MERIDIAN — Makayla Christensen doesn’t believe in the curse.
The curse of the 5A District III girls championship that is. Since the Idaho High School Activities Association started sponsoring the state tournament in 2000, no 5A District III girls championship team has gone on to win a state title in the same season.
With Christensen and the rest of the Centennial girls soccer team claiming their second consecutive district championship last week, it puts them in position to supposedly be the curse’s next victims.
But with everything that’s happened to the Centennial senior forward during the last three years, the “so-called curse,” as she puts it, is the last thing on her mind entering this week’s state tournament. The Patriots (16-2) play Highland (6-10-1) at 9 a.m. Thursday at Meridian High in the first round of the 5A State Girls Soccer Tournament.
“I know the curse is a big topic around here but I don’t believe in it,” Christensen said with a laugh. “I think it’s just a mental game when it comes to the curse. I know if my team can come together we can break this so-called curse. I know we’re acting like it’s not a real thing and it’s not going to get in our way of trying to bring home a state title.”
MISSING OUT: While Centennial has won two out of the last three state championships, Christensen hasn’t played in either game. She elected not to play for the Patriots her freshman season.
Christensen instead chose to play for her club team, FC Nova in the Elite Clubs National League. FC Nova went on to finish in the Top-10 of the national tournament, while Centennial took home the first state title in program history in 2014.
“It stunk a little thinking I could have been a part of that but I still wouldn’t have traded it because of the season we had with ECNL,” said Christensen, who has committed to play at the University of Utah. “My freshman year was really the year when I was getting recruited the most.
“So I think if I would have played high school and not had as great an ECNL season, I don’t know how that would have ended up or if I would be where I’m at now. The exposure ECNL gave me was the reason I was recruited so early.”
Christensen officially joined the Patriots the following year, but a pair of injuries unexpectedly cut her season debut short. During a 5A District III Tournament semifinal game against Eagle, Christensen was taken out by a hard collision with the opposing goalkeeper.
She and the goalkeeper were both going for a 50/50 ball when she turned her leg to the wrong side. The goalkeeper unintentionally ran into Christensen’s right leg.
The result was a torn MCL and a dislocated patella.
Christensen had to watch from the sideline as Centennial picked up its second straight state title.
“That was a major letdown,” Christensen said. “Before the season I knew that the team could win it again and here I am not being a part of it again.
“I know I helped get the team there and everyone told me how big of a part I played that season. But at the same time I wasn’t there at the end to help. I felt like I couldn’t really say I won state with the team.”
COME BACK: The injuries put Christensen on the shelf for six months and she had to wear an “annoying” leg brace for her first few games back. But it didn’t slow her down for long.
Christensen returned to lead the league in goals scored with 26 and helped deliver the program’s first district title in six years with the game-winning goal. In the 63rd minute, she corralled the ball off a corner kick and sailed it into the back of the net on the same field where it all ended in heartbreak the year before.
“It was cool to come back and show I wasn’t done in a I’m back sort of thing,” Christensen said. “Being back there on that field with my teammates and having all of them celebrate that goal and district championship with me was quite emotional and surreal.”
However, Centennial’s district tournament success, didn’t translate well into the state tournament. The Patriots lost to eventual state champion Lake City 3-2 in overtime before falling to conference rival Timberline in the third place game.
It marked the 16th straight season that the 5A District III girls champion failed to win the state championship leading many to believe that the “curse” was indeed real. But Christensen viewed it much differently.
“We had a good team last year but just lost to another good team,” Christensen said. “We came into state ready but we lost in golden goal overtime. It was the first 45 seconds of overtime and they came right down and scored and the game was over.
“That was really hard but things like that happen sometimes. Lake City was a great team and we were that close to beating them and going to the state championship ourselves.”
A PERSONAL LOSS: Christensen’s struggles haven’t just been limited on the field.
On January 3, 2014, her grandfather, Rulon Christensen died at the age of 74 from complications with type 1 diabetes and colon cancer.
He passed down his own soccer knowledge to her over the years and was one of the main reasons she started playing soccer at 4. And he always made it a point to attend her games no matter what.
“Years ago when his foot was amputated due to complications with diabetes, he came out to the u14 state championship game,” Christensen said. “He had to be carried to the field by my uncles. But he made it a priority and he was there for me. It meant so much to me.”
Christensen was in the middle of her freshman year at Centennial when her grandfather died. So he never got the chance to see his granddaughter play a single game for the Patriots.
It’s something that sticks with the 17-year-old every day. She wears “00” on the front and back of her Centennial uniform as a way to pay tribute to the man who had such a profound impact on her life.
“He wore 00 before it was cool,” Christensen laughed. “Every single time I put that uniform on, it’s a motivator. Every game is an opportunity to try and make him proud.”
THE NUMBERS: Christensen has certainly done her late grandfather’s old number justice.
She’s led the 5A Southern Idaho Conference in goals in each of the last three seasons with 86 of them to date. Christensen’s 38 goals this season lead the conference by a mile. The next closest person is Borah’s Mirryn Tyliski who has 20.
“She sees the field like someone I’ve never seen before,” senior goalkeeper Mikayla Sherer said. “She’s able to pick out fine details of the game that you would think higher level of soccer players only see. Especially here at the high school level, you can just tell she’s at a higher level than everyone else and she’s going to go far with her soccer.”
With Christensen at the helm, Centennial has already had one of the best seasons in school history. The 16 wins are the most entering a state tournament in program history.
The Patriots have also outscored their opponents 79-12 and come into the state tournament averaging nearly five goals per game.
“She’s been the difference,” Centennial coach Steven Snider said. “The thing that stand out to me is her competitiveness. She competes at everything. It doesn’t matter how small it is. She goes as hard as she can all the time. As a coach, you love that quality.
“She is one of those once in a decade type of kids. You don’t have a player with her skill set come around too often.”
DIVISION I BOUND: Christensen’s notoriety made her a hot commodity among many of the nation’s top women’s collegiate soccer programs. After getting countless offers from a litany of schools that included Washington State and Boise State, Christensen verbally committed to Pac-12 school Utah during her sophomore year.
The Utes finished in the Top-25 and made it to the third round of the NCAA Tournament last season. She will sign her commitment letter in February.
“Ever since I was little I wanted to play Division I soccer,” Christensen said. “I’m super excited to soon be around players that have so much talent. I think it’s going to be great for myself to be challenged and put into an environment like that. I can’t wait.”
WANTING TO GO OUT ON TOP: Before Christensen heads down south to Salt Lake City, she hopes to end her high school career with a state championship.
After missing out on playing in two state championship games, Christensen figures it’s time she be a part of one for a change.
And she’s not going to let the “curse” make her think any differently.
“It’s senior year and it’s about time I play and win a state championship while being on the field with my teammates,” Christensen said. “This is my last chance and I’m going to give 110 percent into trying to make it happen and some curse isn’t going to stop me from thinking otherwise.”
Go to idahopress.com/sports to check out the other 5A boys and girls soccer teams at this week’s state tournament.