The 2017 season proved to be a year of new opportunities for the Sherman Lady Bearcats.

Under first-year head coach Brenda Samuels, the Lady Cats clawed their way back to the postseason for the first time since 2012.

“I came into a situation where the previous coach (April Atterberry) had really stabilized a good program and a great group of girls and was able to build off of that,” she said. “The talent was there, the girls were already comfortable and I just fed off that and pushed them to excel more.”

The Lady Cats were able to do just that, going 19-14 overall and 8-4 for a third-place finish in District 5-5A. Entering the season-opener tonight at home against McKinney North at 5:30 p.m. at Old Settlers Park, Sherman will have a mix of experience and new faces to work with as they enter the season.

One mainstay returning will be senior utility Jill Dixon, who was the District 5-5A Utility Player of the Year as a junior. Dixon was the team’s best hitter last year and knows that as one of three seniors on the team, she’ll have to take more of a leadership role.

“As a senior, this is my last go-round at Sherman High so I have to make the best of it and have fun,” she said, “It’s a lot of pride to put on my shoulders. Coach (J.D.) Martinez told us to leave a legacy and that’s what I plan on doing this year.”

“Her character makes her stand out,” Samuels said. “She’s a good kid on and off the field and the team feeds off of that because they want to be like her. “

Defensively, she’ll switch between shortstop and second base with junior middle infielder Kaitlyn Bang. Bang, who is new to playing shortstop, is ready for the challenge and also looking to build off of last year’s successes.

“Last year was a step forward for us as a program,” she said. “I expect us to come with the same energy and determination to go farther this year.”

In the circle, the Lady Cats will have three arms to lean on. Jessica Bridges was the team’s main starter a year ago and will stay in that role again along with Dixon and sophomore Kenna Ferguson.

“They’re strong and they work hard,” Samuels said. “They want to be perfect and don’t like or want to fail. They’re good from learning from their failure and it doesn’t happen often.”

The pitchers also provide a different look that the Lady Cats hopes to utilize to their advantage.

“Kenna is different type of pitcher than Jill and Jessica,” Samuels said. “While they have an exceptional amount of speed. When you put Kenna in, she moves the ball well and it’s a different type of pitch. It throws you off as a batter.”

The biggest change that the Lady Bearcats will have is in the outfield. Samuels replaces all three starters but will have sophomore Kaitlin Caver in center field after emerging as a talent in the infield during her freshman year.

She also expects Ashley Boatright to hold down right field while also utilizing Jessica Shrum and Colorado Northwestern Community College signee Ariel Garcia.

“Our outfield is brand new,” she said. “But I’m very confident in our skill and we can do well.”

The biggest strength for the Lady Cats this season may be their versatility. Samuels says that Sherman has several girls who can play multiple positions, including Jill Whitmire making the move to catcher as well as newcomer Graciela Ornelas.

“We have a deep bench. We have a lot of girls that can play a lot of position. We’re just trying to find the best group that works and meshes well together.”

The Lady Cats hope to find that right combination that could help them propel them even further this season, including the goal of a district title. Considering archrival Denison came out on top in District 5-5A last year, Sherman has even more motivation to come out on top this season.

“It pushes us more towards working to be in that number one spot,” Bridges said. “We want to be ahead of them and we know we have to beat them.”

Samuels knows how big that potential district title could be, but is also keeping her eyes on the bigger picture.

“In our situation, it’s not really a question of if we’re going to go in, but how far we can go,” Samuels said. “We would love to bring that district title back to Sherman but we just want to keep pushing and see how far we can go with the knowledge that we have and with the trust of the coaches. That’s going to be huge.”