BENNNINGTON >> Started from the bottom, now we're here is the motto the Mount Anthony girls lacrosse team is all about.
From most of them playing with each other during their days in the Mount Anthony Lacrosse Association as kids to now playing side by side at the high school level, the Patriots' close bond has now brought them to the doorsteps of winning a state championship.
Today, the No. 2 seed Patriots will face-off against No. 4 seed Middlebury in the finals of the Division I playoff tournament at Burlington High School and they couldn't be more excited about the opportunity of bringing a second state championship back to Bennington.
"It so amazing that we are playing in the finals," said MAU junior Brianna Zipprich. "We all have been talking about this moment of playing for a state title since our days playing each other in MALA and it's unreal that we have that opportunity now."
Not many people thought MAU would be in the position of playing for a state title.
Even after the Patriots posted a 13-2 record in the regular season to win the Marble Valley League title, out-scoring their opponents 206-119 in the process, people still expected MAU to get knocked off early in the tournament.
"I think his talk about how the southern Vermont teams can't beat teams from the north really motivated our girls to show people how good of a team we are," said MAU coach Chloe Griffin. "These girl have that fire in them to want to be the best and I think that the talk about them being underdogs really motivated them to take that next step to get better."
MAU proved their doubters wrong by first showing off their explosive offense in a 16-5 win over South Burlington in the quarterfinals and then through their defense shutting down a good Champlain Valley offense for the last 12 minutes of their semifinal matchup, the Patriots hung on to a 11-10 victory to advance to the finals.
"I think everybody on this team feels we can go all the way this year," said MAU leading scorer Emily Altland. "Before the season started, we all knew we had the talent to be a good team this year and I think that because of how close knit of a team we are and that we mesh so well together, it's starting to settle in that if we can continue to play our game that we're going to be tough to beat."
A big key to the success the Patriots have had this season is how well rounded of a team they are.
Their success early on in the season was predicated to their offense that is averaging around 14 goals a game, but as the season has gone, the defense has become as much of a strength as the offense is.
"I think our confidence as unit has helped made us a stronger defense," said MAU goaltender Carly Plaisance. "I'm confident that the girls in front of me are going to their job and I know the girls have confidence in me that I'm going to a good job keeping the ball out of the net. Where we're at right now as defense is where we need to be in as we contend for a championship."
In all aspects of the game the Patriots are more than ready for their finals match they say, the only concern really is that fact that this will be the first time MAU will play Middlebury this season.
"That is the strange thing about going into this game that we don't know what to expect really from Middlebury since we haven't played them yet this year," said Whitney Brooks. "Besides that we feel that our girls are where they need to be going into a championship game. We will play our game and when we need to make adjustments, will make them. That's the plan."
Another mystery for MAU is the status of senior defenseman Claire Taub, who suffered an injury in the CVU game.
If Taub can not go, Zipprich is likely to move from offense to defense as she did great job replacing her in the CVU, being a huge part of holding the Redhawks offense in check in the last two minutes of the game to help MAU seal up the victory.
"Our communication as a team is really amazing, so there were no problems for me coming down and playing defense in that situation," Zipprich said. "I know Carly has my back and I know she has mine. I know that me and the rest of the girls on defense have confidence in one another. If I am to play primary defense in the game, I think there will be no issues for us and will continue to play well as a unit."
Toaday's game will mark the third time in program history the Patriots have been playing in the finals, the first since winning the championship back in 2010.
The 2016 Patriots hope that will be the case again today.
"We stay calm and play our game, we're going to have a great chance to come out with the title," Brooks said. "If we can come out and grab an early lead, that will I think really give us a huge advantage. I think we're ready for this challenge and have a good shot of winning this game."