MANCHESTER -- At the beginning of preseason, Burr and Burton Academy boys soccer head coach Peter Mull had his team climb to the top of Mount Equinox.
The symbolism of the annual tradition was pretty clear.
"We want to begin the season at the top and end the season at the top," said Mull.
Last year, the Bulldogs made good on that vision, winning the Division II state title over U-32. And with 12 returning players from that squad, BBA is aiming high again.
The Bulldogs will be anchored by lots of experience at the back. The entire defense and both members of a goaltending tandem that gave up only nine goals -- in 18 games -- last season return this year.
"We have an experienced starting lineup," said senior co-captain Zack Stewart. "We just have to take advantage of that."
Seniors Mike Nolan and Brock Pollard will split time in net. Nolan had emerged as the go-to keeper in the playoffs, but Pollard was in net for the team's big win in the John James final, so Mull is confident with either player in goal.
"They are duking it out for playing time," said Mull. "I am also hoping to use Brock [Pollard] on the field. He has got some skill on the field. It's still preseason, we are still working things out."
Senior co-captain Ian Conde, who returns at sweeper, will orchestrate the Bulldogs' defense. He is joined on either side by Robert England and Ethan Marsh, both seniors.
Liam Kelleher, who played fullback last year, will move to the midfield to try and replace some of what the now-departed all-state standout Greg Goldstone provided last season.
"We're looking for Reid Conde and Bobby Weeks in the midfield," said Mull. "We will get great width from Liam [Kelleher] and then two guys are duking it out for the other position, Ignacio Puelma and Andrew Gayda."
The midfield is where the Bulldogs lost the most, with Goldstone and Billy Bazyk both lost to graduation. Goldstone, who scored the winning goal in the state championship game, was the team's playmaker and Bazyk was a solid presence, providing good defense and ball control.
"You can't really replace Greg Goldstone," said Ian Conde. "This year we are running a 3-4-3, so hopefully Reid [Conde] can step up and try and replace what Greg [Goldstone] did."
Up front, Burr and Burton will miss the scoring touch of Brazilian international student Rafael Atanazio (18 goals), but have plenty of experience on hand. Stewart and senior Sean Paradis will remain up top.
"Sean Paradis has really taken off as a striker," said Mull. "Zack Stewart was a starter last year at striker, so between those two and Reid Conde we have plans to score a lot.
"We want to play attractive soccer, offensive soccer."
With a returning varsity player at every position, Mull expects that the experience of this team will be its biggest strength.
"They know what it feel like to be in a tight overtime in the playoffs, to be in a championship game," said Mull.
There are some younger players that Mull will work in, coming from junior varsity and transfer students, so he thinks that it could take a little while for them to work into the lineup.
"Everything is looking good, we just have to be smart and hang together as a team," said Mull. "We have to keep improving because everyone improves throughout the season."
The Bulldogs begin their championship defense on Thursday at Applejack Field against Brattleboro.