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Caleb Turrentine / The Tribune Elmore County coach Rodney Taylor speaks with Keshawn Benson during Saturday’s championship game.

Elmore County High got its basketball season started before many other teams in the state but things quickly came to a halt after just three games.

As with many programs this year, the Panthers were dealing with effects of COVID-19 within the team but the return to the court did not happen as quickly as it has for others.

After splitting results in a road game against Thorsby on Nov. 19, Elmore County was forced to cancel or postpone all of its games for the next three weeks.

“This whole season is just tough to deal with,” ECHS coach Rodney Taylor said. “You just don’t know. To this point, this has been my hardest season and I think that’s across the state.”

Taylor, who coaches both girls and boys varsity teams, said he had to have his assistants take over for some of the practices as he continued to isolate when the players returned to practice. When the Panthers finally returned to competition on Dec. 14, their coach made his return as well.

Elmore County got thrown right back into the fire for its first game back, facing Jemison on the road in the teams’ first area games of the season. The Panthers got swept with two double-digit defeats.

“I think (the long break) had some effect on it,” Taylor said. “And it was a road game so it was a little bit mentally. We just didn’t play well so it was kind of a combination of things that led to that.”

While the start of the season did not go exactly as planned, the Panthers are taking some momentum into the new year after sweeping Thorsby in the final games of 2020 a week before Christmas. The program returned to the court for a full slate of practice this week before taking the holiday weekend off and getting set for competition next week.

With nearly two months between now and their season opener, Elmore County has played just five games and after going through the trials of the first half of the season, the teams will be happy to get in any games they can. Both teams sit with a 3-2 overall record and will get back to competition Tuesday night at home against rival Holtville.

“It’s so important to get these games in because we just don’t know,” Taylor said. “Tuesday night could be the last time we play this year. We want them to get on the floor as much as they can. Let’s get the games in while we can.”

After the meeting with Holtville, the Panthers will have a quick turnaround as the county tournament begins Wednesday night at Stanhope Elmore. Taylor said there are pros and cons to coming right back into such important games but he knows it will be a good challenge to prepare for the back half of the schedule.

“To me, we have worked real hard the last few days but you can only practice so much,” Taylor said. “The kids are ready to play. We’re going to get out there and see but the main thing is just competing. So, it being Holtville and being at home, I think that motivates them. Then, you have the county tournament. So yeah, it’s time to play.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.