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The long wait for the start of the 2007 fall high school sports season is finally over.

Ceres and Central Valley high school athletes took to the field, pool and court for practice and/or tryouts last week.

The fall lineup includes football, boys soccer, girls tennis, girls golf, volleyball, water polo, cross country and cheerleading.

"Everyone's going to give it all they got this year, especially the seniors," said Joaquin Casas, Central Valley varsity running back/linebacker.

On Thursday, Casas and his teammates experienced full-contact practice for the first time since November 2006. The sound of clashing helmets and shoulder pads echoed across the playing field.

"It just felt good to finally hit people after all the hard work we put in this summer," senior lineman Sean McLeod said.

"My brains thumping," said senior wide receiver/safety Gerald Garcia. "We were doing some damage to each other. This is what we've been waiting for since the end of last season."

Garcia, McLeod, Casas, Trevor Mew, Stephen Fonsworth, Levi Middleton and Cameron Moscozo stayed after practice to run extra sprints. They headed to the locker room at 7 p.m.

"We're going to be sore tomorrow," said Gerald, who starred on Central Valley's inaugural varsity football team last season. The 2006 Hawks compiled a 1-9 record and finished in last place in the Valley Oak League (0-7).

The members of the Central Valley cheer squads are working just as hard to prepare for the 2007 season. Music blared as they performed routines under the close watch of their coaches in a grass area by the gymnasium.

At a nearby field behind the school's weight room, prospective members of the Central Valley boys soccer team executed conditioning, offensive and defensive drills under the guidance of first-year head coach Omar Leon.

"I haven't seen any of them play but I've heard wonderful things about them," he said.

Leon said his roster will consist of 18 to 20 players. Final cuts will be made this Friday.

"To me, it's going to be a tough situation," he said. "There's a lot of talent out here."

Led by co-VOL Most Valuable Player Eddy Salinas and all-conference honorees Jose Haro and Marco Rodriguez, Central Valley tied for third place with Manteca in the league standings in its first varsity season. The Buffaloes were awarded the third and final postseason berth for accumulating more ties than the Hawks.

"Hopefully, we can make the playoffs this year," said Ernesto Plancarte, who started at sweeper as a junior. "We want to finish on top."

At Ceres High School on Saturday, varsity boys soccer coach Ryan Cerny evaluated talent during the first day of tryouts. About 26 varsity players showcased their skills from 9-11:30 a.m. in the outfield of the varsity baseball diamond, including top returner David Estrada. The sophomore tallied 12 goals and dished out six assists en route to earning first-team, all-VOL honors in 2006.

"I was pretty happy with the turnout," Cerny said. "We're going to be young. I can only think of three seniors off the top of my head."

The Bulldogs will play in the Davis Spartan Tournament later this week.

"I will have a final roster by Tuesday," said Cerny, who's already filled 15 spots. "We have a tournament coming up. I don't want to mess around. I pretty much know who I'm going to keep. I'm going to take a look at a few more players this week. And get things going from there."

The Bulldogs finished in fifth place in the VOL standings last year (4-8-2).

On Friday, Ceres High water polo players practiced for several hours after school.

"It's going pretty good," said Lesley Willems, head coach of the girls program. "They're putting in their yards right now. Conditioning is the big thing. That's what we lacked last year."

As water polo practice ended, varsity football players walked by the swimming pool facility and towards the student parking lot. They boarded a Ceres Unified School District bus following their two-hour practice and headed for head varsity boys basketball coach Jason Martin's ranch in Livingston. The overnight retreat served as a valuable team bonding experience. The Bulldogs lost more than 30 seniors to graduation from last year's team, which posted a 4-6 overall record and finished in fifth place in the VOL (3-4).

"It was an opportunity to get away without any outside distractions," head coach Brett Johnson said. "The kids had a good time."

Earlier in the week, Ceres High girls tennis coach Bryan Harden talked about the upcoming season as his players smashed balls against the side of Phil de la Porte Gymnasium.

The Bulldogs will compete with a revamped lineup as just three of seven starters return from last year's squad, which tied for fourth in the conference standings with Sierra (7-7).

Returnees McKenzy Harden, Logan Harden and Tiffany Ornells all advanced to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II Playoffs.

McKenzy finished in second place at the VOL singles tournament.

Logan and Tiffany teamed up to win the conference's doubles championship.

"I got to motivate everyone to work hard," Bryan said. "Hopefully, that will transfer to the tennis court. Our goal is to win league and make playoffs. That's what we're striving for."