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2016 rewind: a look back at the Couriers year in sports
Nicole Bates starred on Ceres Highs varsity softball team for the fourth year in a row this past spring. Bates was named Cal-Hi Sports Ms. Softball State Player of the Year. - photo by DALE BUTLER/Courier file photo

In today's Courier, we present the best of 2016 list.

Peak Performers
1. Nicole Bates added to her already-impressive resume while starring on Ceres High's varsity softball team for the fourth year in a row. The standout shortstop/left-handed hitter was named Cal-Hi Sports Ms. Softball State and Medium Schools Player of the Year. She was selected to the Cal-Hi Sports All-State Super Elite and Medium Schools First Teams. Bates earned FloSoftball All-American First-Team honors and PGF West Regional All-American Team accolades. She earned membership to the Louisville Slugger Hit Club, which recognized 11 of the nation's top hitters. She also participated in the Premier Girls Fastpitch High School All-American Game. In 114 career games with the Bulldogs, Bates batted .512 (205-for-400) with 14 homers, 22 triples, 31 doubles, 102 RBIs, 171 runs, 52 stolen bases and 32 walks with just 13 strikeouts. She had an on-base plus slugging percentage of 1.356. Bates earned a scholarship to NCAA Division-I Washington.

2. A four-year star on Ceres High's varsity softball team, power-hitting catcher Mahlena O'Neal earned a scholarship to the Division-I Georgia. O'Neal had a memorable final season with Ceres. She was voted Western Athletic Conference Most Valuable Player. She ranked first in the WAC in homers (7), doubles (7), RBIs (29) and slugging percentage (1.152), second in batting average (.543) and on-base percentage (.571), and 11th in runs (7). Mahlena batted .479 with nine homers, 12 doubles, 43 RBIs and nine runs on the year. She was named to the Cal-Hi Sports All-State Super Elite Second Team and Medium Schools First Team. She also garnered FloSoftball All-American Second-Team recognition.

3. Ceres High varsity boys tennis standout Nolan McCaig advanced to the semifinals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-II singles tournament. McCaig, a finalist his sophomore and freshman years, won two of three matches. Nolan made history by becoming the Bulldogs' first-ever three-time conference champion. McCaig compiled a 21-1 overall record and won all 16 of his Western Athletic Conference matches. He was voted WAC Most Valuable Player for the third year in a row.

4. John Alba enjoyed a success-filled junior season with Ceres High's varsity boys wrestling team. Alba qualified for the CIF State Championships. The 145-pounder won 50 of 61 matches, placed fifth at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Meet, finished second at the Division-IV tournament and claimed his second consecutive Western Athletic Conference title.

5. Luis Saucedo will be remembered as one of Central Valley's all-time greatest male wrestlers. Saucedo made history as a senior by becoming just the second Hawk grappler to advance to the CIF State Championships. The 113-pounder posted a 36-17 overall record, took sixth at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Meet, and won titles at the Division-IV and WAC tournaments.

6. Nayeli Pelayo joined a short list when she became just the fourth female wrestler from Central Valley to compete at the CIF Girls State Wrestling Championships. A newcomer to the sport, Pelayo exceeded her own expectations. Nayeli compiled a 25-11 overall record. She placed third at the Sac-Joaquin Section & Northern Section Masters Tournament and fifth at the Southern Regional Qualifier. Pelayo finished first twice, second once and fourth once at tournaments during the regular season. A standout catcher on the Hawks' softball squad, Nayeli earned second-team all-conference honors. Pelayo ranked second in the Western Athletic Conference in doubles (6), fourth in homers (1), sixth in batting average (.500) and slugging percentage (.781), ninth in on-base percentage (.515), 10th in RBIs (7) and 12th in runs (6).

