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CHS hungry for redemption

Ceres High's varsity girls basketball program missed the playoffs for the first time in 15 years in 2007-08.

Hungry for redemption, the Bulldogs hope to start a new streak this season.

"We all want to get there," 6-foot-1 sophomore center/forward Jamie Beck said. "That's one of our main goals. We're going to try our hardest."

Ceres High returns a wealth of experience from a squad that finished 9-16 and tied for fourth place with Weston Ranch in the Valley Oak League standings (5-9) last year. Those players are Beck, Jode Johnson (junior forward/guard), Aimee Gunzenhauser (senior guard), Stephanie Yankovich (sophomore guard), Lili Jaimes (sophomore guard) and Amy Raymond (junior guard).

Leah Rose (junior guard), Emily Alvarez (junior guard), Alyssa Eudy (junior forward), Vanessa Cuevas (junior center) and Haley Duarte (sophomore center) are new to the team.

Johnson, Beck and Gunzenhauser will lead the way on offense.

"It's different because we usually have all seniors doing it (scoring)," Jode said.

Johnson was named to the All-VOL second team as a sophomore. She ranked second on the team in scoring (8.3 ppg) and first in rebounding (9.3 rpg) last season.

Jamie replaces 2008 Ceres High graduate Kaylee Brown. Brown earned honorable-mention accolades during her senior year. She averaged 8.7 points and 9.0 rebounds per game.

"I'm getting more aggressive this year," Beck said.

Gunzehauser's all-round play opened eyes at the Ceres Lions Tournament last month. The all-tourney selection averaged nine points per game. She scored in double figures against Atwater (15) and Hughson (11).

"We have a number of different options," head coach Shawna Nunes said.

One of the biggest questions surrounding Ceres High is whether or not the Bulldogs will find a capable point guard.

Brittany Lusk, last year's starter, moved back to Oregon.

Jaimes, Yankovich, Gunzenhauser and Mazza played in her place during the preseason.

Mazza will follow in the footsteps of her two older sisters, Heather and Jessica.

Lili was named to the all-defensive team as a freshman.

"If we find a point guard, we'll go far," Nunes said. "We're looking for somebody to play that won't turn it over."

Ceres High must finish in the top 16 in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III power ratings to secure a playoff berth. The computer formula uses overall and league records, and schedule strength to determine seeds for postseason participants.

Nunes, one of the winningest coaches in the Stanislaus District, believes the Bulldogs are capable of placing in the top half of the eight-team Valley Oak League.

The conference features Ceres High, Central Valley, East Union, Manteca, Sierra, Weston Ranch, Oakdale and Sonora.

The Bulldogs have compiled a 323-119 record, won one section championship, claimed six conference titles, and secured 14 playoff berths and non-losing campaigns during Shawna's 15-year tenure.

"I believe we can be a contender in league," she said.

Johnson and Beck both concurred.

"We're going to do really good this year," Jamie stated.

Added Jode: "It's possible for us to make playoffs. But everyone has to do their part."

* * * * * * *

Central Valley strives for breakout year

Julie Calderon and her Central Valley High School varsity girls basketball teammates know they have a tough task ahead of them.

Despite their past struggles, the Hawks believe they're poised for a breakout season in 2008-09.

"We definitely have the potential to go to playoffs," said Julie, a senior guard. "We've come a long ways since last year."

Central Valley returns a handful of players from its 2007-08 playing rotation.

None better than third-year standout Calderon.

"It's like having another coach on the court," Hawks leader Jesse Padilla said.

Julie has enjoyed a tremendous amount of individual success with Central Valley.

Considered to be one of the top guards in the area, Calderon averaged 12.3 points, 3.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game on her way to being named to the Valley Oak League first team as a junior. She ranked second in assists, third in scoring and seventh in steals in conference play.

Julie earned honorable-mention accolades as a sophomore thanks in large part to her knack for scoring (15.0 ppg).

"It feels really good to be the one depended on," Calderon said. "It's a challenging role but I'm up for it."

Julie gave up volleyball in the fall to focus on basketball.

"It was a tough decision," said Calderon, who was a major contributor as a junior and sophomore.

A consummate gym rat, Julie spent countless hours working on her shooting, dribbling and conditioning during the offseason. Calderon's weekly routine even included weight training.

"I'm really aiming to play at a university," she said. "Hopefully, that chance comes along."

Central Valley will also depend heavily on two other returning starters this season: Phylicia Martinez and Alyssa Long.

Martinez, a junior forward-center, averaged 7.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game last year.

Long had a productive first varsity season with the Hawks. She averaged 5.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.4 assists per game as a freshman. Alyssa's been blessed with blazing speed and amazing jumping ability.

Central Valley posted a combined record of 8-40 and finished in last place in the VOL (2-26) the past two seasons.

The Hawks went 6-19 overall last year, tripling their victory total from 2006-07.

Central Valley also broke into the conference win column for the first time a season ago (2-12).

The Hawks upset Manteca 44-43 on Jan. 22 at Winter Gym. Calderon buried a turn-around jumper from near the foul line as time to stun the Buffaloes, who later qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs. The win snapped a 20-game losing steak. Julie led the way with 22 points, three steals and two assists. Phylicia added 14 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks.

On Feb. 7, Martinez, Calderon and Long helped propel the Hawks past visiting Oakdale 53-45. Martinez had 19 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks and two steals for Central Valley, which avenged a 21-point loss. Calderon tallied 12 points, six assists and six rebounds. Long contributed five points and seven rebounds.

The Hawks have yet to beat city and league rival Ceres High, which holds a 4-0 record in the head-to-head series.

The Bulldogs escaped with a 31-30 victory over visiting Central Valley in the VOL finale for both programs last season.

"I definitely think we'll put up a fight against every team this year," Calderon said. "I've changed my way of playing to accommodate my teammates. As the one with the most experience, I feel I shouldn't be selfish with the ball."

"I'm really glad to have her on the team," Calderon said. "She's a big benefit."