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A Rich Tradition
Central Valley and Ceres High have first-rate varsity boys soccer programs.

The Hawks will be vying for their fifth-straight league title and sixth-consecutive playoff berth in 2012. Central Valley advanced to the finals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV Tournament twice (2010, 2009).

The Bulldogs will try to return to the postseason for the fifth year in a row. Ceres High upset Central Valley 2-0 for the section crown in 2009.

Daniel Ochoa's leadership and production will be missed at Central Valley this season. The 2011 Ceres Unified School District grad/Cal State Stanislaus freshman starred at the varsity level for four seasons. Ochoa totaled a program-record 88 goals and dished out 27 assists. Daniel had 38 goals and five assists his senior year. He was voted Western Athletic Conference MVP.

"He set the bar very high for other players," Hawks head coach Omar Leon said. "We could always count on him."

Central Valley welcomes back four all-league players from a season ago, including Daniel Hernandez (MF, Jr.), Omar Orozco (F, Jr.), Samuel Martinez (D, Sr.) and Anthony Calvo (MF, Jr.).

Orozco ranked second on the team in scoring (14 goals and four assists) in 2011.

Martinez had five goals and one assist.

Calvo dished out five assists.

Hernandez starred on a defense that posted 12 shutouts.

Other returners expected to contribute include Ozzie Ramos (MF, Jr.), Jairo Ramos (MF, Jr.), Juan Medrano (D, Jr.) and Diego Duran (MF/F, Sr.).

The Hawks' top newcomers are Custodio Vasquez (D, So.), Victor Yepez (D, So.) and Juan Martinez (F, So.).

Vasquez, Yepez and Martinez helped lead the 2011 JV Hawks to a runner-up finish in the WAC standings (7-1-2).

"With the returning players and new talent from JV, we should be able to at least match what we've done in the past," Leon said. "The kids are motivated. The only thing we haven't done is win the section title. That's the highest award in soccer you can get in high school."

Central Valley fell two wins shy of capturing the school's first-ever section title in a team sport in 2011. The Hawks claimed the WAC crown (10-1-1) and compiled an impressive 19-2-1 overall record. Central Valley, which ranked 10th in California and 54th in the United States by, lost 5-2 to underdog East Union in the semifinals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV playoffs.

"That's history," Leon said while talking about Central Valley's back-to-back losses in the finals. "We're thinking about the future. We're going to do everything we can to win it this year. It would be a good achievement for everybody."

Ceres High reached unprecedented heights under Koeurn Phe's guidance.

Phe stepped down to spend more time with his family.

He led the Bulldogs to a 53-22-10 overall record, one section title and four postseason appearances from 2008-11.

"Koeurn believed and they accomplished," said new leader Javier Mercado, who also doubles as head coach of the school's varsity girls program. "It's going to be very tough to match what he did. Those are some big shoes to fill. There's a lot of pressure."

Ceres High posted a 13-6-1 record, finished second in the WAC (9-3-0) and qualified for the playoffs this past year. The Bulldogs edged 2011 section-runner-up East Union 3-2 during the regular season. Ceres High escaped with a 2-1 win over semi-finalist Central Valley in conference play.

"Our expectations are very high," Mercado said. "We can make playoffs. But it's going to be tougher because a lot of key players left."

Ceres High lost its four team captains to graduation, including Rafael Mercado, Roberto Hernandez, Huberto Luna and Jose Saldivar. Mercado, Hernandez, Luna and Saldivar were all-league selections.

Senior Eberardo Aceves (10 goals and three assists) transferred to Johansen.

Junior Antonio Jasso will be sidelined for the next 2-3 months with a foot injury.

Alfredo Arana has emerged as a leader on this year's team. The senior midfielder collected nine goals and six assists last season.

"He has a great attitude," Javier Mercado said. "He can kick, pass, score and mark. He has stamina. He can do everything. He's very talented."

Returners Joey Bettencourt (MF, Sr.), Thomas Rochas (MF/F, Jr.), Abel Reyes (GK, Jr.), Cristian Cabrales (UTL, So.) and Cesar Espinoza (UTL, So.), and newcomer Moises Rochas (MF, Jr.) will contribute as well.

Moises, Thomas' younger brother, suited up for Ceres High's third-place JV squad (6-3-1) a year ago.

The top three teams in the WAC advance to the playoffs.

Central Valley, Ceres High and Livingston qualified in 2011.

Patterson (8-4), Central Catholic (3-9), Pacheco (2-9-1) and Los Banos (0-10) placed fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively.

"We have a lot of talent for a small town," coach Mercado said.