In this February 2020 file photo, Caribou's Parker Deprey drives past Maranacook's Casey Cormier during the Class B basketball state final at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Deprey is the top returning player this season for the Vikings. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

CARIBOU — The Caribou High School boys basketball team has two consecutive state championships under its belt, but this year the squad faces new challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A late start and a shorter season has made for a different take on the 2021 season, coach Kyle Corrigan’s third guiding the team. And though he led the Vikings to back-to-back Class B state championships in 2019 and 2020, there will be no chance for a three-peat this year.

Corrigan’s main goal this year is for the players to enjoy themselves, he said.

“First and foremost, we want the guys to just have fun,” he said. “This year has been full of unknowns and as far as the future goes, things can change at any moment. We’re just going to try to make the most out of every opportunity we’re presented with.”

Caribou, like all Aroostook County schools, started late. Its first day of in-person practice in the gym was Jan. 4. Since then, the players have been acclimating to playing while wearing masks.

“They are a really invested group,” he said. “When RSU 39 [Caribou and Stockholm] decided to go remote on Dec. 7, we put in a plan to hold three to four zoom sessions a week for our guys until we could get into the gym. Some nights were workouts, other nights we had PowerPoints and a game film to watch.”

Each of these Zoom meetings included between 20 and 25 kids, which Corrigan said is a testament to how much basketball means to them.

“The fact that we’re back in the gym right now is a great feeling for everyone,” he said.

Caribou had a 21-1 record, including its double-overtime championship victory over Maranacook on a buzzer beater by Sawyer Deprey.

This season, Corrigan wants to see the team tighten up its defense.

“We always tell the guys that defense needs to be consistent every night,” he said. “Your offense won’t always be there, but your defense needs to be. I thought we did a great job defending last year, I just want to see us continue to get better in that area.”

The Vikings lineup includes seniors Carter Quist (5 feet, 11 inches), Cory Herbert (6-1), Ethan Holdsworth (6-4), Riley Bouchard (6-1), Cameron Ouellette (6-0), Brevin Barnes (5-10), Sawyer Deprey (6-2), Caleb Espling (6-4), Miles Collier (5-11) and Zack Madore (6-0), juniors Michael Brigman (6-1), and Ari Plante (5-10), and sophomore Avery Thibodeau (5-11).

The potential starters include Sawyer Deprey, Holdsworth, Brigman and Herbert, adding that the fifth spot is really up for grabs and could be filled by one of three or four different players, Corrigan said.

“It will be fun to watch the guys progress this season and see who ends up in that role,” he said.

Corrigan said Deprey will be stepping into a leader role for this season.

“Sawyer plays harder on both sides of the ball than anybody I’ve ever coached,” he said. “He really prides himself on the defensive end and he is very sound on offense. He’s always had a nice jump shot but he’s worked really hard at expanding his range and becoming a lot more consistent of a scorer at all three levels.”

Holdsworth will likely be the team’s primarily ball handler in 2021.

“He has a tight handle and displays great court vision,” Corrigan said. “He finishes well at the rim and has the ability to knock down midrange jumpers. His presence on the defensive side of the ball is where he makes the most impact.”

Corrigan said Brigman has the ability to score in myriad ways.

“He has the ability to really catch fire from the perimeter and is going to have an expanded role on the offensive side of the ball this season. He continues to impress daily with his ability to read the game on the offensive side of the floor.”

Corrigan said Hebert has incredible awareness on the floor, in addition to being one of the most competitive players on the team.

“He prides himself on the defensive end much like Sawyer and is always the first guy on the floor diving for loose balls,” Corrigan said. “Cory’s got that ability to knock down jump shots consistently as well.”

Among the key graduation losses were Parker Deprey, Alex Bouchard, Isaac Marker, Jacob Berkoski, Jacob Paul and Joey Gregson.

Deprey was a Mr. Basketball semifinalist and a Bangor Daily News All-Maine first-team pick who was Caribou’s leading scorer most nights. Bouchard, an All-Maine honorable mention, will be missed for his floor generalship.

“[Marker] and [Berkoski] were knock-down shooters and played a huge role for us last season,” Corrigan said. “[Paul] and [Gregson] have also graduated and gave us valuable efforts day in and day out.”

Despite losing approximately 60 percent of their scoring, the Vikings are preparing for fierce competition this winter.

“This year is an Aroostook County-based schedule and we have some very good teams in the County,” he said. “Every team on our schedule is going to be competitive this season.”