Testing the establishment: No. 1 BBA looks to end South Burlington's reign in Division I
MANCHESTER -- You don't have to tell the Burr and Burton Academy girls lacrosse team about pedigree.
Head coach Dave Miceli will be making his ninth finals appearance today as his No. 1 Bulldogs (15-2) play No. 6 South Burlington (13-5) at Spartan Stadium on the Castleton State College campus.
Miceli is .500 in the first eight trips, including a 17-10 loss to Rice in last year's title game. He has also made the semifinals of every D-II lacrosse playoff since 2000.
But this one is different. Oh so different.
The Bulldogs are no longer in the familiar confines of Division II. They are up with the big girls now, rubbing elbows in Division I.
And their dancing partner for today is no slouch, despite what the seeding may indicate.
The Rebels are three-time defending state champions.
"I think its exciting to get to play South Burlington," Miceli said. "Stepping up to D-I is a big deal. To be successful on the D-I level is great, but you aren't truly successful until you beat South Burlington. I think that is the mark we are all looking for right now, putting BBA on the map as an actual D-I contender and not just a flash in the pan."
The Rebels were unfortunate victims this year in their quest to bring home their fourth-straight title. With players out, the Rebels tripped up in three-straight games, by a combined difference of four goals, that let them slip in a playoff field that had seven teams finish with 10 or more wins.
Yet, none of that kept the Rebels from trudging back into the finals with wins over No. 3 BFA-St. Albans and No. 2 Mount Mansfield.
The Rebels also beat the Bulldogs at the beginning of the season, defending their home turf 15-9.
But now, the Bulldogs get another shot at the defending champions. And junior Hayley Sabol said the team is up for the challenge, albeit a bit nervous at the same time.
"I think we are kind of excited," Sabol said. "[The first] game was out of synch. It will be interesting to see if we have improved since then. [Coach] said they are a good team and have one of the best defenses in the state, so it will be interesting to see how we have developed over the season."
The hope for Sabol and company is that, after being held to single digits against South Burlington with an incomplete team, the Bulldogs can keep up their stunning production since.
After dropping to Middlebury and South Burlington to start the season, the Bulldogs have rattled off 15 wins on the trot, while averaging 15.6 goals per game over that stretch. In the playoffs alone, BBA has scored 27 goals in just two games.
The scoring has also been spread out. Sabol leads the Bulldogs with 61 goals this season, but senior Morgan Bazyk has 56. Another senior, Katy Jones, has 26. Behind them, two other girls have 20 or more (Aggie Bisselle and Ryder Ferrone), and in total 14 different Bulldogs have tickled the twine this season.
"We have the ability to score and have a lot of girls that can score," Miceli said. "So we want to force South Burlington to use all of their players. I really like the depth of our team. We want to use everybody and just keep putting pressure on them all over the field and run our hearts out."
Besides trying to run the defense ragged, the Bulldogs will also have to deal with senior Courtney Barrett in the cage, a brick wall for a Rebel defense that has allowed only eight goals per game this season.
The Bulldogs have to be careful, though, to not allow the South Burlington offense to get rolling. The Rebels are averaging nearly 12 goals a game this season in 18 contests (212), and posted a 20-spot on BFA in the quarterfinals before getting locked in a defensive, 6-4, battle against MMU.
"One of the biggest things that [the defense focuses] on is keeping ourselves together," senior captain Brinn Dillworth said. "I think the biggest thing for us is keeping our heads in the game and supporting each other as best we can."
Goalie Lauren MacKenzie added that the team needs to "stay positive and stay focused on the task at hand."
"This is lacrosse, there will be goals, it's a game of goals," MacKenzie said. "We just have to work to stop the next one and keep our minds on that."
Ashley Norris is one of the key scorers for the Rebels, topping the 100 career goal barrier earlier in the playoffs.
Miceli, though, added that he thinks the championship game is going to come down to more than just the finished product of a goal -- it's going to be in the small details that lead to the build-up.
"If we focus on the things we can control instead of the things we can't control, we play our best lacrosse and, when we do that, we get good outcomes," Miceli said. "All season long, it's never been about ‘we have to win this game.' It's been about ‘we have to play good lacrosse and do our best.' The result is 15 wins in-a-row. That didn't happen because we were going out to win any of those games, it happened because we were going out to compete for those groundballs, going out to win the draw, going out to deny the shot, going out to see the back of the net. That's the philosophy we've had with this program for the last 14 years, and that's why we are where we are."
Today's game will start at 3 p.m., and will be the first game in a championship triple-header.
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