Calvary Christian has assembled one of the best boys basketball teams in the bay area in the past two seasons, winning consecutive district titles that ended a three-year playoff drought.
That postseason streak appeared to be in jeopardy when the Florida High School Athletic Association reclassified districts this spring. The Warriors were placed in Class 4A, District 4, which includes region semifinalist Seffner Christian and region finalist Tampa Prep.
"Our district now might be the toughest in the state in any division," Calvary Christian coach Keb Burley said. "It's not just Seffner Christian and Tampa Prep. There's also Admiral Farragut and Cambridge. It is going to be tough. If we get out of that, it will be an accomplishment."
The district has elite upperclassmen and promising newcomers as well as proven coaches and programs. The Warriors are banking on one thing to keep them in contention: experience.
All five starters for Calvary Christian are seniors, some of whom have played together on travel teams since elementary school.
"These guys have come up though the gym and through the church," Burley said. "They've known each other forever and that can only help us. It's a pretty neat thing."
The senior starters are Caleb Dials, Danny Neugebauer, Juice Thompson, Eddie Williams and Paxton Wilson.
They helped the Warriors to an impressive showing at a preseason tournament two weeks ago with wins against Sickles and Gibbs, two teams that made the playoffs in higher classifications last season.
That momentum continued with the start of the regular season last week. Calvary Christian beat Wesley Chapel and Bloomingdale before losing to Plant City in overtime.
Wilson is the leader. The 6-foot-4 long-range specialist averaged 16.3 points per game last season, including 61 3-pointers. In the preseason opener, Wilson scored a team-high 28 points, the last two coming on a buzzer-beating jumper to beat the Gryphons.
"This is our last season together so we're going to try to give it our all," Wilson said. "We know where we were at last season and where we had to get to. We put in a lot of work and now that we're starting to get into games it's paying off for us."
On Sept. 1, Wilson committed to Rider University, a Division I-A school in New Jersey. Burley believes his top scorer could play for top-level program.
"I think Paxton is the biggest underdog in the state of Florida," Burley said. "Rider is getting the biggest steal you can ever imagine. He is just so good and I don't know why my phone has not been ringing off the hook with people getting after him."
Wilson said he wanted to make his decision early so he can concentrate on this season.
"It takes some weight off my shoulders picking a school, but I'm definitely not going to let up," Wilson said. "Now I can focus on this season. I don't have to worry about any individual performance or stats. I can just worry more about the team and us winning. I've been playing with these guys for so long I can just focus on finishing my high school career with them."
About the only thing Wilson and his fellow seniors will not be able to do is play in the school's new gymnasium, which will be completed next fall.
"The gym has been on the horizon for years," Burley said. "I know these guys were hoping to play their last year in it."
But the seniors can take solace in building the foundation for a successful program.