They made the playoffs in their debut season in Division I. They had finalist Middlebury on the ropes in the quarterfinal round. ¶ Then last week, they gave two-time defending champion Hartford its toughest test in two years.
The aforementioned team? The Lakers of Colchester, one of the smaller schools in Division I in terms of enrollment numbers.
“I think it shows that we can play in D-I,” said senior Cory Benoit during a break in practice Wednesday. “We are here to show that we might be small, but we are here to put up a fight.”
From an eight-man program in the mid-1990s to a D-II powerhouse that captured the 2009 crown with an undefeated season, the Lakers’ move to the state’s top level was part of a 10-year plan coach Tom Perry drew up when he started his tenure. That outlook accelerated to Year 8 after a recent alignment expanded D-I to 14 teams.
“Got to give credit to the athletes for doing the things that they do well,” Perry said. “I think our process is solid, but our kids do all the work. Every program in the state can say the same thing.”
Like Benoit, a two-way player who was a standout, especially on the defensive side in the 13-7 loss to the Hurricanes. Maybe 5 feet, 6 inches with his cleats on, Benoit started playing football in fourth grade. At the high school ranks, he takes part in the program’s offseason conditioning program that’s run diligently by assistant Mike Bombardier.
“There’s a lot of heart in Colchester football. A lot of people take pride in it,” Benoit said.
That passion is part of the Lakers’ drive to go toe-to-toe with teams such as Hartford, Middlebury or Rutland, a traditional power they defeated last season.
“It’s nice to play a good team well. We are going to compete every week like we always do,” Perry said. “In my nine years, we haven’t had a team that hasn’t gone out and battled. We are coming to play.”
But there’s still work to do.
“When you look at this whole division, I wouldn’t look at that score and think, ‘Colchester is almost as good as Hartford.’ We’re not there yet,” Perry said. “There’s a lot of good teams around the league. And when you look at us, we’re 0-1. We haven’t done anything yet.”