BENNINGTON >> The hopes of playing in a Final Four have come true for the players on the Mount Anthony Union High School boys basketball team.
"Four years of hard work have paid off and I am focused and excited about playing in the semifinals," said senior forward Tyler Champagne. "The team is really excited about playing up at UVM and it's going to be fun for all of us to have a chance to play in a final four."
The Patriots punched their ticket to the Division I semifinal last Friday night with a resilient fourth-quarter comeback victory over Champlain Valley.
MAU has had a terrific season by all accounts, at 19-3 and are clicking on all cylinders as of late, going into their semifinal clash against Burlington on a season-high eight-game winning streak.
"I am very proud of what the kids have achieved this season on the court and happy they're going to experience playing in a Final Four," said MAU coach Dan Sleeman. "I feel we're ready to for the challenge ahead of us and the team is not just focused, but excited for Saturday's game."
The challenge ahead for the No. 4 seeded Patriots is the task of beating top-seeded Burlington, who are 21-1, its only loss to Rice.
Saturday's semifinals between the two will not be the first time the two teams have met this season as they faced off in the beginning of January. They played in an instant classic at Kates Gym, a game that saw Burlington squeak out a 84-81 double overtime win.
Since that loss to Burlington, MAU admits they have had revenge on their mind and were happy to see that they would get the chance to play Burlington again.
"We wanted to face them and have a shot to avenge losing to them on our home court back early on in the season," said MAU senior center Jonas Parker. "Losing in double overtime kind of stung us a bit, since we had a good chance of winning that game, so we're focused on finishing this game against them the right way and get the win to advance to the finals."
If the Patriots can beat Burlington, it will be their first final since 1992, the last of a near-unprecedented five in a row under legendary coach Dave Fredricksen.
"I try not to dwell on the history of it," said Sleeman, who is making his seventh appearance in the final four as MAU's head coach. "I want to keep the team in the moment and focused on the task at hand. That's the best way we can play it if we want to break the finals drought."
Sleeman has his own experience on the big stage, winning two championships as a player for Fredericksen during the Patriots' streak of titles from 1988 to 1992.
MAU's appearance in the semifinal has sparked a lot of buzz around school and the town of Bennington itself. Many Bennington residents will be traveling the three hours to Burlington to UVM to cheer the Patriots on.
Because of the great hometown support behind him, the MAU players have made it a goal this season to bring a title back to Bennington.
"Our goal is to bring a W back to Bennington [today] and then next weekend bring a championship back," Champagne said. "It's been awesome having the town backing us this whole season. It's been a while since the town has had this surge of energy surrounding it from the basketball team, so we want to our part in bringing a title back to the town."