Finishing in third place in the district and ending a six-year playoff drought is a definite sign of progress for Sherman’s girls soccer team.

Finishing in third place in the district and ending a six-year playoff drought is a definite sign of progress for Sherman’s girls soccer team.

Second-year head coach John Williams is already seeing the Lady Cats put to use some of the hard work they put in during the offseason to get even better.

"We were pleased because of the youth of our team," Williams said. "We knew we’d get started in the right direction."

The 2014 regular season begins for the Lady Cats tonight in the Buffalo Wild Wings Varsity Cup against Bonham at 7 p.m. at Bearcat Stadium.

The Lady Cats lost only four seniors to graduation from last year’s 4-11-4 squad, and the returnees all gained plenty of experience — as well as a little toughness.

"We had 10 freshmen on varsity last year, and all of them are back," Williams said. "Everyone’s bought into the weightroom. We want to be physical, and as the girls have grown physically, I’ve seen it. They realize what they can do within their own bodies, and that’s encouraging to me. We’re not going to be shy."

The Lady Cats had their final tune-up of the preseason Tuesday night with a 2-0 scrimmage win over visiting Princeton. Senior Kelsey Jarvis scored on a header in the 24th minute off a throw-in by freshman Lourden Bell. Sandra Carrasco-Bueño added a goal from 14 yards that was off a direct by Jarvis that skipped off a Princeton defender in the 65th minute.

Last spring, the Lady Cats tallied points in all four of their games against Denison and Anna to finish ahead of both in the District 17-4A standings.

At midfield, the Lady Cats present a balanced scoring threat. Senior captain Madison Craig returns after netting six goals to tie for the team scoring lead. Sophomores Kate Oelfke and Paige Aleman also are back after scoring six and five goal respectively in 2013. The Lady Cats also got four goals from Bailey Wiggins last year, and Kelly Sibrian started 17 games last year as a freshman.

The team will also be stronger on defense. Jarvis, a two-sport athlete, returns at sweeper, where she was an all-district selection last year. Marisol Arroyo also is back on defense, and Williams is excited about the addition of two freshmen — Bell, who has lots of select soccer experience, and Meg Oelfke.

Sophomore Kaelee Fretwell, who made 17 of 21 saves in the Lady Cats’ playoff game against Frisco Liberty last year and posted a shutout in the Princeton scrimmage on Tuesday, will hold down the goalkeeper position, with Muriel Thornton backing her up.

Following tonight’s tournament opener, the Lady Cats will take on Princeton at 7 p.m. on Friday and Dallas Jefferson at 11 a.m. on Saturday in pool play. Pool winners will play for the championship at 3 p.m. at Bearcat Stadium, with pool runners-up playing at the same time at Center Street Athletic Complex.

The Lady Cats have five non-district home games slated against Texarkana Texas High, Gainesville, Bonham, Denton Ryan and Burkburnett before the District 17-4A opener on Feb. 7 at home against Denison.

Williams, who inherited a road-heavy schedule a year ago, is pleased to be playing more matches on the lush home grass of Bearcat Stadium.

"Last year we had four home games, all in district," he said. "We were road warriors, taking a beating and learning what we can do. We know we’re better and we’re going to be better."

The team will also play in tournaments at Fort Worth Brewer from Jan. 16-18 and at Gainesville from Jan. 23-25. At Brewer, Sherman will get a chance to face defending 4A girls state champion Denton Guyer.

"When you play lesser opponents it gives you confidence," Williams said, "but it’s the McKinneys and Friscos and Prospers we’re trying to catch."