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Ceres High School's varsity girls basketball team reached unprecedented heights under head coach Shawna Nunes' guidance.

Nunes, who opted to retired following a successful 18-year stint, led the Bulldogs to a 365-142 overall record, one section championship, six league titles and 15 playoff berths.

Vanessa Morris, Shawna's successor and former assistant coach and star player, was hired in April.

"I'm going to prepare them the best I can," said Morris, a 1996 Ceres High grad. "I know things aren't going to be perfect. There's going to be some ups and downs. It's tough to take over for a legend. She's done a lot of good things for Ceres Unified School District and the community. You have to be willing to charter your own destiny."

Bryce Ford, a third-year varsity player, will fill a major role once again. The versatile junior can play all five positions on the court. She won the Western Athletic Conference Most Valuable Player award as a sophomore. Ford averaged 18.0 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists.

"We all have confidence in her (Bryce)," Morris said. "She's not the most vocal but she leads through her actions. She isn't a selfish player."

Ceres High's supporting cast consists of Jessica Ellsworth (Sr.), Ashton Frampton (Sr.), Breanna Freitas (Jr.), Harjinder Kaur (Jr.), Manjinder Kaur (Jr.), Laura Story (Jr.), Allison Gunter (So.), Ryleigh Honberger (Fr.) and Karina Ceja (Fr.).

Jessica and Ashton are second-year varsity players.

Breanna, Laura, Harjinder and Manjinder contributed at the JV level a season ago.

"The most important thing is making sure my athletes know academics come first," Morris said. "It was the same for Shawna and (former Ceres High assistant varsity girls hoops coach) Phil de la Porte. You're not playing basketball if you're not doing any of that. I can guarantee my team will work hard on the court and in the classroom."

Ceres High compiled a 5-15 record and won three of 10 games en route to a fourth-place finish in the WAC standings last season.

The Bulldogs have missed the playoffs three out of the last four years.

"I'm trying to build a program," Morris said. "I tell my team if you keep working hard, good things will happen. I don't ask them to do something I wouldn't do. It's a partnership."

Central Valley ended Ceres High's crosstown supremacy in 2010-11.

The Hawks defeated the Bulldogs twice and shared the WAC championship (8-2) with Los Banos.

Central Valley finally beat Ceres High following an 0-8 drought.

"They deserve respect for that," Morris said. "They worked hard. He (Hawks coach Jesse Padilla) has done a great job building a program. It's going to be a battle when we play them."

Nunes, Brian de la Porte (varsity boys basketball), Bret Durossette (varsity football) and Koeurn Phe (varsity boys soccer) have all had successful coaching careers at their alma mater.

Vanessa hopes to follow in their footsteps.

"That would be amazing," she said.

Morris had a memorable four-year varsity career with Ceres High's varsity girls basketball program. She averaged 28.9 points per game while leading the Bulldogs to a 31-1 overall record, undefeated Central California Conference campaign (16-0) and Sac-Joaquin Section Division-II semifinal playoff appearance as a senior. Vanessa played for Nunes for three seasons.

Morris earned a basketball scholarship to Oregon State and finished her playing career at Cal State Stanislaus.

She was an assistant on Nunes' coaching staff for two seasons (2008-10). She's helped run Ceres High's summer hoops camp the past 14 years.

"They (Nunes and de la Porte) have a wealth of knowledge," Morris said. "I respect those people. I wouldn't be where I am today without them. It wasn't just about basketball. They looked after me."