CARIBOU, Maine — The Caribou boys’ varsity soccer team has logged sub-.500 records in each of the last three seasons, but that streak certainly appears to be coming to an end.
The Vikings are in the midst of a stellar campaign, as evidenced by their 6-1-1 record and current first-place standing in Class B North.
“It’s a great feeling,” said senior center-midfielder Alex Ezzy, a Maine Soccer Coaches all-state selection last season, of the team’s fast start. “During the summer, a lot of us would always go up to the field and play and the extra work is paying off. But we’re not satisfied yet because we know we have a long way to go.”
Ezzy leads his team with 14 goals and seven assists, which included a five-goal performance in a home game against Mount Desert Island Sept. 22. He said his strong offensive showing is mainly due to the improvement by the entire team.
“Last year I played a lot more defense, but this year there are so many more opportunities to score because of how we’ve grown,” Ezzy said. “We just have a lot more weapons.”
Scott Hunter, the team’s coach since 2011, acknowledged the reason behind the early-season success comes down to the maturation process.
“They’ve been together a lot of years and have stayed together,” Hunter said. “They’ve always had the skill and knowledge of the game, but before were just young. Now they have grown up and are veterans who are dedicated to the sport.”
The Vikings went 5-7-2 and lost in the prelim round three years ago before dipping to 3-10-1 and missing out on the playoffs in 2016. Last year, Caribou compiled a 6-8 mark and as the 12th seed upset Brewer in a prelim before falling to Winslow in the quarterfinals.
This season has been highlighted by road victories at Brewer (which owns an impressive 6-2-1 record) and Washington Academy (currently 8-3), as well as a home win over previously-undefeated Hermon and a tie at Presque Isle against a Wildcat team which has yet to lose a match.
“We’ve just tried to stress the importance of having confidence and developing a killer instinct,” Hunter said. “We want to make sure we are going to dictate what happens on the field, and not the opponent.”
The lone loss came in the second game of the season against Fort Kent by a 1-0 score.
“I was encouraged by our performance as we limited their offensive opportunities and had several chances to score, but their goalie [Reece Pelletier] came up with some big saves,” Hunter said. “We couldn’t score, but there were a lot of positives to take away.”
Since that loss, Caribou has gone 5-0-1 and has outscored opponents by a 24-6 margin.
“You can tell when you have a special group and this team is one of those,” Hunter said. “They work hard all the time and the guys hold everyone accountable.
“It’s not unusual to see a large group staying after practice for extra work and when that happens Kyle Corrigan (the team’s assistant coach) and I just smile at each other,” he said.
The Vikings have gone with a lineup that includes juniors Parker Deprey, Tiernan Barbosa, Alex Bouchard, Jake Berkoski and Hayden Hunter as key defensive components in front of senior goalkeeper Noah Hixon.
Deprey and Barbosa play center back, with Bouchard the left outside back and Berkoski on the right side. Coach Hunter said Deprey is a talented player who could play anywhere on the field, while Barbosa is a physical player with good ball skills. Bouchard has made the move from offense to defense and has embraced his new role. Berkoski started playing soccer only three years ago but has a good motor and is good in the air for his size.
Hayden Hunter, the center midfielder and the coach’s son, is small in stature for what is normally a physically demanding position, but has done a great job by making intelligent decisions and distributing the ball well to teammates.
Hixon, a third-year starter in goal, turned his game around 3-1/2 games into the season.
“Starting with the second half of the Presque Isle game, Noah has been stellar,” his coach said. “He has played so well and was excellent down to Washington Academy. He’s been making some great reactive saves and reads.”
Junior Cullin Caverhill plays the offensive center midfield slot along with Ezzy, but also is utilized at the forward position. Caverhill, who has six goals and a team-leading eight assists, is a competitor and “it’s very hard to get the ball away from him,” according to Hunter.
Ezzy “is a tremendous talent” who can break up the counter attack of opponents and create offensively thanks to great field vision and ball skills.
“He’s like another coach on the field,” Hunter said. “He has so many intangibles you can’t measure, but he is a hard worker and his teammates respect him.”
Senior Tommy Pinette is a striker or wing who enjoyed success his freshman and sophomore seasons with the MSSM Penguins before making the move to Caribou last fall. Pinette brings energy to the field and can pressure an opponent’s back line.
Sophomore Ethan Holdsworth is a natural left-footer who plays the left wing. He is a good ball striker who has four goals and three assists so far this season.
Senior Austin Findlen (three goals and two assists) plays on the right wing and Hunter calls him the team’s most unsung performer.
“He’s so strong and physical and doesn’t look fast, but he is,” Hunter said. “He possesses the ability to beat the defense and play dangerous balls across the middle, which leads to many scoring chances for our team.”
Sophomores Sawyer Deprey and Riley Bouchard are key backup players, with Deprey playing on the back line and Bouchard filling in as a center mid. Seniors Theo Strid and Alex Hyde, junior Jay Belanger and sophomore Cory Herbert are other substitutes and Hunter said he is comfortable with any of them on the field.
“I think we’ve set ourselves up nicely for the second half of the season,” Hunter said. “If we can take care of business against the teams we should beat, we should be in good shape.”
Games against Ellsworth, Old Town and Nokomis are next. Caribou plays two of its final three against Presque Isle (Oct. 11) and Fort Kent (Oct. 16), with John Bapst sandwiched in between on Oct. 13. The games against the two County teams “should help prepare us for a good playoff run,” according to Hunter.
Caribou has never won a regional or state soccer championship in the 50-plus years the sport has been offered at the school.
“We just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” said the coach, “but we can always improve and cannot get complacent. As a coach, that’s one of my most important roles — getting us to not overlook anybody and continuing to get better moving forward.”
Ezzy said he’s excited to see how things unfold the rest of the way.
“We all like each other, so the chemistry we have going is great,” he said. “If we stay focused, I think we’ll do great.”