Defending District 5-4A champion St. Thomas More is typically atop the conversation when it comes to identifying favorites for this year’s league crown.

The Cougars (11-4) have already posted a 90-85 league win over Westgate to gain a leg up on their competitors.

However, when it comes to handicapping this year’s race, the league appears to have a deeper than usual pool of teams that figure to challenge St. Thomas More, and that starts with Tuesday’s St. Martin Parish rivalry between St. Martinville (11-6) visiting Cecilia (11-5) at 7 p.m.

Northside (11-6) travels to Westgate (3-8) and Teurlings (13-6) visits Breaux Bridge (5-8) in other league action.

“People talk about his tough this district is,” Cecilia coach Marty Lewis said. “Teurlings and St. Martinville have everyone back, including some of their bench players. No one’s talking about St. Martinville.”

St. Martinville features 6-foot-9 center Javante Walker and returns a couple of key players in all-district selection Bradley Savoy and 3-point shooter Andre Doucet.

“They’re very aggressive, it’s going to be a battle,” Lewis said. “We’re going to have to contest their shots and keep their 3-point shooters under control. We have to control the tempo of the game.”

Following a losing season and void of postseason play a year ago, Cecilia has responded behind a core of senior players that figure to keep the Bulldogs in contention throughout the 12-game district season.

“We had a tough schedule and played in some tough tournaments last year,” Lewis said. “We played good and weren’t getting blown out. We played good teams tough. We beat Westgate and St. Martinville and played others tough. Our district’s brutal but we learned and matured. It just made them tougher.”

Cecilia answered a season-opening 61-59 loss to Beau Chene, a game in which it made only 10 of 25 free throws, with five consecutive victories that provided a glimpse of better things to come.

Lewis said in a 69-51 loss to Alexandria, his team trailed by four points in the fourth quarter and eventually lost leading scorer Jeremy Wiltz to fouls.

Other examples of how Cecilia closed the gap this season came in a 66-59 loss to Teurlings, 62-59 overtime loss at Barbe and recent 70-56 setback to Lafayette High, a game the Bulldogs trailed by five in the final quarter.

Wiltz and fellow senior James Augillard are both three-year starters with Wiltz handling the bulk of the team’s scoring with a 29-point average. Augillard is Cecilia’s point guard and averages 15 points per outing.

“Jeremy scores the points, and James runs the offense,” Lewis said. “They’re the two core leaders of the team.”

Junior Kenya Dartez and 6-3, 250-pound center Trenton Dartez both supply 6-8 points with freshman Kaleb Carter contributing 10 points a game in his last five outings.

Senior Ryan Mallet provides depth off the bench along with Damien Bernard.

Cecilia established confidence with early-season wins over Patterson (61-54), Comeaux (60-52) and St. Louis (69-64) and is currently riding a three-game win streak with a 2-1 finish in the St. Martinville Holiday Shootout, coupled with a 78-65 road win over Northwest.

“This year, we’re winning those close games and beating good teams,” Lewis said. “The guys are mentally tough and have been through it all. We’ve had some kids that have paid their dues and they’ve matured. It’s time for them to get rewarded for their hard work.”