The Caribou High School boys athletic teams have experienced considerable recent success, highlighted by last winter’s magical run to the Class B state championship in basketball and the 2018 Class B tennis state title.
But there remains some unfinished business for many of the upperclassmen among the Vikings.
Caribou’s 2018 boys soccer squad, which earned the No. 1 seed in Class B North, took a program-best 13-1-1 record and homefield advantage into the regional semifinals when its season ended abruptly — the Vikings could not hold on after building a 2-0 lead and were eliminated by No. 5 Washington Academy of East Machias 4-2.
Then Caribou’s Aroostook County neighbor, Presque Isle, went on to become the first Eastern/North team to capture the Class B state championship in 25 years.
“At that point of the season there are no givens, especially in soccer where all the teams left were really good,” Caribou coach Scott Hunter said. “But it was a very difficult pill to swallow, not only for the coaches but also the players, and then we had to sit and watch as our rivals went on and won the states.
“I was very happy for them, to have the Northern team do that was very satisfying to me, but they also hadn’t beaten us and that told our kids where we were, that we could compete for a state championship.”
Early in the 2019 season it appears the Vikings are making the most of that belief.
Caribou enters Saturday’s 5 p.m. game at Class A Brewer as not only the lone remaining undefeated team in Class B North but also a dominant presence within that division through its 4-0 start.
The Vikings have outscored their opponents 22-3, with a 6-2 win at two-time defending Class C North champion Fort Kent in their most recent outing Wednesday night and a statement-making 6-0 triumph over Presque Isle on Sept. 11 as early highlights.
“That was the response from our team I was hoping for after last season and going into this year with what we had coming back, to defeat the defending state champs,” Hunter said. “It told me a lot about our team.”
Caribou graduated two premier players in All-New England Region midfielder Alex Ezzy, who scored a team-high 25 goals last fall, and All-Northern Maine Class B forward Austin Findlen, but the Vikings have returned a well-balanced lineup bolstered by an experienced corps of seniors.
“We had a very talented junior class last year,” said Hunter, the 2018 Penobscot Valley Conference Class B coach of the year. “Six of them have played on varsity since they were freshmen and several started as freshmen, so I knew we had talent coming back and a chance to be real good.
“We definitely lost some players that we’ll miss, but those juniors have become seniors and just them being another year older helps, too, along with having that experience from last year.”
The defense is anchored by seniors Parker Deprey (another Northern B all-star in 2018), Tiernan Barbosa and Jake Bernoski in front of junior Cory Herbert, a first-year starter in goal.
Seniors Hayden Hunter and Cullin Caverhill, another All-Northern B honoree from last fall who set a school-record with 23 assists in 2018, key the team’s midfield play.
Senior Alex Bouchard, considered the fastest player on the team, has moved up to wing forward after playing wing back a year ago. He will team up front with junior Ethan Holdsworth, who already has scored 13 goals in Caribou’s first four victories.
“This team is really unselfish,” Hunter said. “I’ve loved the way we’ve turned down the maybe more difficult, tough-angle shots to make the extra pass. A lot of our goals have been tap-ins at the goal line because of our unselfishness and willingness to get the ball to the guy with the better opportunity.”
The Vikings have lofty ambitions — Caribou has never won a state championship in boys soccer — but Hunter and his veteran cast are striving in late September to focus on the moment while using last year’s frustration for a little additional motivation.
“I think we’re all on the same page as to what our goals are. We’re just keeping that in the background,” Hunter said. “But I like that they’re playing with a bit of a chip on their shoulders. That’s a plus.”