This year has been so different. The way we came together as a team. We peaked at the right time. It is a good feeling, I have never had this feeling before. It is awesome. —Desert Hills captain Walker Heaton
HERRIMAN — After a particularly disheartening 4-0 loss to Dixie on March 16, the Desert Hills Thunder boys soccer team had an awakening of sorts. It was in that moment, following that defeat, that the Thunder decided to become a family, a “Thunder family.”
“The last couple of years, we have had a player or two that was all about themselves,” senior and Thunder captain Walker Heaton said. “This year, in our second game of region, we had a hard loss to Dixie. Right there, we put everything aside and decided to play for each other.”
From that point on, the Thunder refused to lose, and didn’t, all the way to Saturday afternoon’s 4A state championship game against the Park City Miners, held at Zions Bank Academy.
Led by Heaton, as well as fellow senior Kelton Holt, the Thunder capped off their special season with a 4-0 victory over the Miners, claiming the first state title in program history.
“This year has been so different,” said Heaton. “The way we came together as a team. We peaked at the right time. It is a good feeling, I have never had this feeling before. It is awesome.”
“I have had a lot of teams and have coached a lot of years, but this was a different year,” added Desert Hills head coach Benji Nelson. “The kids came together as a family near the end; it wasn’t about one guy.
“It was just a different feeling, and I think that is what made this (championship) possible.”
Heaton and Holt were largely responsible for the championship culture, as well as the literal championship on the field.
The pair combined to score all four Thunder goals Saturday, Heaton assisted on one of Holt’s scores as well, while also creating the “Thunder family.”
“Our captain, Walker Heaton, took charge and helped us come together,” said Nelson. “We had some tough times this year, where things didn’t go our way. We just kept talking, telling each other that we had to be positive, be supportive of each other and be united. Thunder family is what we called it.”
A large portion of the team’s struggles occurred when Holt was hurt (he missed much of the first half of the season). Fortunately, for Desert Hills, he was more than healthy for the state title game.
After an initial 34 minutes, during which Park City “handled” Desert Hills, according to Heaton, Holt made his presence known with the first score of the game.
He got a little help from Park City keeper Wesley Hoglin on the breakthrough – Hoglin turned what was a surefire save into the score by accidentally letting the ball dribble between his legs — but the goal counted all the same, and the Thunder took a 1-0 lead into halftime.
Holt wasted little time getting his second goal once play resumed.
Less than a minute into the second half, he got a hold of a cross from teammate Garrett Cottle and headed it beautifully into the top right corner of the net.
“Garrett played a beautiful ball,” said Holt. “I saw it dropping, and there wasn’t much movement so I jumped and connected well. It was a great feeling.”
While the Thunder, specifically Heaton, would go on to add two additional scores, one on a penalty kick and another on a shot that ricocheted off the far left post, it was Holt’s header that won the game.
“The game was about over then,” said Heaton. “That was the moment. Any time you get a goal in the first five minutes of the half, it sets the tone for the rest of the half.”
“It was huge,” added Nelson. “Kelton’s been someone that everyone has always thought would go big time and he performed tonight. He was the moneymaker there.”
As the final moments of the match ticked away, Thunder fans, players and coaches took up the chant, “Thunder family, Thunder family.”
For the first time in program history, the Desert Hills Thunder family are state champs.