BENNINGTON -- For the last two seasons, the Mount Anthony Union High School field hockey team has reached the semifinal game of the Vermont Division I field hockey playoffs, only to fall just short of a shot at a state title.
Could the third time be the charm?
The fourth-seeded Patriots will find out on Wednesday, as the team heads up to Middlebury College for a semifinal showdown against top-seeded Essex at 6:30 p.m.
For the four senior co-captains, Makayla Farrara, Gabby Loomis, Rachel Holland and Leah Holland, Wednesday is the final time to banish the demons of years past.
"It shouldn't be [in our heads], but it is," Rachel Holland said. "At least for us [seniors], coming into this again. This is our senior year, we don't want that to happen again. You can't think about that, but yet, you do."
Two years ago, the loss was to South Burlington. At the time, South Burlington was the top seed, while the Patriots were seeded fifth in the 2011 tournament.
But last season was a different story.
The Patriots were ranked third and faced a No. 7 seed Champlain Valley in a game MAU lost 2-1 in overtime.
"I think part of it was that they thought they were going to walk into the finals last year," said coach Laura Paro. "I think that was a learning experience. We have learned that lesson throughout the season, we can't take any team lightly."
This year, that shouldn't be much of a problem. The Patriots are the underdogs, and Essex is the team to beat, posting a 11-1-3 record. The Hornets have scored 49 goals this season, and allowed just five. Since a scoreless tie to CVU, the Hornets have won five straight and outscored opponents 25-0.
"I think [we need to] slow them down [offensively]," Farrara said. "They have a good scorer we will be marking all game. They have had a few ties and close games, it seems they had more trouble keeping goals out than scoring."
But if there is one thing that the Patriots can do well, it is find the cage when they need to. The team has 33 goals scored this season, while only allowing 12. Paro said she hopes her team can continue to take advantage of penalty corners.
"On our penalty corners, we have to be effective. We have scored most of our goals as a result of corners. If we execute, we will score on them," Paro said.
Still, Paro is convinced the game will come down to midfield and defensive battles.
"I think we have to really be on our game defensively," Paro said. "We have to time our tackles, work as a group in double teams. We have to keep our chins up and not get discouraged."
In net, Leah Holland said that her thought process on the game was just beginning.
"I'm starting to think about it now, and will probably be talking to myself throughout school tomorrow," she said. "I'm just trying to remember that they are another high school team, and they have their strengths and weaknesses like every team does."
Paro was also quick to point out the fundamentals her defenders need to remember, repeating the mantra "footwork and timing."
Another curveball is one that the team looks forward to facing: Playing on an artificial surface.
After playing on grass all season, the semifinals and finals switch to turf. It means a much faster contest, with the ball moving along much faster, and more often, than on grass.
"They are not going to get away with bad passes, and they can't power the ball up the field because it will roll on the turf," Paro said.
The team practice on artificial surfaces all week to simulate the feel of the Middlebury College turf, and on Tuesday, the team practiced in the softball infield at MAU to have one more practice under simulated conditions.
"[The turf] can be a pro and a con," Paro said. "On defense, the pro is that you know what the ball is going to do, but the con is that it goes that much quicker."
The last time the two sides met in the playoffs came in 2011, when the Patriots beat the Hornets on penalty strokes in the D-I quarterfinals, a game etched into the seniors' memory.
"I just think that we were able to beat them two years ago," Rachel Holland said. "Just to think that we will see some of the same people there, and hopefully we can just ... win."
Rachel Holland also set forth the gameplan for the Patriots, and how they can shock Essex.
"We need to go in there and be the first ones to score. If we can score first, I feel like that will throw them off."
As for the approach off the field heading to tomorrow? Farrara said it is the same as any other game.
"I think we will all do the same things we always do," Farrara said. "Well, maybe I'll go to bed a little early tonight."