always a battle."
TC West went up 2-0 in the first half.
"When we rolled in, the flags were dead. There was nothing," Carmien said. "It was dead calm. In the second half, that southwest wind kicked up, right around halftime. And you could feel it. And all the sudden, we're like, 'Oh no, we don't have the wind.' They took it to us. We were lucky to withstand it. They had several chances to score and only got one. Again, we came out of that one 2-1, but that could have gone a different way in a hurry, but Justin Kraft played great in goal."
Seven of this year's nine seniors start, and two of those are the league's top scorers.
Brandon Montgomery has 20 points to claim the Big North scoring title, with Dan Montgomery second with 13, Josh Stiglich third at 11 and Cameron Sipple fourth at 10. Christien Geiger is tied with Central's Matt Grost for fifth with nine.
"When kids come back at Christmas time, they ask the guys how they did in the fall and they take pride in that fact that they didn't lose a game," Carmien said. "So there's some competition there between guys that seniors that graduate. No senior class wants to be the class that loses the title or loses a game. They've taken that up this year as a pride thing."
The Titans (14-3-3 overall) host rival TC Central in the opening round of districts Tuesday.
"We're really ready to go," Richey said. "We made a few changes to our tactics for the next time we play them, and we're all looking forward to it. We're really pumped for the game."