By Kevin Posival
Killeen Daily Herald
They're young and haven't played a varsity district game to date, but the ninth-ranked Runnin' Roos are prepared for the level of competition they'll face when they host Marble Falls in the District 25-4A opener tonight at 7 p.m.
With just one returning starter and a total of three returning letterman, one of which – Sederick Jennings – will sit for at least the first three district games, the Roos (17-7) have played in and lost big games against big-time opponents to get ready for what begins tonight.
Already this season, the Roos have played five ranked teams and won two, including a 52-51 win over then-10th-ranked Austin LBJ – the team that eliminated Lake Travis from the playoffs last year in the regional finals.
"I think the schedule we've played this year is much tougher ... I think it's good for a young team," said Killeen coach Jason Fossett. "I think it's going to help us this year, hopefully, in district and it's definitely going to help us again next year with all the guys we have coming back."
Of the handful of seniors on this year's team, only four-year letterman Ja'Corie Baker has played a varsity district basketball game. Behind the seniors are five juniors and a sophomore, including 6-foot-6 forward Ta'Shawn Thomas, who has the lofty job of filling Cory Jefferson's shoes.
Despite their preseason emergence, the Runnin' Roos have been playing only for pride and experience the last 24 games. They'll face a stiff challenge repeating as district champions for the fifth-straight year. The Roos tied for their fourth-straight title last season with Pflugerville Hendrickson and Lake Travis.
"I think top-to-bottom, I think the district may be even a little stronger this year than it was last year," Fossett said. "I think Hutto is just as good if not better than last year ... Marble Falls has more people back than anybody else in the district and then (Pflugerville) Hendrickson, they'll be 10-10 or something when they start district ... and they get hot in district and then Lake Travis is sixth in state. It'll be a tough district race."
Last season: 8-2; tied with Killeen and Pflugerville Hendrickson for first-place
Outlook: The preseason district favorite comes in as the highest-ranked team for the second straight year and has suffered just three losses this season, but graduated last year's offensive MVP, Jordan Jahr.
The sixth-ranked Cavaliers, ranked as high as No. 3 this season, do return first teamers David Eads, who leads the team with more than nine assists a game, and Zach Karczewski, who leads the team in scoring (14.8 ppg) and rebounds (7.1 rpg). Their three losses this season were to then Class 5A 10th-ranked San Antonio Clark, which is no longer ranked, Class 5A No. 11 Converse Judson and unranked Mansfield.
Last season: 8-2; tied with Killeen and Lake Travis for first-place
Outlook: The Hawks had a losing record going into district last season and had more losses than Killeen and Lake Travis combined, but still upset both once the district season to claim a third of the district title before losing in the first round of the playoffs.
They're sitting a game above .500 this season and return all-district first-team Jalen Washington, who leads the team in scoring (17 ppg), rebounds (8.6 rpg), assists (3 apg), steals (3.4 spg) and blocks (.7 bpg). With Washington and a traditional strong finish in district, the Hawks will be circled on both Killeen's and Lake Travis' schedule.
Last season: 4-6; fourth-place
Outlook: The Hippos did exactly what they needed to make the playoffs their first year in Class 4A; they swept the two teams below them – Marble Falls and Lampasas. Beating those two teams this year will be more difficult this season without Thomas Orr, Hutto's one first-team all-district selection, Travis Fielder, the lone second-teamer and honorable mention general Ryan Naivar.
What the young Hippos do have is a pair of returning honorable mention juniors – Denzel Bellinger and D.J. Wilson – and a need to get out and run to compensate for a lack of size.
Last season: 1-9; tied with Lampasas for fifth-place
Outlook: Youth from last year has
earned the Mustangs a place among the playoff favorites this year. That and returning last year's unanimous newcomer of the year (Connor Docherty), a co-defensive player of the year (David Morgan) and the team's lone first-team selection, Bron Etheridge.
The Mustangs have won their last two games – 20 over Austin St. Andrews and 23 over Waco Connally – with Etheridge averaging almost 25 points a game. Morgan averaged 21. The Mustangs have the respect of the district, but that, alone, won't get them into the playoffs.
Last season: 1-9; tied with Lampasas for fifth-place
Outlook: The Badgers struggled early looking for a replacement for last year's District 25-4A's MVP Heath Hopson. After losing their first six, they've won six of their last 10 and will be largely overlooked after their 1-one season in 25-4A last year.
Without Hopson's all-around output, Lampasas has relied on a bevy of players, led by 5-foot-11 senior Eduardo Davila who averages 13 points, five rebounds and two assists per game. But the Badgers will need the rest of their supporting cast to step up and play when the rest of the district starts to key on Davila like teams did against Hopson.
Contact Kevin Posival at email@example.com or (254) 501-7562.