MANCHESTER -- Before the spring season even started, first-year coach Jason Pergament took one of his boys lacrosse captains, Ben Alexopoulos, out to breakfast.
His message to the senior was simple, but in those words the groundwork was laid for the Burr and Burton Academy team.
"I told him we are going to have a great year," Pergament said. "I told him we are making a run at the state championship, and here we are."
With Pergament pulling the strings and Alexopoulos scoring goals on offense, the Bulldogs have navigated a tricky playoff run in Division II that includes upset wins over No. 2 Stowe in the quarterfinals and No. 3 Burlington in the semis. The message all year has been about building up team chemistry, and going into today's contest against undefeated No. 1 seed, Green Mountain Valley School, the motto is only being amplified.
"Communication is key, and our team has peaked in the playoffs with chemistry and just vibing well," Alexopoulos said. "Other than that, I think all of it comes down to that day and just the plays you execute and your plan for the team that you are playing."
"It might be our last game all together as a team," junior goalie Mike Sztorc added as the pair sat with Pergament and senior Will Helmetag in the school's library on Thursday, the rain forcing the team inside for practice. "We've realized what our goal is, what we want to do together, and what we have to do to reach that goal."
The obstacle that stands in the Bulldogs' way, though, is a 14-0 team that has already beaten BBA, 8-4, this year. The Gumbies have also been cruel opponents for BBA in the playoffs, winning three contests over the last three years to knock the Bulldogs out.
"We have a long legacy with GMVS over the last few years and I know we all want it real bad," Helmetag said.
"We learned [from the first game] that we can play a competitive team while still being competitive," Alexopoulos added. "Whatever we do, whatever our plan is, the outcome will be different."
Alexopoulos' comment came with a bit of defiance in his voice. The Bulldogs might be the 7-seed in the D-II tournament, they might be underdogs coming in, and the results show that GMVS won the first time. But this isn't the first time the Bulldogs have faced a team that has beaten them this year, and they have a pretty good record in those situations.
The Bulldogs have played four teams twice this season, and only Woodstock, a Division I side, has beaten them twice.
They responded to an early 13-12 loss to Mount Anthony with a 12-6 win. After losing to Brattleboro 13-11, BBA answered with a 13-8 win. The Bulldogs lost to Burlington 8-7 in the regular season, but in the semifinals, BBA won 7-5.
"I think it's an advantage [having lost to them], you know?" Sztorc said. "Seeing what we did wrong with that team, understanding what our mistakes were with that team. With GMVS, we saw what they did. We didn't adapt to it, but now we have watched film. We know what they are doing, we know what they are up to."
Pergament didn't like that his side had five days off leading up to the first GMVS game. He felt that his team came out sloppy and lacking a sense of urgency, allowing the Gumbies to use its plethora of weapons.
Now, he has had time to focus his team and the string of playoff games leaves the team ready to play.
"[GMVS] has a lot of guys that can score," Pergament said. "They have a lot of different weapons and we are aware of that. But we've also identified who their weapons are and have a strategy for addressing that."
The sloppiness factor also extended to the offense. In the game against GMVS, BBA only scored four times, its lowest goal total this season and well off their average of 10 goals per game in the regular season.
With the ability to get tuned up in the playoffs, attacker Alexopoulos thinks his unit will move more freely in the rematch.
"That was a weird day for us. We were off for a while," Alexopoulos said. "With a couple of tweaks, we can get back at it and put up a lot more [goals] that our offense is used to. It goes back to chemistry, and in the playoffs we have been putting up a good amount of goals."
The Bulldogs have also embraced the role of the underdog, with Sztorc saying that he "liked" the idea of being an underdog.
But that doesn't mean the Bulldogs will rest on their laurels regardless of today's outcome. The Bulldogs want to be champions.
"I don't think they are satisfied just making it to the finals," Pergament said. "We all want the gold medal, we don't want the silver one."