The message echoed through Savannah Kenney’s head, even in this tense moment against Madison. All season, Thunder Ridge girls soccer coach Jason Lance had taught his team to be in the right position. Be ready for rebounds. Crowd the box when teammates attempt shots.
“It was super scary,” Kenney said.
Because the freshman knew what to do, though, she didn’t play like it.
On Thursday night, roughly five minutes remained in a scoreless draw between Thunder Ridge and Madison. The Titans were on a four-game losing streak, but they had designs on ending an even gaudier one.
Madison hadn’t lost to a High Country Conference team — essentially, those from Blackfoot and north — in five years. The last time that happened, the year was 2015.
Consider that streak dead.
In those last five minutes, Madison was penalized for a handball and Thunder Ridge junior Brooke Boyle set up for a free kick. She booted it, but Madison’s goalkeeper deflected it away.
Enter Kenney, who heeded her coach’s advice, rushed the box and used her left foot to stick the ball into the net.
Thunder Ridge took a 1-0 lead. The score never changed. The Titans cashiered a streak that had grown nearly 2,000 days old.
“A bunch of girls came up and hugged me,” Kenney said. “We were all jumping and screaming. It was so fun. That was my favorite part of it.”
Let’s zoom out for a moment. On the surface, this looked like two teams experiencing vastly different seasons. Madison, now 8-2-1, may compete for a state title. Years may pass before Thunder Ridge, a third-year program that improved to 3-5-1, arrives at such a place.
Besides, this represented Thunder Ridge’s first win over a team with a winning record in school history.
Nuance reveals details here, though. Lance noted that his team may have entered on a four-game skid, but the Titans often kept things close, including in a 1-0 loss to the Bobcats on Sept. 10.
For that reason, the first-year head coach Lance harbored confidence in his team, results notwithstanding. That’s a key reason why he recently implemented a new formation with his team. The Titans had been running a 4-3-3 — meaning four across the back, three midfielders and three forwards — but in a few games leading up to and against Madison, they used a 3-5-2 look.
The first few times, Lance told his team to play conservatively. They had never run the formation, so players felt hesitant. They wanted to see how opponents responded.
“I think we went out a little too conservative,” Lance said. “We just weren’t able to get numbers up the field and threaten like I wanted to.”
So before the Madison game, Lance changed his tune.
“I told them I was taking the chains off,” Lance said. “We’re just going to go for it. We’ve got nothing to lose. We’re going to pressure high. We’re going to be aggressive on our attack and see what happens.”
“And it made a big difference with their style of play,” Lance said.
Players were able to cover for each other on defense. They allowed Madison few opportunities on offense. In fact, the Bobcats registered just 10 shots — three or four on free kicks, Lance said — and just two on goal.
Attribute part of that, Lance said, to both teams’ staunch defenses. Thunder Ridge, for its part, managed only six shots. Still, the Titans may not have recorded this win if they hadn’t used a different formation.
For the Titans, that makes moving on exciting. Players feel far more confident now. They know they can win, rather than only coming close, like they have so often this season.
That matters for a burgeoning program like Thunder Ridge, especially considering the Titans earned this win without two key cogs: Sophie Mangum, a top scorer who hasn’t played this season with a quad injury, and Brinley Judy, a senior who may return in time for districts.
Get those players back — even one — and the Titans like their chances even better. Next, they’ll host Rigby on Monday.
By then, the Titans’ celebration will have died down.
Their confidence will not.
“Honestly, if you saw the girls cheering after that final buzzer, you would have thought we just won a state championship,” Lance said with a chuckle. “Obviously that’s not the case, but it had that feel for us, because it was important. It was an important win, and an important confidence boost.”