The strength for the Sherman Bearcats this season has rested in their play at their own end of the field.
It came despite their starting keeper getting injured before the year began, continued through non-district play and led to the team returning to the postseason following a one-year hiatus.
“One of the first things we talked about was working a lot harder to make it,” senior co-captain Joel Nandin said. “We saw how close the games were; the hard work was paying off.”
And while some timely goals have helped propel the Bearcats into the playoffs, the defense will face its biggest challenge as Sherman (7-10-7) goes up against two-time defending state champion Frisco Wakeland (15-2-5) in a Class 5A Region II bi-district match at 7 p.m. at McKinney Boyd on Friday night.
“For 80 minutes, you have to stay prepared because anything can happen. We’ve got to last that long,” Sherman head coach Chico Aleman said. “If you want to measure yourself, why not against the best? Visualize what you want to do and make it come true.”
The winner will face either Dallas Samuell or Dallas Jefferson in the area round next week.
Sherman advanced after earning fourth place in District 10-5A behind Wylie East, McKinney North and Lovejoy. The Bearcats were 3-5-2 in the standings and allowed more than one goal just once to go with three shutouts.
“We communicate in the back and we have backups who can help us a lot if there’s an injury or someone comes out,” senior co-captain Eric Quiroz said. “It’s been that way since the preseason and we were able to get where we wanted to be.”
There were 10 shutouts overall by the defense during the season and Jacob Prado, a sophomore, was in net after taking over for Gerald Clark, who has missed the season with an injury.
“Prado did a super job stepping in for Clark without any varsity experience,” Aleman said. “And Gerald’s been a big plus, been an influence on him and Jacob has responded well. He’s basically been our goalkeeper coach.”
The Bearcats helping to put up those clean sheets were Quiroz, Edgar Ramirez, Jonathan Manzanales, Christian Chinchilla, Samuel Sanchez and Jonathan Alvarez.
“Defensively they have improved every game,” Aleman said. “They have a real good chemistry. They work together and complimented each other very well. If you are flexible to play more than one position, you’re going to be available for more playing time.”
But Sherman can’t rely solely on its defense to pull the upset. Nandin and Jaime Robles, the team’s leading scorers, will have to provide some production against this formidable foe.
The teams do have a common opponent in Frisco Heritage. Sherman played the Coyotes to a scoreless tie while Wakeland and Heritage, which finished third in the 9-5A standings, tied twice, 1-1 and 2-2, in district action.
Frisco Wakeland won its second straight 5A title last spring after a fourth-place district finish. The Wolverines went 19-4-6 to win their third championship overall.
Wakeland was also the state runner-up in 2016 and has made it to the state tournament five times. An appearance there this season would be the fifth in six years.
The Wolverines captured the District 9-5A crown with a 13-1-4 record. Their only losses on the season were a 3-0 setback against Mount Pleasant in non-district action and a 1-0 defeat to Frisco Lone Star.
In 15 of its 22 matches Wakeland scored at least three goals and 19 times it held opponents to one goal or fewer, including 10 shutouts.
Junior forward Marc Borbonus and junior midfielder Todd Fuller lead the Wolverines’ offensive attack.
“We know something big is coming our way,” Nandin said. “We have to go out and do our best, play or game and see what the outcome is.”