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Boys have high hopes in soccer
Ceres High's and Central Valley's varsity boys soccer programs got what they wished for at the end of last season: an all-Ceres matchup in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship game.

The Bulldogs emerged with a 2-0 victory, snapping an eight-game winless streak against the Hawks.

Central Valley edged out Ceres High for the Valley Oak League crown in 2009 and 2008.

"You think about it and wish you can play again," Hawks head coach Omar Leon said. "But you have to move on. We have to take it as a learning experience. I know we'll have another opportunity."

Ceres High has reached unprecedented heights since head coach Koeurn Phe's arrival in 2008. The Bulldogs have amassed a 32-7-6 record and advanced to the section title game twice.

"Those kind of things don't happen every 10 years," Phe said. "It was an honor to coach the talent I had. We had a special group of players. It was unbelievable."

Ceres High graduated eight members, including 2009 VOL co-MVP Luis Martinez, first-team, all-league honorees David Estrada, Pedro Gomez and Victor Corona, and second-teamers Kyle Cerny and Marcos Rochas.

The Bulldogs' top returners are Ramon Corona (senior fullback/midfielder/striker) and Manual Villa (senior striker).

Cesar Hurtado (senior midfielder/striker), Cristian Galindo (senior midfielder), Julian Cadenas (senior midfielder), Francisco Martinez (senior striker/midfielder), Edgar Campos (senior midfielder) and Huberto Luna (junior fullback) also returned to the team.

Cadenas and Campos were named team captains.

"We lost a lot of talent," Phe said. "We'll definitely have to work very hard if we want to be competitive. I believe we can be successful. The players that were on the bench last season know my system. That's an advantage. Now, it's their turn to continue the tradition. We want to maintain our reputation."

Central Valley fielded its first varsity boys soccer team in 2006.

The Hawks have improved every season.

"I'm proud of what they've done," said Leon, who's led Central Valley to 43 wins, a pair of league titles and three consecutive playoff berths since taking over the program in 2007. "The next thing is to win sections. This might be the year. Hopefully, it happens."

The Hawks have every good reason to be confident thanks in large part to their wealth of talent.

Five key starters return, including Jose Ramirez (senior midfielder), Larry Hernandez (senior midfielder), Daniel Ochoa (junior forward), Gerardo Cazares (senior midfielder) and Hugo Contreras (junior defender).

"They're a crucial part of the puzzle," said Leon, Valley Oak League Coach of the Year for the 2009 and 2008 seasons. "We need to find the rest of the pieces."

Ramirez, a four-year member , shared the VOL's MVP award with Ceres High's Martinez last season. Jose accumulated 16 goals and 21 assists. He received first-team, all-league honors as a sophomore and freshman.

"He motivates the rest of the players," Leon said. "His role is going to be crucial."

Ochoa, a speedster, collected 14 goals and three assists a season ago.

Central Valley and Ceres High will compete in the Western Athletic Conference this year.

Opponents include Central Catholic, Livingston, Patterson and Los Banos.

Games will be played on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Patterson won the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V title in 2009.

"If we want to be successful, we have to work harder than everybody else," Phe said.

"The competitive level is going to be the same if not better," Leon said.

Ceres High's blue section title banner hangs on a wall inside Phil de la Porte Gymnasium.

Central Valley's coach and players believe they should be recognized for their VOL dominance. No other Hawks sports team has reached their level of success.

"We don't have any banners in our gym to say what we've done," Leon said. "I think soccer should be up there."