The Waxahachie Runnin’ Indians earned plenty of statewide respect in one playoff game last February. That respect carried over through the offseason.

It’s been nine months since the Indians took the No. 1 team in the state down to the wire, but with nine returning lettermen plus a couple of transfers, the Indians find themselves ranked No. 19 in Class 6A in the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches preseason poll.

Despite their 17-15 record and fourth-place district finish last year in their inaugural Class 6A season, the Indians put a scare into powerhouse Duncanville in the bi-district round of the 6A Region I playoffs before finally falling, 64-61.

“That, and the kids throughout the spring and summer and fall who played in different events, and the type of kids that we have coming back and a couple of transfers, that’s kind of the reasons why the rankings are so high,” Indians head coach Greg Gober said.

The Indians are the only District 7-6A team ranked in the poll.

The Runnin' Indians will make their season debut on Saturday at 2 p.m. against Justin Northwest at North Crowley High School in the Cowtown Tip-Off.

Last year was an unaccustomed struggle for the Indians, who spent much of the 2017-18 season as the No. 1 team in Class 5A. Graduation plus the classification bump made the road rocky, but the team emerged better for it.

“We lost a lot of those kids we had in the past and had a lot of new guys last year,” Gober said. “It took a long time to get it figured out.”

C.J. Noland, a two-year letterman, returns for his junior season. Noland, a 6-foot-3 guard, is the leading returning scorer, averaging 15.9 points per game as a sophomore. He is ranked highly by recruiting services in his class.

Senior B.J. Francis returns at point guard after being named Newcomer of the Year in the district a year ago. Francis averaged 10.1 points per outing last year.

“One thing that we can do generally is shoot the ball pretty well, and we’ll try to get some good pressure on you,” Gober said.

The Indians added a transfer from 7-6A colleague Mansfield Lake Ridge, Jalen Lake, a 6-foot-4 junior guard who was all-district at Lake Ridge a year ago.

After Saturday’s regular-season opener, the Indians will play their first home game next Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. against Waco High. They’ll then host iSchool on Nov. 22. ISchool is an independent team based in Lewisville that Gober said has five Division I players and travels nationally.

Following that is a string of tournaments: the Dallas Mavs Fall Classic in Frisco right before Thanksgiving, the Mansfield Spring Creek tournament Dec. 5-7, and the Cy Fair tournament in Cypress, near Houston, Dec. 12-14.

In addition, WHS will play a game against West Memphis, Ark. in the Thanksgiving Hoop Fest in Duncanville on Nov. 30, and will host Lewisville the afternoon of Dec. 20. The Christmas holiday break will be punctuated by a game at Arlington Bowie the afternoon of Dec. 28.

“Our schedule is very competitive,” Gober said. “Truthfully, if you don’t go off of rankings, these are teams that have really good players, or have the opportunity to beat you, or will be favored, one or the other.”

The 7-6A schedule begins on Jan. 3 with the Indians hosting DeSoto.