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The Ceres High varsity boys basketball team opens league play on the road against Modesto High School on Jan. 5.

This week, the Bulldogs will conclude their non-conference schedule at home. They're participating in the 29th annual Ceres Holiday Tournament.

Four teams, including Ceres (3-6), Argonaut (3-9), Lodi (2-9) and Weston Ranch (0-10) are vying for the tournament title.

"We have a good chance of winning it," said Ceres coach Jason Martin. "We need to play well three games."

Ceres will play inspired basketball. Members of the team are mourning the loss of a fellow classmate. Jannet Valencia died in a car accident on Dec. 18. Her older brother, Rafael Jr., plays varsity basketball.

"It's been a rough week for a lot of the guys, for the whole school," Martin said. "I think we'll come together and play well."

The Bulldogs are hoping to generate a little momentum.

"It's real important," Martin said. "We would like to get to .500 (in the standings) heading into league. We'll give ourselves a good shot at getting into the playoffs."

Last year, Ceres lost eight of its first 10 games and finished the year with a 6-20 record.

If the 2004-05 Bulldogs win out at their home tournament, they'll match last season's win total.

"We have more experience this year," Martin said. "Last year, we were real young.

"A lot of these guys worked hard too. We played a lot of games in the summer."

The Bulldogs are led by a trio of seniors, Wiedenbeck, Charlie Cunha, Derrick Goblirsch, one junior, Matt Schwark, and two sophomores, Kevin Dupree and Ross Tate.

"We're better right now than we were at the end of last season," said Wiedenbeck, Ceres High's 6-foot-4 center.

Cunha attributes the improvement to several things, including experience and better guard play. The Bulldogs have two solid point guards--Matt Schwark and Brad Muniz.

"Last year, our guards were weak," said Cunha, a 6-foot-2 forward. "This year, we have good guards."

Cunha ranked second on the team in scoring in 2003-04. This year, he's willing to do whatever it takes to help the team, which includes distributing the ball more.

"As long as we win," Cunha said. "That's all that matters."

Ceres plays against Weston Ranch, a member of the Valley Oak League, today, and Lodi, a member of the San-Joaquin Athletic Association, tomorrow. Both games start at 7:30 p.m. - By DALE BUTLER / Staff Reporter of The Ceres (Calif.) Courier