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Ceres High looks to maintain tradition of excellence
Jon Nowicki and Steve Festa started coaching wrestling at Ceres High School in 2006-07.

The Bulldogs have experienced a remarkable turnaround under their guidance.

Ceres High participated in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV Team Dual Tournament for the first time in program history, upended Sonora, Weston Ranch, Sierra, East Union, Manteca, Central Valley and Lathrop en route to a runner-up finish in the Valley Oak League standings and qualified seven individuals for Divisionals a season ago.

The Bulldogs sent four grapplers to Masters and one to State.

Ceres High also placed first at its home tournament and successfully defended its title at the Bear Creak Invitational.

"We had a lot of talent, depth and experience last year," Nowicki said. "We're not going to be able to replace those guys (Curtis Hulstine, Tony Spinella and Keegan Overbey) right away. We're going to have a great team in the future."

Ceres High's revamped lineup will feature a mix of veterans and newcomers.

Returners Gabe Balderas (112, So.), Wesley Schwieger (119, Sr.), Nick Moran (145/152, Jr.), Brandon Christeson (119, So.), Andrew Cefre (140, Sr.), Rajdeep Singh (145, Sr.), Lucas Silva (215, So.) and Ruben Sanchez (215, So.) all played a part in the team's success last year.

Balderas did more than hold his own while competing at the varsity level as a freshman. Balderas amassed a 26-16 record at 112 pounds. He took fifth at the Valley Oak League championships. Gabe won two of five matches on his way to a sixth-place finish as an alternate at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV tournament. He almost secured a berth to the Masters meet. One of Balderas' biggest victories came during the VOL dual-meet season. His 6-3 win over Daniel Guzman lifted the Bulldogs to a 35-30 win over Weston Ranch.

Schwieger posted a 1-2 record at Masters. He won four of six matches en route to a fourth-place showing at Divisionals. He took third at the VOL championships.

Newcomers expected to contribute include Joey Bettencourt (103, So.), Nick Serratos (171, Sr.), Victor Cruz (285, Sr.), Erick Garcia (130, Jr.), Gabriel Solis (130, Fr.), Ritchie Solis (135, Jr.), Dustin Palecek (152, So.), Bradley Bruton (160, So.), Christian Alvarado (215, Jr.) and Armando Morales (285, So.).

Serratos starred in water polo last fall. He had a record-breaking career with the Bulldogs.

Nick totaled 318 goals, including 178 in 2010.

"We have a good group of kids," Nowicki said.

The Bulldogs compiled a 7-1 during its final season in the VOL last year.

Ceres High, Central Valley and Los Banos were moved to the Western Athletic Conference this season as part of section realignment.

The three teams will compete against Central Catholic, Livingston and Patterson.

Los Banos won the Central California Conference crown in 2009-10.

Central Valley finished 0-8 in the Valley Oak League standings.

Central Catholic, the defending WAC champion, lost its head coach and several state-qualifying grapplers to Oakdale High School.

"I really liked the VOL," Nowicki said. "Part of it's nostalgic because that's what I competed in."