After making the playoffs a year ago in their first season under head coach Marcus Klingsick, the Sherman Bearcats look to take the next step.
Sherman posted an 8-4 record and fourth-place finish in District 5-5A in 2016-17. With 13 players back from that run, improving on the record and place — and earning a more favorable playoff match-up in the process — are among the goals when the Bearcats open 5-5A play against Denton Braswell at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Bearcat Gymnasium.
“(The players) know, ‘hey, let’s do this a little more,’” Klingsick said. “We’ve ramped up what we’re doing. They’ve taken ownership of it and I’ve gotten great leadership from the seniors and the juniors that we have. They know it takes another level to get where we want to be.
“We’ve been through it before, so we know kind of what it takes, but we want to take it to the next level.”
The Bearcats (10-5) enter Tuesday with a modest three-game winning streak in what has been an up-and-down season so far. A five-game winning streak was followed by four losses in the next five games.
“I think we’re starting to decide who we are,” Klingsick said. “We’ve had the football players for a few games now and we’re kind of deciding what everybody’s role is. I think that’s been good. We’ve kind of figured some things out.
“We had some low spots early in the year and I think we’ve taken care of some of those deficiencies. We’re kind of rounding into form when we need to be. It’s a good feeling.”
In addition to returning all-district guards Jaylyn Cleamons and Jeremy Norvell, the football program has contributed posts Blaise Bentsen and Nathaniel Omayebu and guard Gage Smith. Cleamons, Norvell and Bentsen have worked themselves into the starting lineup alongside guards Kemonte Dowdy and Rayvon Hester.
Hester said it took some time adjust to the new pieces, but the Bearcats have started making progress.
“We’re going into district a lot better, defensive-wise,” he said. “In the tournaments, we weren’t playing so much great defense, but now we’re starting to talk as a team, contribute as a team, pass the ball around. We’re getting everybody involved and rebounding. We’re still working on it, but we’re getting there. On defense, we really have stepped up.”
One feature Sherman has enjoyed is versatility in its offense. At different points, Hester, who scored 28 points in the season opener, Norvell, who had 23 in his first game back from football, Dowdy and Cleamons have shown the ability to take over a game.
“I’d like to have five guys with 15 points, but every once in a while we’re going to get one with 20 or 25,” Klingsick said. “I don’t think they care as long as we’re winning and people are doing the right things. We’re kind of being a selfless team where we just care about winning. Anybody can do it on any night. I’m very proud of them.”
Dowdy said not having to rely on one or two players to consistently provide the scoring makes things easier on all involved.
“If I’m not having a good game, somebody else can have a good game,” he said. “It’s always good to have the people I have on my team.”
Following Tuesday’s game, Sherman takes its mandatory five-day break before hosting Amarillo Palo Duro on Dec. 27, then heads to Allen’s Holiday Invitational Dec. 28-30. The Bearcats resume district play at home on Jan. 2 against Denton Ryan.
“Denton Braswell’s an outstanding team,” Klingsick said. “We have to take care of business if we want to go 1-0 in the district and kind of feel good about ourselves. Denton Ryan was a team we didn’t beat either game last year, so we’ve kind of got that marked on our schedule and we’re hoping we can get that one.
“The tournament’s going to propel us into that. They’re good teams that we’re going to play in that tournament.”