Bearcats open with plenty of fresh faces

Jason Della Rosa
Herald Democrat
Sherman's Noel Martinez is one of just three starters returning for the Bearcats as they kick off the 2021 season this weekend.

The Sherman Bearcats had a strong core which provided the basis for consecutive playoff berths. If the program is going to produce its best streak in a decade, the work will be done by almost an entirely different group.

It makes for a different type of challenge — the kind that head coach Chico Aleman prefers to be dealing with — as Sherman starts its season by hosting Denton at 7:15 p.m. on Saturday at Bearcat Stadium.

"This year is a new team. It's going to be different," Aleman said. "We're not settled on starters yet. We're still experimenting. I have a lot of good kids. They've been working hard. We're putting it together."

There will be eight new starters following the loss of a senior class which made up 82 percent of the roster. But the newcomers know what’s at stake based on the foundation they inherited.

The Bearcats ended last season at 10-4-5 overall and 5-2-1 in 10-5A play with two matches remaining when the coronavirus pandemic shut down and eventually cancelled the rest of the season.

Sherman had clinched a second straight playoff berth. improving on a 7-11-7 mark in 2019, and was still in the running for the top spot in the standings when the year was halted. The four playoff teams decided to share the district title due to their close proximity in the standings.

The Bearcats were in third, two points behind McKinney North and four points back of Lovejoy.

"We were getting into a groove. They were ready and I think we could have surprised some people in the playoffs," Aleman said.

It was the first time since 2013-14 the program had earned back-to-back berths and Sherman was going for its first playoff win since 2007.

The ending was especially tough because all but four of the 22 Bearcats were seniors — Gerald Clark, Jacob Gibson, Dylan Roberson, Christian Chinchilla, Elijah Martinez, Jonathan Alvarez, Jose Nandin, Gregorio Quintana, Michael Valencia, Jonathan Manzanales, Lal Thang, Gustavo Rodriguez, Izak Mejia, Josue Gonzales, Dylan Piper, Javier Gonzalez, Erick Tapia and Fabrizio Avila.

And many of those departing were significant contributors.

Martinez shared the district’s Midfielder of the Year Award, Valencia was voted the district’s Defensive Player of the Year, Roberson split the 10-5A Utility Player of the Year honor and Clark was named the Keeper of the Year in 10-5A.

Nandin and Chinchilla were first-team all-district selections while Gibson, Quintana and Manzanales were on the second team and Thang, Piper and Gonzales were honorable mention.

Defense was again the calling card. After posting 10 shutouts in 2019, the Bearcats had 10 shutouts when the season was cancelled, including five straight to open the schedule.

"You have to be able to rely on good, strong defense," Aleman said. "My biggest concern is the defense because that was the strongest part of the team last year."

The Bearcats feel they have options as they search for some offense. Getting the initial nod at forward are junior Adrian Paulin and sophomore Paxson Wecker but seniors Alex Orellana and Buan Tum, who was honorable mention all-district, and Parker Jenkins are pushing for minutes.

Senior Samuel Sanchez and junior Noel Martinez are two of the starters back and they were both second-team all-district selections in the midfield. Martinez will stay there and be joined by senior Daniel Garcia, who was honorable mention all-district, as well as junior Victor Paulin and freshman Kai Altun.

Sanchez will shift to fullback and lead a defense that includes seniors Colby Wilkens, Jason Aldeco and Jose Rodriguez and juniors Jared Gibson and Dylan Caylor.

Senior Jacob Prado, who started as a sophomore when Clark missed the season with an injury, split time a year ago and was second-team all-district for the second straight season. He will be the full-time starter.

"That's a big plus with a new defense," Aleman said. "He's played a lot and is comfortable back there."

Senior Luis Vasquez will serve as the backup.

In addition to competing in the Denison Tournament, the Bearcats have a non-district match against Waxahachie before beginning 10-5A play on Jan. 22.

Sherman remained with the schools it had been with — Denison, McKinney North, Lovejoy, Wylie East and Princeton — while Prosper Rock Hill and The Colony were added to the mix.

Non-district

What: Denton at Sherman

When: 7:15 p.m. Saturday