In the summer between sixth and seventh grade, Alex Alvarado nearly walked away from the game of soccer.
He had been a striker up until that point, but was in the midst of a difficult transition to goalkeeper — and his club's new goalie coach, Ben Pinkerton, brought a more intense approach to Alvarado's training.
Eventually, he got the hang of it. And five years later, Alvarado — now a junior at Madison West — has reeled off six consecutive shutouts to lead the Regents to the semifinals of the WIAA Division 1 state tournament.
“At that time, I wasn't taking my training very seriously and my focus wasn't up to par, so he immediately pushed me pretty hard,” Alvarado said. “He pushed me to the point of almost quitting. ... I wasn't too good, to be honest.
"But after I had a conversation with my parents and my coach, I realized that he just wanted me to succeed and become the player he knew I could become.”
Alvarado first got a taste of the state tournament as a freshman in 2015, when the Regents lost a 3-2 heartbreaker to Marquette in a Division 1 semifinal.
On Thursday, West (13-5-1) again will take on Marquette (18-3-1) — the state's top-ranked Division 1 team — in a 4:30 p.m. semifinal at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee.
Before Alvarado became West's starting goalkeeper as a freshman, he had to get better at his new position.
Despite the initial push-back to the vigorous methods, Alvarado credited Pinkerton with inspiring him to become the goalie he is today.
“I looked up to him, because he helped instill that intensity and high work rate that I now pride myself in,” Alvarado said.
But Pinkerton never got the chance to see Alvarado’s hard work pay off. About six months into training Alvarado, Pinkerton was diagnosed with colon cancer. He passed away in April 2015, a few months before Alvarado made the varsity as a freshman.
“His fight with cancer proved to be another learning experience. His resilience, heart and courage were nothing I had seen before, he continued to show up to trainings and provide for his family while combating a deadly disease,” Alvarado said. “He passed away having influenced not only me, but also the community, and his friends.”
Alvarado and the Regents have shown plenty of resiliency this year, as head coach Drew Kornish’s first season at the helm started off a bit rocky. After a 4-1 beat-down at the hands of Brookfield Central, Madison West's record was an unimpressive 6-5-1.
Alvarado called a meeting with Kornish and the other captains, Paolo Gratton and Sam Loving.
“All of us knew that we had better potential and a better team. We just had to fix something,” Alvarado said. “The coach and us as players had a conversation and we looked at it like, if we want to reach our ultimate goal of winning state, we have to pick it up.”
The Regents picked it up and then some, winning the next seven games — and allowing only one goal over that span.
While Alvarado has been a big part of the six-game shutout streak, junior midfielder Will Taylor said it’s a result of the entire unit stepping up.
“Without Alvarado and our defense, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Taylor said.
Alvarado was also quick to praise his back line.
“I’m pretty fortunate to have the personnel in front of me to help with that streak,” Alvarado said. “They’re incredibly receptive. Whenever I tell them they have someone on their back or someone coming, they always listen.”
The Regents now face a David-vs.-Goliath-like matchup against a Marquette program which has won every WIAA Division 1 state title in six of the last seven years.
"Starting off against Marquette is something we’re really looking forward to. We welcome that challenge,” Kornish said. “If you’re gonna win a state championship, at some point you have to beat them.”
After receiving a No. 6 seeding in its sectional, Madison West is used to being underestimated and rising to the occasion.
“We’ve been slept on. And it’s going to happen again,” Alvarado said.
“We’re coming into this game with incredibly high confidence. We’ve shut out teams with incredible players. We really can do anything.”