Xavier Lundy didn't like the way last season ended.
He isn't about to complain about the way this season started.
"We just want to get out there and play ball," Lundy said Tuesday afternoon, as Paulsboro's players and coaches returned to their old gymnasium for the first time in 12 days.
Paulsboro was back on its home court for the first time since the Nov. 30 train derailment on the Jefferson Street Bridge sent four tanker cars into the Mantua Creek, releasing vinyl chloride, a flammable gas used in making plastics, into the air.
Paulsboro schools were closed from the morning of the accident until Tuesday. During that time, Red Raiders coach Sean Collins and his assistants scrambled to gather the players for a pair of hastily scheduled practices at Nehaunsey Middle School in neighboring Gibbstown.
Paulsboro also participated in three scrimmages as a visiting team. But with five varsity players among the hundreds who were evacuated from their homes for more than a week - and a few other players late for the start of workouts because football season went a week longer than scheduled because of Hurricane Sandy - the Red Raiders are scrambling to make up for lost time.
"We're probably four or five practices behind other teams," Collins said. "Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. And we're not going to feel sorry for ourselves."
That was Collins' first message to his team when players gathered for their first practice in their home gym in nearly two weeks: No excuses.
Lundy, who was the Inquirer's South Jersey player of the year as a junior, and fellow senior Julien Davenport said the Red Raiders know better than to look for a reason to start slowly this season.
"We're from Paulsboro," said Lundy, a 6-foot-5 swingman who averaged 22 points, 11 rebounds, and four blocks last season. "We're tough kids. This won't bother us."
The 6-8 Davenport, who averaged 13 points and 10 rebounds last season, said the disruption of the last two weeks will not shake the Red Raiders' focus.
"We have too much we want to accomplish this season," Davenport said. "We're not going to let anything stop us."
Paulsboro won its first 30 games last season, beating top schools such as Paul VI, Lenape, and Rancocas Valley, and capturing the South Jersey Group 1 title.
But a 67-54 loss to Asbury Park in the state semifinals brought Paulsboro's season to a disappointing end.
"It was the toughest finish I ever had to a season," said Lundy, who fouled out with 4 minutes, 44 seconds remaining in the loss. "It makes us want to work that much harder."
With five of its top seven players back, Paulsboro starts this season as the No. 2 team in The Inquirer's Top 10. Lundy and Davenport lead a long, athletic group that includes three talented swingmen in senior Derrick Burgess and sophomores Saleem Little and Theo Holloway.
The Red Raiders have a challenging schedule again, especially for a Group 1 program, with games against No. 1 Atlantic City, No. 3 Eastern, No. 7 Camden, and North Jersey power Hudson Catholic.
Paulsboro also will face some serious competition in South Jersey Group 1, which features strong teams such as Pitman, Schalick, Penns Grove, Woodbury, and Wildwood.
Lundy believes his team can take the next step this season and capture the program's first state title since the Red Raiders won their only crown in 1996.
"Nothing is going to distract us," Lundy said. "We've had to deal with this disruption. It's been a little different. But once the season starts, it will be the same for us. We're going to play ball the way we know we can and bring a title back to Paulsboro."