Thunder Ridge after its 2-1, district title win over Madison Thursday night.

REXBURG — Wind sliced through the night air at Bobcat Stadium, the site of Thunder Ridge’s latest conquest, a double overtime win over Madison for a fourth straight district title. Six stadium lights had dimmed, inspiring a round of hearty boos from Titan fans lingering around, but they illuminated enough to keep the party going. At midfield, senior forward Chuy Zamora considered a question.

Which of these four district titles means the most to you?

“I think it’s this one,” said Zamora, who has started since his freshman year. “Just the emotions running through. The hate that we’ve gotten every year just builds up. They want to kill us. They don’t want us to win the next one. We did what they didn’t want.”

Zamora and the Titans have made a habit out of it. Since Thunder Ridge opened its doors in 2018, the boys soccer team has won the 5A District 5/6 title each year, including a 2-1 win over Madison Thursday night, punctuated by a golden goal from Israel Chavez. The Titans have advanced as far as the state title game. The roster may change. The results seldom do.

Still, prisoners of the moment or not, the Titans seemed to agree that this district championship meant the most. Head coach Corey Toldson reminisced on the first one — “That was pretty big,” she said — but as the program turns in district title after district title, foes have begun to target Thunder Ridge like NBA teams gunning for the prime Warriors.

Plus, in previous years, the seniors were kids who transferred from other schools when Thunder Ridge opened. Now in its fourth year, the team is fielding its first class of seniors who were freshmen when the school launched.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” Toldson said. “We go to state all the time, but this year, we’ve got such a high drive. With it being with these boys, it means a lot. There’s so many of them that have been here the whole way through. It’s a big thing for them to leave it all on the field. That’s kind of our motto every game.”

All of this, though, raises a question: Is this the year Thunder Ridge finally gets it done?

In order, here are the Titans’ results at the 5A state tournament: 2018, 0-2. 2019, 0-2. 2020, state final appearance. For Thunder Ridge, that one stung the most, a 5-4 loss to Boise in penalty kicks. A 14-3 season ended one step short.

So this season, all the Titans did was win eight of their first nine games. They secured convincing wins over teams from the area and ones from up north, a 4-2 victory over Blackfoot and a 3-0 shutout of Post Falls. Little changed when the schedule flipped to conference play. Thunder Ridge opened with a 4-2 win over Idaho Falls, then a 4-1 throttling of Rigby.

A week later, the Titans downed Highland. Then they clobbered Bonneville and Idaho Falls, both 8-0 wins. Three days after that, Thunder Ridge welcomed Madison for a home matchup. “We went in maybe feeling pretty high on ourselves,” Toldson said. The Titans paid for it to the tune of a 4-3 loss. Winning streak over.

“After we lost that one, we didn’t want to do that again,” Toldson said. “Then we did it again. Then we did it again.”

All told, Thunder Ridge slogged through a three-game losing streak, stumbling against Madison, Hillcrest and Rigby, all one-goal setbacks. Even worse, two of them were conference affairs, moving Thunder Ridge further down the standings. The Titans went nine days between wins.

In an interesting way, though, Thunder Ridge might not have captured another district title without that drought. To hear them tell it, the Titans drew more from those losses than any others.

“(It taught us to) not enter cocky,” Chavez said. “We came in beating IF 8-0, and we were like, ‘Oh yeah, we can beat every team.’ But we had to come out for every team 100%.”

“Me and Israel talked about it. We were like, ‘Well, maybe we’ve gotten to the top and people are starting to say I’m already at the top. I don’t need anything else,’” Zamora said. “I think that’s what made us realize, hey, we’re just like everybody else. We’ve got to put in more work than everybody else.”

The truth is the Titans make that a priority, losing streak or not. Success can breed satisfaction, especially when it comes in bushels. Thunder Ridge has clocked seasons of 10-6-1, 13-4-1, 14-3-2 and now 12-4-1. It would take a lot for every player to stay locked in for every game, every practice, everything that has made the Titans one of the best programs on this side of the state.

So as this season went on and the Titans recognized they were one of the best teams in the conference, Toldson sensed it again, that complacency. She liked the wins, but she didn’t want her team believing they could get them like free samples at the grocery store.

“In practice, we needed to step it up,” Toldson said. “On the game film, we need to step it up. We had to do all the little things. We had to relearn to not get lazy on those things.”

Thunder Ridge has cleared those hurdles. Now, all that’s left is what has eluded the Titans for three seasons now: a state title.

They feel more confident than ever, and why shouldn’t they? Thunder Ridge rosters nine seniors, including Zamora and Chavez, all of whom have been on this stage before. Even the underclassmen and juniors have been here before. It may be cliche, but experience matters here. The Titans may have the most of the eight teams that qualify.

In Thursday’s first round, No. 4 Thunder Ridge gets No. 5 Boise, the club that ended the Titans’ season in the title match last season. It might not be fair to call this a revenge tour, since Thunder Ridge gets to state so often. Starting off with a revenge game, though — maybe that’s what the Titans need to collect the right hardware this time.

“Just like today, we wanted that fourth one to finish it off, we want to finish off state with a title also,” Zamora said. “We want to come back for what we didn’t get last year.”

Greg Woods is a sports reporter at the Post Register. Reach him 208-542-6772 and follow him on Twitter at GregWWoods.

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