Brighton's lacrosse championship right on schedule
When Steve Gray became the Brighton lacrosse team's head coach four years ago, he told parents and his team that in four years he envisioned the team competing for a state championship.
But the season his team pieced together this spring, the telling fourth year, exceeded any goals that could have been set, even as recently as the beginning of this season.
In contention for the state championship? Please. The other teams in Division 1 of the Utah Lacrosse Association struggled to stay in contention with Brighton.
The Bengals posted a 29-2 record (undefeated against Utah teams and 14-0 in division play) that culminated with a 10-7 win in its first state championship May 15 against Park City at Viewmont High School.
"Teams when they go undefeated they get that overconfidence or over cocky and then they lose," senior defender and captain Brad Davis said. "I don't think we did that."
The team's only losses came during an early-season tournament in Las Vegas.
"You don't really even dream about a season like that," Gray said. "To actually have lived it -- it still hasn't sunk in a week later. We've just had a special group of kids with great chemistry and an unbelievable work ethic."
In the championship against Park City, Brighton's Jayden Haws, the team's All American, and Kurt Pascoe, its leading scorer, were shut down. Aid came from an unexpected source: junior reserve Connor Barlow.
Barlow came off the bench to score a career-best four goals.
"Coach said I wasn't going to start, then I got put in for a little and then I got some plays," Barlow said. "I just played harder than usual."
Harder than usual was a theme constant throughout the banner season. Gray went out of his way to schedule the toughest schedule he could. Bountiful, the two-time defending state champions, lost to Brighton in the Bengals' season opener. Then fell Alta, Bingham and Juan Diego.
"Those are all top teams here in lacrosse," Gray said. "When we were able to get through those games undefeated, I thought, 'Gosh, we have a great team, we could certainly make that run to the state championship."
Davis said a good crop of talent and Gray's coaching turned things around for Brighton, whereas Gray quickly points to the parents and support system of the Brighton lacrosse.
But as the season rolled on, his teams he grew leery of the pressures that came with an undefeated season.
"To be honest, I was a little nervous getting into the season undefeated," he said. "We all know what happened to the Patriots in the Super Bowl. It doesn't happen very often that you run the table."
Unlike New England in the 2008 Super Bowl, Brighton didn't falter.
Barlow credited that to a strict adherence of an old rule it is too often said, but not enough practiced. They took it one game at a time.
"In the playoffs we would say, 'OK, we've earned two more practices and a game," Barlow said. "Then we'd just keep on going from there."
Until finally, the only place left to go was the middle of the field at Viewmont, where the Bengals crushed one another in a dogpile to celebrate their win.
It was right on cue.
» Reserve attackman Connor Barlow scored four goals in the championship against Park City.
» The win concluded an undefeated Division 1 season for the Bengals.