7. Ceres High's Julia Pata excelled in multiple sports. Pata placed 16th in the 100 free (55.21) and 24th in the 200 free (2:00.72) at the Sac-Joaquin Section Varsity Girls Swimming Championships. She set personal records in both events. Julia swept the 200 free (2:04.23) and 100 breast (1:14.84) at the Western Athletic Conference Finals. She finished first in the 50 free and 100 free her sophomore and freshman years. A newcomer to track and field, Pata advanced to the Masters competition. She placed 22nd in the shot put (31-13/4). Julia finished fifth (33-111/4) at Divisionals. Pata took second in the shot put (33-6) and third in the discus (97-1) at the WAC Championships. Julia shocked just about everybody in attendance when she uncorked a throw of 39 feet, two inches to win the shot put at the Modesto Junior College Invitational. Pata obliterated the old meet record of 35-7, which was set in 2011. Pata was selected to the WAC First Team in varsity girls water polo. She was nominated for Most Valuable Player. Julia led the Bulldogs in scoring with 31 goals. She earned first-team all-league honors three times. She was a second-team pick as a sophomore.

8. Callie Nunes split time at pitcher during her first season with Ceres High's varsity softball team in 2015. Nunes was the Bulldogs' ace in the circle this year. The junior posted an impressive 20-3 overall record with a 1.14 ERA, 239 strikeouts, two no-hitters and 10 shutouts. Callie shined on the biggest stage as Ceres High won five of six games en route to capturing the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III title. Callie matched a career high for strikeouts with 17 during third-seeded Ceres High's 5-3 win over No. 2 Oakdale in the quarterfinals. The Bulldogs lost twice to the Mustangs during the regular season. Nunes was voted Western Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year.

9. A standout offensive and defensive lineman on Central Valley's varsity football team, senior Erik Mejia made program history by being named Most Valuable Player of the Western Athletic Conference. Mejia had 42 tackles, four sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in 11 games. The Hawks piled up 2,843 yards and 40 touchdowns on the ground thanks in large part to Mejia's blocking.

10. Central Valley varsity girls basketball senior point guard Mikayla Mabie accomplished a program first by being voted Western Athletic Conference Most Valuable Player. She averaged 13.9 points, 10.2 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game.

11. For the second consecutive season, Central Valley High School's varsity girls soccer program had the best player in the Western Athletic Conference. Midfielder Evelyn Andrade was voted WAC MVP. Andrade started for the Hawks her senior, junior and sophomore years.

12. Gary Condit was the top player on Ceres High's varsity boys golf team as a freshman. Condit nearly claimed the Western Athletic Conference Most Valuable Player award. Condit ranked second in the conference's individual standings with a slope and rating average of 5.69. El Capitan's Chris Giardina edged out Condit by .12 points for MVP honors. Condit outshot Giardina twice during the WAC dual season. He also outplayed Giardina at the conference's year-end tournament. Gary took first. Condit and Giardina tied for fifth at the WAC mid-season tourney.

13. Senior Blanca Espinoza played every match like it was her last while filling a major role on Central Valley's varsity girls volleyball team. She was named Western Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Espinoza led the Hawks with 366 digs. She also had 60 kills and 35 aces.

14. Senior Oso Fregoso was a dominant force on Central Valley's varsity football squad. Fregoso was named the Western Athletic Conference's Outstanding Defensive Player. He garnered first-team all-league recognition as well. Fregoso had 72 tackles, 10 sacks, four forced fumbles, two pass deflections and one fumble recovery in 11 games.

15. Jonathan Barragan enjoyed a breakout season as the featured running back on Central Valley's varsity football team. Barragan racked up 1,731 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns during his third and final year with the Hawks. He rushed for 1,148 yards and 13 TDs. He caught 13 passes for 266 yards. Jonathan also returned a punt 56 yards for a score. Barragan was selected to the Western Athletic Conference First Team.

16. Ceres High senior quarterback Chris Lubinsky filled the stat sheet for the second straight season. The Western Athletic Conference First-Team honoree totaled 2,918 yards with 28 touchdowns and eight interceptions while completing 65 percent of his pass attempts this past fall. He threw for 5,595 yards, 54 TDs and just 16 interceptions in 20 career games.

Most Memorable Games
1. Ceres High's softball squad outlasted Benicia 3-2 in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III finals at the Sacramento Softball Complex, the same site where the Bulldogs captured their first section crown in 1995.Ceres High pitcher Callie Nunes allowed two runs and six hits with nine strikeouts and two walks in seven innings. Nicole Bates accounted for three of the Bulldogs' six hits. Bates doubled once, singled twice and scored once. Nunes and sophomore Andrea Duran both drove in one run. Senior Sabrina Baisdon batted 1-for-3 with one run. Junior Natalia Cortez tallied one run. Senior Mackenzie Veuve and junior Rayohna Sagapolu chipped in with one single apiece. Ceres High played flawless defense as Baisdon had four putouts in centerfield. Bates secured the victory with an unassisted double play.

