Despite being hit by heavy graduation losses from last season, Sherman soccer coach Chico Aleman is confident the Bearcats have enough pieces in place to improve on 2017’s bi-district finish.

Sherman returns four starters from last season’s 8-10-3 team, which went 5-4-3 to finish fourth in District 5-5A. The Bearcats saw the season end with a 3-2 bi-district loss to Aledo in a match that was 1-1 with less than nine minutes to go.

“My No. 1 concern right now is my defense,” Aleman said. “I lost most of my defenders in addition to my goal keeper. That’s where we need to build up. I’m working with several young men and we still haven’t figured out exactly what we’ll look like defensively, but I have some good candidates.

“I wouldn’t say our weakness is going to be the defense because we haven’t played anybody yet. We’re not too weak, we’re just not experienced.”

Among the graduation losses were district utility player of the year Eric Aguilera, first-team all-district selections Austin White and Tristen VanSant, and second-team picks Matt Schulze, Hugo Espinoza and Kevin Escobar.

“I’ve got three players that have played three years of varsity,” Aleman said. “After that, everybody basically is pretty new. I have two sophomores who are going to be starters defensively for sure.”

Aleman said the Bearcats will base out of a 4-4-2 formation, but there will be a few wrinkles.

“We’ve always played a 4-4-2 with a sweeper,” he said. “The new generation of players like the flat 4-4-2 with a flat (defensive) line. We’ll stick with our normal formation, which is four defenders, four midfielders and two forwards.

“At times it will vary a little bit depending who’s on the field. I let the players play wherever they feel most comfortable.”

Aleman said the strength of the team this season will be in the midfield, which returns three starters. Sebastian Cienfuegos, who was co-midfielder of the year on the 2017 all-district team, and Josh Park, an honorable-mention all-district pick, return at the center midfield spots. Reynel Rodriguez was a first-team all-district player as an outside midfielder.

“The most responsibility will fall on my midfielders,” Aleman said. “At times, I’ll have at times four seniors. Three of them started full-time and one of them was a part-time starter. Sebastian was nominated for all-region. Both (Cienfuegos and Park) are pretty skilled. They have good vision and they’ve been working pretty hard.

“Reynel split time in the back as a defender and as a midfielder. He’s an extremely hard worker, very talented player, and one of our most consistent leaders. He’s a quiet leader. He leads by example. My other returning midfielder, who will split time at midfield and forward, is Jarrett Williams, another senior. He’s probably our second- or third-fastest player.”

While there are no full-time starters returning at forward, Aleman said a group of juniors and seniors have seen enough playing time in the past to take over the roles.

“At the forward line, it’s basically all new,” he said. “Up at the top is a senior named David Salazar. He will be my go-to type of guy. He can play all three positions if he desires to.

“I have another guy I’m hoping comes through, Daniel Wakeland. He split time last year. He’s one of those guys if he wishes to play, he can be a pretty good player.”

On defense, Aleman is looking to senior Biak Thang to be the anchor.

“He’s played forward and midfielder, and this year he wanted to make a transition to play fullback. He will be either my sweeper or my stopper.

“There will be two sophomores on the outside, Michael Valencia and Christian Chinchilla.”

At goal keeper, senior Miguel Ramirez, who saw time last year behind starter Alonzo Ramirez, and sophomore Gerald Clark will compete for the starting spot.

“They’re going to be splitting time,” Aleman said. “I’m not set on either one of them. The senior played a little bit last year, (but) as far as naming a starter, it’s not a set thing.”