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A Hunger to Win
Central Valley High School's varsity volleyball team has improved each season since its first year of competition in 2006.

The Hawks won seven of 16 games on their way to a fifth-place finish in the VOL standings last year. Central Valley, which totaled just five wins the previous three seasons, remained in the hunt for a playoff berth until the final two weeks.

Amy Castillo, a 2003 Patterson High School graduate, will coach the Hawks this year. Virginia Olvera, her former teammate, will provide assistance.

Castillo replaces Tauheedah Gaines, who accepted a full-time position at Blaker-Kinser Jr. High School. Amy was Central Valley's junior-varsity volleyball coach in 2009.

She played basketball and volleyball at Menlo College. She coached women's basketball at Merced College (2007-08) and Las Positas College (2008-09). She also helped the Patterson High varsity boys hoops team for two seasons (2008-10).

"I'm really excited about taking over the program," Castillo said. "The dynamics are going to change. I have a different personality. I'm very loud and intense. I'm very strict and direct. I'm very organized. I definitely want to be a mentor."

Central Valley's roster features a mix of veterans and newbies.

Alyssa Long (Sr.), Jenna Mills (Jr.), Dalia Aguayo (Sr.) and Cheyenne Adney (Jr.) are key returners.

First-year varsity players expected to contribute this season include Breanna Wideman (Jr.), Maday Padilla (Jr.) and Drucella Miranda (Jr.). They played for the JV team in 2009.

"I definitely have confidence in my girls," Castillo said. "They have a championship attitude. We'll continue to improve."

Long, a third-year starter, filled the stat sheet with 13 kills, 13 digs and five blocks in Central Valley's 9-25, 25-19, 25-13, 26-14 upset of Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoff participant Sierra last season.

She also had standout games during the Hawks' combined six victories against East Union, Weston Ranch and Lathrop.

Alyssa earned second-team, all-VOL honors as a junior and sophomore.

She'll graduate as the school's best all-round athlete.

"She definitely reminds me of a mini me," Castillo said. "Her desire and drive are contagious. She leads by example."

Encore Performance

Ceres High's expectations remain high despite losing eight players to graduation, including starters Jode Johnson, Kaela Causey, Leah Rose, Amy Raymond and Alyssa Eudy.

"It's going to be tough to replace those girls," head coach Stephanie Hamilton said. "All we can do is work hard. We'll be competitive."

The Bulldogs will be led by 6-foot-2 senior Jamie Beck. She was named to the VOL first team last year. She led Ceres High in kills (442), blocks (86) and aces (69). Jamie also had 60 digs.

"We're real happy to have her back," Hamilton said. "She brings a lot to the team on and off the court. She's a fun girl. She keeps everybody motivated. Her abilities don't go to her head."

Other returners are Haley Duarte (Sr.), Sherhea Hamilton (Sr.), Sabrina Rinsamout (Sr.) and Meagan Humphres (Sr.). They'll have expanded roles this season.

"We have girls that played last year that have improved," coach Hamilton said.

Jessica Ellsworth (Jr.), Kassandra Jordan (Jr.), Praubleen Kaur (Jr.), Kiana Crawford (Jr.), Sofia Luna (Jr.), Yvette Huizar (Sr.) and Andrea Torres (Sr.) are new to the team.

Ellsworth, Jordan, Kaur and Crawford competed at the JV level a season ago.

Ceres High amassed a 21-13 overall record, participated in the playoffs for the first time since 2004 and placed fourth in the VOL (9-7) last fall. The Bulldogs' last winning season was in 1998.

"We should be able to compete in the new league," Stephanie Hamilton said.

Changing Leagues

The Western Athletic Conference has three new teams: Ceres High, Central Valley and Los Banos. The Bulldogs and Hawks left the VOL. The Tigers vacated the Central California Conference. Ceres High, Central Valley and Los Banos will battle returning WAC members Central Catholic, Livingston and Patterson.

Matches will be played on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

"CV is my new home," Castillo said. "I'm looking forward to playing my alma mater. It's going to be fun."

Bulldog and Hawk players are determined to do well in 2010.

"Everyone on the team is focused on a common goal," Castillo said. "We have the potential to make playoffs. It would be a huge accomplishment. Our school has only been open for six years."

"I do believe we should be contenders if the girls stay positive and keep working hard," coach Hamilton said.