Driving up the floor is Ellsworth's Hunter Curtis, left, as Caribou's Sawyer Deprey gives chase during the 2020 Class B North championship at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

The Ellsworth boys basketball team made the most of its 2020-21 season, capturing the Big East Conference Class B pod championship as COVID-19 denied teams around the state traditional tournament play.

The 2021-22 season begins with the Eagles hoping to return to postseason normalcy and their pursuit of a more widespread championship goal, such as their first North regional crown since 2016.

There’s good reason for optimism with the entire roster back from last winter led by senior guard Hunter Curtis and sophomore forward Chance Mercier.

Curtis is a fourth-year starter who serves multiple roles for the Eagles, including team leader.

“He works hard every day so the other kids follow him,” said 15th-year Ellsworth head coach Peter Austin. “We use him everywhere. He’s my point on offense and he also can play down low. Defensively he’s going to be guarding a lot of times the other team’s best player, and he’s definitely our best rebounder.”

Mercier was one of the region’s top freshmen a year ago, and scored 26 points during Ellsworth’s preseason opener late last month at Class AA Bangor.

“The expectations are high,” said Austin, who guided Ellsworth to the 2020 B North final. “We know that we have everybody back and they’re hungry. They want to win the last game of the year.”

Among Ellsworth’s top rivals in Class B North could be Presque Isle, the Aroostook County Division I pod champion last year.

The Wildcats feature junior guard Malachi Cummings, a third-year starter who led the team in scoring and assists last winter while ranking second in rebounds. Other veterans are senior big man Xavier McAtee, classmates Noah Yarema and Jackson Maynard and 6-3 junior Jack Hallett.

“When healthy, this could be the deepest team I have ever had at Presque Isle,” 11th-year PI head coach Terry Cummings said. “Look for us to play an uptempo style and let our defense generate our offense. They will be an exciting team to watch this winter.”

Houlton could be another Class B threat from The County with four returning starters in Isaiah Gentle, Colin Moody, Caleb Solomon and Jadon Gentle, while Caribou captured the 2019 and 2020 Class B state championships but graduated 10 seniors last spring, leaving the Vikings with just three returning players.

Hermon, Mount Desert Island, Winslow and Old Town also figure into the contending mix, as does youthful Orono, which features sophomore guards Pierce Walston and Ben Francis, senior Javier Alicea-Santiago and junior Lucas Allen up front and promising freshman Will Francis.

“We’ll be athletic enough, we’ll be skilled enough, but there are going to be some nights when we look like the freshmen and sophomores that we are,” Orono coach Ed Kohtala said. “But if we work hard we can grow into something that has a chance.”

One big change in Class B this winter is the move of Medomak Valley of Waldoboro and Oceanside of Rockland from North to South.

Medomak Valley, the North champ in both 2013 and 2015, returns three-year team scoring leader Trevor Brown along with senior guard Patrick McKenney and 6-2 classmate Jake Bickmore, a third-year starter. Coach Nick DePatsy’s Panthers also could get a boost from much-improved 6-7 senior Jacob Craig.

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...