The soccer rivalry between Denison and Sherman gains added importance with only five teams in District 17-4A and the top two teams already penciled in.

The soccer rivalry between Denison and Sherman gains added importance with only five teams in District 17-4A and the top two teams already penciled in.

Four teams will qualify for the Class 4A playoffs, but one will be left on the outside looking in. That was the situation Denison’s girls found themselves in a year ago, when shootout victories over Sherman and Anna weren’t enough and the Lady Jackets finished in fifth place by one point.

"There are two groups of teams in this district," Denison coach Joe Horn said. "McKinney North and Prosper are full of select players, even on their JVs. Then there are the other three — us, Sherman and Anna. We’re close together, and anything can happen. It’s a rivalry game, and both teams will come to play."

A clear victory and the resulting three points in the standings are the keys to staying out of the 17-4A cellar for each team on Saturday at 4 p.m. as Sherman hosts the Lady Jackets at Bearcat Stadium for the first district match of the year for both teams.

The game has been rescheduled from Friday night because of inclement weather. Saturday is forecast to be mostly sunny with temperatures near 50.

Last year, the Lady Cats got wins in regulation time against both Denison and Anna, then beat Anna in a shootout for two points. That was good enough to lift Sherman into third place, ending a six-year playoff drought.

Sherman coach John Williams said last year’s shootout loss to Denison in the district lid-lifter was a wake-up call for his team.

"I think our girls realize that three points are a must," Williams said. "I don’t know if we took (Denison) lightly or if we didn’t understand how important it was. But the second time we played it was another dogfight, and we pulled it out. The girls understand it better now."

Sherman (4-9-1) has battled an injury bug in its pre-district schedule that saw as many as six players sidelined, including all three senior captains — Sami Powers, Kelsey Jarvis and Madison Craig — at one time.

But Jarvis, an all-district sweeper, is back after missing 12 games with a hip pointer. Sophomore Paige Aleman is the only starter still out, but she is expected to return soon.

"I feel like we’re getting healthy, and we’re getting to the meat of our schedule," Williams said. "We have 17 girls on varsity, and our JV is having a good run. The JV girls have filled in and done a good job."

Sophomore Kate Oelfke is Sherman’s leading points scorer, with four goals and three assists on the year. Oelfke and freshman Lourden Bell are the two Lady Cats with the most select soccer experience.

Meanwhile, Denison (4-6-2) has shown dramatic improvement over last season, when the Lady Jackets won only two matches all season, none in district in regulation.

Senior forward Zoie Voight has nine goals to lead the Lady Jackets this year. Harley Goodin and Stephanie Macedo each have three goals, and Maria Jaimes and Angel O’Brien have four assists apiece.

"I’ve been here for more than a year now, and the girls are stating to buy into my system," Horn said. "They’re doing the things I’ve been coaching, gaining confidence, and doing a good job."

Whichever team loses on Saturday will get a second chance on Feb. 25 in Denison, when the Lady Cats and Lady Jackets open the second leg of the district round-robin against each other.

Williams said the Lady Cats will rely heavily on defense with Jarvis at sweeper and Bell as a stopper. Junior Bailey Wiggins is a strong defender, and sophomore Kaelee Fretwell has a 1.1 goals-against average between the pipes.

"We just need to hold them down and not let them get any easy goals," Williams said. "If we shut them out, we win the game. We don’t have to worry about having to score four or five goals to win."

On Denison’s side, Horn wants his team to keep doing what it’s doing that’s made them more successful this year.

"We need to maintain possessions and let the ball do the work," Horn said. "We don’t want to fall back on bad habits. In soccer, you can play the better game and still lose, so as always we’ll need some lucky bounces."