The 2021 Caribou Viking girls basketball team prepares for the upcoming season. Team members are, back row, from left, manager Naomi Cote, Mackenzie Lagasse, Paige Hale, Libby Collier, Emily Collins, Mia Theriault, Ashlyn Bouchard, Sage Dubay, Emma Butler, and manager Abbie McNeal; and front, Jillian Zeigler, Hannah Beauchamp, Emily Clayton, McKenzie Cooper, Selena Savage, and Saffayia Durepo. Not pictured are Nevaeh Trombley and Gabbie Sutherland and coach Kayla Richards Brown. Credit: Courtesy of Kayla Richards Brown

CARIBOU, Maine — Caribou girls varsity basketball coach Kayla Richards Brown is taking this year’s team into a season with obstacles never before faced by the program.

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed the start date back and shortened the season from 18 games to 12.

This season marks Brown’s fourth with the Vikings and she said that while the pandemic has posed challenges, Caribou was fortunate to be able to put a team together.

The Vikings finished 6-12 last season and lost 56-35 to Winslow in a tough preliminary game.

Caribou began on Monday against Southern Aroostook of Dyer Book and is slated to complete the regular season on Saturday, Feb. 22, against Presque Isle.

Opponents this season also include Houlton, Central Aroostook of Mars Hill and Fort Kent. Madawaska, the other scheduled opponent, has opted not to field a girls team.

Brown said Presque and Houlton always bring strong teams, and this year Caribou will also play Southern Aroostook and Central Aroostook, which have solid programs.

This year’s roster includes seniors Emily Collins, Sage Dubay and Paige Hale; juniors Mia Theriault and Gabrielle Sutherland; sophomores Ashlyn Bouchard, Saffayia Durepo, Selena Savage and Nevaeh Trombley; and freshmen Emma Butler, Emily Clayton, Libby Collier and Jillian Zeigler.

“This season presents challenges we haven’t had to experience before,” Brown said. “I think there is an important lesson in not taking our opportunities for granted, and hopefully we will be able to learn and grow from this season in ways that reach beyond the court.”

Brown said this year’s team shows a great deal of potential.

“I hope that the girls get a chance to play and I know they will show great improvements because of their ability to be coached,” the coach said.

The team lost six seniors to graduation, four of whom were starters. This year’s potential starters are Collins, Savage, Bouchard, Dubay and Sutherland.

Collins is a four-year varsity player who Brown said is versatile and shows improvement each year. She is stepping into a leadership role this winter.

Savage returns as the starting point guard and Brown said she handles the ball with composure and knows the game well.

Bouchard is back after a late start last year due to recovery from knee surgery. The coach said she was able to quickly step in and contribute, adding that she is an excellent shooter.

Dubay returns for her senior season after taking last winter off to ski. Brown said she shows great determination and a strong competitive nature.

Sutherland, a junior guard, is an aggressive player with the ability to score.

Also back in the mix are junior guard Mia Theriault and sophomore center Neveah Trombley.

Graduated seniors include scoring and rebounding leader Paige Espling, starting guards Taylor Skidgel and Kim Susi, and strong post player Taylor LaBreck. Also gone are Abbi Robbins and Renee Stubbs.

Brown said the team is happy to be able to play this winter.

“I think everyone is feeling the strains of the current pandemic,” Brown said, “not just because of sports but because of the inability to resume normal activities. It means a lot to the girls to be able to get on the court and be around their peers while participating in something they enjoy. Even if it looks different this year, I think everyone is grateful for the opportunity to play.”