Both THS soccer programs will return to the Idaho State 3A Championships this fall after each survived hair-raising encounters in the Mountain Rivers District tournament. The Timberwolves boys finished third at state in 2021, and the girls fourth.
The Lady Timberwolves would pull a huge upset by beating the undefeated and #1 ranked Sugar-Salem Diggers to claim the District VI championship. The defeat was utter heartbreak for the Diggers, who were on a 17-game win streak, including 3-0 and 4-0 wins over Teton this year.
Senior Irlanda Lopez would loft a shot in from outside the 18-yard box, sending the ball into the back of the net over a reeling Diggers keeper with 4:56 left in the second half. Teton ended Sugar’s season with the win.
“It was the longest four and a half minutes from the time we scored to the time that whistle blew. It was pretty electrifying, it was so fun to see those girls celebrate and see the sideline with the parents and the boys’ team,” said Lady Timberwolves’ head coach Cathy Thomas.
The goal came at the death of a tense 0-0 match, one in which there weren’t a lot of chances on either end. The game was played in midfield, and as the time kept running, Thomas and the team knew what it was going to take.
“We just knew that if we could get one we could hold them defensively,” said Thomas. “We came in with a tight defensive plan and the back line executed very well and we were able to shut down their strikers.”
The win gives Teton a massive momentum boost ahead of state. Last year’s team knew they would be back, and Thomas gives them all the credit for following through on that promise.
“They deserve all the credit,” said Thomas. “They know what it takes now to play at that tournament and to be able to win games there as well. To be able to knock out the number one team going into state, that is a huge win for us. We realize we’ll have a target on our back and that we’re a team that can’t be overlooked.”
Teton will play defending 3A champion Fruitland on Thursday, October 20, who comes into the game as the number five seed. Last year Fruitland went in as the number one seed. Taking one step at a time will be crucial to reach the summit.
“We have to get past that first round and we can’t overlook anyone,” said Thomas.
Teton is the fourth seed in the tournament, ranked behind foes CDA Charter, Sun Valley Community, and American Falls. Teton split their matchups with American Falls, beat CDA Charter last year on penalties, and took Sun Valley Community to double overtime in last year’s state semifinal.
To keep the momentum going, Teton will be relying on the same intensity and commitment that spurred them to victory over Sugar-Salem.
“That game particularly, we knew everything was on the line for us. It was all or nothing, and when you have eight seniors out on the field, all playing like it could be their last game, they brought this level of intensity that we needed to pull out the win and we did that,” said Thomas.
“That is the type of intensity that we will need, that urgency and that heart and grit that will take us to play in those state games. That is the level that we’ll need to bring for the next three games we plan to play at state,” Thomas said.
Boys stay alive
The Teton boys weren’t going to be left home following a loss to Sugar-Salem in their District VI championship.
Due to this year’s district playoff allotments, District VI would send a boys’ team to a state play-in game, a luxury the girls did not have.
Teton would take advantage of this format with a 1-0 win over Marsh Valley on October 15. Coach Kurt Mitchell was pleased with the result, but suggested things could have been easier.
“I am happy that we’re moving on, but I think we could have scored more,” said Mitchell. “Marsh Valley came and put in a great effort.”
One thing that stood out to Mitchell in their game against a desperate Eagles team was not only the defense’s ability to stand their ground under attack, but to play out from the back confidently.
“We weren’t just kicking the ball out from the back. We were cohesive, not pressured and confident,” said Mitchell.
Like the Lady Timberwolves, Mitchell will rely on his seniors to keep a high level of intensity going through their games at state.
“I can tell them all about the intensity they need to have, but when our five seniors are playing with the kind of intensity they have been playing with, the younger players are shown that and step up accordingly,” said Mitchell. “They see it first hand from those seniors.”
Considering it being his first season in charge, Mitchell is pleased with where the team is at but is not completely satisfied, even after a 13-1-1 regular season.
“This is about where my expectations were heading into this year,” said Mitchell. “I came in with a goal of wanting to win every single game, which might be a bit naive, but I truly believe we can win every time we step out on the field.”
“If you look at our (two) losses and our tie, each of them were really close games. To me that proves that we can win every time we step out onto the field,” Mitchell continued.
Looking ahead will see the four-seed Timberwolves face off against fifth-seeded Timberlake on October 20. Like Thomas mentioned above, the focus is on the first game and the first game only.
“We’re drawn into a pretty tough pool,” said Mitchell. “As the fourth seed we’ll have a tight game against the number five seed, and then the winner is likely to play number one.”
Upsets can (and do) happen though, which is something Teton took advantage of last year when it upset second-seeded American Falls 2-1 as a seventh-seed in the first round.
“It is all about the first round right now,” said Mitchell. “You can look at the bracket and you’ll see some tough teams, but we have to focus on the task at hand. If you don’t, that is when you can get into trouble. You can’t play the next game until you’re through with the first.”