For some soccer teams, graduating seven seniors, including the leading scorer/team captain/district utility player of the year in addition to another first-team all-district selection, would be a lot to overcome.

For the Sherman Lady Bearcats, the picture heading into the 2018 season is actually pretty bright. Not only does Sherman return nine starters from last year's team, but it also gains two starters from 2016 who missed last year.

Among the graduation losses from 2017, which saw Sherman go 7-11-0 overall and 4-8-0 to finish fifth in District 5-5A, were leading scorer Lourden Bell and four-year starter Veronica Sosa, a first-team all-district midfielder. But with so much experience back, coach Anthony Shearer said, the Lady Cats have enough pieces in place to challenge for a playoff berth.

“We are bringing most of our team back from last year, which is good,” Shearer said. “We have a lot of experience that we're bringing back into this year and hoping to build and move forward with that group, take the next step.”

Among the returning players are Brittny Thomas, a first-team all-district pick as a midfielder last year. Forward Taylor Wuestenfeld and defender Kayla McDonald were both second-team honorees.

Also back are midfielders Lauren Goolsby and Jessie Gramajo, who both started as sophomores in 2016. Goolsby also started as a freshman in 2015.

“Lauren Goolsby had an ACL tear all last year,” Shearer said. “That was her second ACL tear, but she's back and she's strong. We're certainly excited to have her back because she's one of the better players we've had over the last several years.

“(Gramajo) will be a senior and she'll be returning to her spot out on the wing.”

Shearer said he envisions going with a one-attacker formation with Wuestenfeld playing at the top of the formation.

“She has played defense for us, been all over the place,” Shearer said. “But we think she can really work well as a lone forward up top and create a threat all on her own.”

Shearer said the experience on hand in the midfield will be a key factor in getting the ball forward to Wuestenfeld.

“We're going to kind of play through (Thomas) and Goolsby in that center mid role to bring us more possession through the two of them,” he said. “We'll have Gramajo out on the wing and Alexis Mejia, who was a starter as well on the outside.”

The defense returns intact in front of goal keeper Andrea Orellana, another returning starter.

“Our back line should be very experienced,” Shearer said. “We're anchored in the middle by Mary Kate Adami, who's a returning starter, and D'Ira Woods, also a returning starter from last year. We're also experienced on the outside. Kayla McDonald and Josselyne Sibrian are likely to complete that defense.”

“Orellana was in her first year starting as a sophomore last year. She's going to be there for us again.”

Shearer said having so much returning experience on hand puts Sherman significantly ahead of where it's typically been at the start of a season.

“We already know what we need to work on,” he said. “We know where our strengths and our weaknesses are, so we can get right down to business.

“We have an idea of what we'll look like the first time we set out rather than try to figure out who we are halfway through the year. That kind of experience puts us miles ahead of where we've been for the last several years as we've broken in new faces.”

Last year, Sherman swept its matches against Denison and Denton Braswell, but lost all eight meetings against 5-5A's playoff representatives in finishing nine points out of a playoff spot. Shearer said the Lady Cats must be able to close that gap this year.

“The approach that we have against those better teams in district needs to change,” he said. “I think these girls now have a lot of confidence moving forward. If we can make that kind of transition and just have the confidence to play that way is going to be the biggest thing, but it is a hurdle.”