After not playing a game for more than a month, the Wharton Runnin' Tigers will have to shift their gears towards district play.
The Runnin' Tigers started non-district play hot as their 6-1 record will attest to. Their only loss was by three points to Stafford, who made it to the state tournament last season.
COVID-19 concerns by opponents caused games to get canceled as the weeks went on, and ultimately, the Wharton Independent School District went to online learning before the Christmas break. Between the two, the Runnin' Tigers have not seen another team since Dec. 11.
Despite the inaction, the Runnin' Tigers have been happy with what they've done when they have played.
"We have had a promising start to the regular season. We have six wins with our only loss coming to the (number) four team in the state (in) Stafford," Runnin' Tigers coach Calvin King said. "Since we have a lot of returning starters coming back from last year's (Class 4A) regional quarterfinals, we have been able to pick (quickly) and we're playing at a high level of basketball this season. We're playing fast, playing good defense, and turning teams over. We have the opportunity to be a dangerous team if we keep improving."
In district play, Wharton will play Sealy, El Campo and Brookshire Royal which the team faced last year. The team will also play new additions in Navasota and Bellville, who've been added after the last University Interscholastic League realignment.
Making the playoffs last year was Navasota, Bellville and Wharton.
Wharton beat Navasota by three points in the first round of the playoffs.
The Runnin' Tigers will have the district's best returning player in senior point guard Fred Jones, who was an all-region player last season. Jones was also the district defensive MVP. Senior forward James Jones is Wharton's only other returning all-district player, he made the first-team.
Navasota last year won its district with an 8-2 record. The team is returning one all-district player in junior Ja'mar Jessie. This season Navasota is 4-5 in non-district play.
"We have yet to play a game with our entire roster due to injuries and COVID-19 issues so it has been a challenge to build consistency and camaraderie with this inexperienced team," Navasota coach Chris Randolph said. "We've made some positive gains and hope to build on them heading into a difficult district schedule."
El Campo’s last season finished tied for last in district play. El Campo has one returning all-district player, in senior post Reagan Spenrath. El Campo in non-district play this year is 9-4.
"We have gotten better after each game and practice," El Campo coach Kevin Lewis said. "We have also built some chemistry that will hopefully spring us to some district wins."
Bellville last year finished third in district and it has no returning all-district players. The Brahmas are 4-8 in non-district play this year.
Brookshire Royal last year finished tied with Wharton, but lost the play-in game once district action was complete. The Falcons’ returning junior Trey McGill the district newcomer of the year. Royal is 7-5 in non-district play this year.
Sealy last year finished tied for last place in district and the Tigers have no returning all-district players. Sealy in non-district play is 6-3.
Wharton has a chance to have a higher finish than fourth this season if the team can shake off the rust and play the same type of basketball it opened the season with.