2. The thought of losing never entered into the minds of Central Valley's varsity football players and coaches. The first-place Hawks scored seven unanswered touchdowns en route to closing out the Western Athletic Conference campaign with a 51-10 drubbing of crosstown-rival/fourth-place Ceres High at Bulldog Stadium. Central Valley piled up a season-high 409 rushing yards versus Ceres High. The Barragan brothers, Jonathan and Estevan, combined for 248 yards and four touchdowns. Jonathan totaled 159 yards and two TDs on 15 carries. Estevan gained 89 yards and scored twice on six carries. Fullback Gerardo Solorzano rumbled for 108 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. Hawk quarterback Willie Soriano ran for 23 yards and one score on six carries. Soriano completed 3 of 8 passes for 68 yards. Central Valley's defense pestered Ceres High quarterback Chris Lubinsky for most of the night. Lubinsky, who entered the game with 27 touchdowns and just four interceptions, threw four picks and got sacked five times. Chris completed 21 of 44 passes for 188 yards and one TD to Conner Johnson. Hawk Gabriel Quezada collected two sacks. Estevan Barragan had eight tackles and one sack. Oso Fregoso had five tackles and one sack. Erik Mejia had one sack. Chase Winchester, Nasson Sanchez, Jacob Guerrero and Adrian Espinoza all had four tackles and one interception.

3. Ceres High's varsity football team suffered a heart-breaking loss at Pacheco. The Bulldogs needed to beat the Panthers to keep their Sac-Joaquin Section playoff and Western Athletic Conference title hopes alive. Pacheco edged Ceres High by the slimmest of margins, 42-41, in Los Banos. Bulldog quarterback Chris Lubinsky connected with Ceres High receiver Marcellus Boykins on a 10-yard scoring play to cut the deficit to one with 10 seconds to play. Lubinsky's potential, game-winning 2-point conversion pass to junior running back Andrew Gibson fell short in the end zone. The two teams combined for 1,008 yards and 12 touchdowns on offense. Lubinsky tossed for a career-high 466 yards, to go along with three touchdowns, while completing 33 of 46 pass attempts. Boykins totaled 152 yards and one touchdown on 11 receptions. Conner Johnson hauled in eight passes for 142 yards and one TD. Gibson carried the ball 14 times for 50 yards and two touchdowns.

4. A lot was at stake when Ceres High's and Central Valley's varsity girls tennis teams faced off for the third time this past fall. The Bulldogs secured the Western Athletic Conference's third and final playoff berth in thrilling fashion, edging the crosstown Hawks 5-4 at Ceres High. Central Valley won the previous two meetings by identical 5-4 scores.

5. Ceres High's varsity girls volleyball team ended years of futility with a 3-1 (25-21, 25-17, 23-25, 25-9) road win over crosstown-rival Central Valley. The Bulldogs lost their previous 12 matches to the Hawks dating back to the 2011 season. Ceres High spoiled Central Valley's Senior Night. The Bulldogs (9-6) also edged out the Hawks (8-7) for the Western Athletic Conference's second playoff berth. Ceres High improved its all-time record versus Central Valley to 10-13.

6. Central Valley edged crosstown-rival Ceres High twice in varsity girls basketball. The Hawks won the second meeting, 45-43, versus the visiting Bulldogs on Feb. 8. Adriana Haynes' three-point play - inside basket and free throw - with 25 seconds to play propelled Central Valley past Ceres High. Teresa Diaz had a team-high 17 points for the Hawks. Nicole Bates totaled a game-high 23 points in defeat. Central Valley won the first meeting, 44-43, on Jan. 21 at Phil de la Porte Gymnasium. Mabie paced the Hawks with 12 points, Adria Robinson had 10 and Haynes added eight. Leena Bassi scored 10 points to lead the Bulldogs. Central Valley improved its all-time record against Ceres High to 11-10.