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2016 year in review: best teams, other notable stories
Ceres Highs varsity boys golf team claimed its first-ever Western Athletic Conference overall championship and returned to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs for the sixth year in a row. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

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

Team Effort
1. Ceres High's varsity softball team ended a 21-year drought between Sac-Joaquin Section titles by edging out Benicia 3-2 in the Division-III finals. The Bulldogs compiled a 23-5 overall record and won 11 of 12 games on their way to finishing in first place in the Western Athletic Conference for the third year in a row.

2. Central Valley's varsity boys wrestling team reached new heights as it placed first at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV Championships and Team Duals. The Hawks also claimed their second straight WAC overall title. Central Valley extended its unbeaten streak against conference-dual competition to 18 matches.

3. Central Valley's varsity football team made history by compiling a program-best 9-2 overall record and capturing its first-ever league title. The Hawks won all five of their Western Athletic Conference games. Central Valley also participated in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs for the third time in the past four seasons. The Hawks had their team-record eight-game winning streak snapped by Antelope in the first round of the Division-II playoffs.

4. Central Valley's varsity girls soccer team enjoyed its best season to date. The Hawks claimed their first conference title and participated in the playoffs for the second consecutive year. Central Valley won 19 of 21 games, including 10 in a row, and captured the WAC crown with a near-perfect 11-1-0 record. The Hawks earned their first playoff victory while finishing in the top eight in the Division-III bracket. Central Valley topped Ripon, Johansen and Linden en route to winning the title at its home tournament for the first time.

5. Ceres High's varsity girls water polo team compiled a program-best 16-3 overall record, finished second in the WAC standings (7-2) and returned to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs following a three-year absence. The Los Banos Tigers edged out the Bulldogs 8-7 for the conference title. Ceres High placed first at the McNair Tournament. The Bulldogs opened the season with 13 consecutive victories.

6. Ceres High's varsity boys golf team claimed its first-ever Western Athletic Conference overall championship and returned to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs for the sixth year in a row. The Bulldogs placed first with an 11-1 record during the WAC dual season. Ceres High also bested all competitors at the conference's mid-season and year-end tournaments.

7. Ceres High's varsity girls volleyball team experienced a major turnaround by taking second in the Western Athletic Conference (9-6) and returning to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs following a five-year absence. The Bulldogs won just four matches in 2015.

8. Central Valley's varsity girls basketball team qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III playoffs for the second year in a row, posted an 18-8 overall record and finished first overall in the WAC standings (11-1).

9. The Ceres Seahawks and Turlock Pride junior-varsity youth football teams battled for the Cen-Cal Super Bowl title for the second year in a row. Ceres avenged a heart-breaking 34-27 loss with a 48-6 win over Turlock at Golden Valley High School. The Seahawks posted a perfect 13-0 record in 2016.

10. The Ceres Jr. Bulldogs starts youth football team's run of excellence culminated with a 28-6 win over the El Capitan Gauchos in the 2016 CVGYF Super Bowl. The Jr. Bulldogs didn't lose a single game this year. Ceres had 11 wins, no losses and one tie.

Other notable stories
1. Central Valley principal Dan Pangrazio teamed up with former NBA superstar Kobe Bryant for two seasons at Lower Merion High School in the 1990s. Pangrazio was a key contributor as the Aces won the PIAA Class AAAA state championship during his sophomore year in 1996. He averaged 14 points per game. Pangrazio returned to Connecticut for his junior and senior years. He attended Fairfield Prep, where he averaged 16.5 points per game as the Jesuits captured the CIAC Class LL state title in 1997. Pangrazio earned a basketball scholarship to NCAA Division-I St. Mary's College, which is located in Moraga, California.

2. The Mazza sisters, Jessica and Heather, have been coaching Big Valley Christian's varsity girls basketball team together since the 2015-16 school year. Jessica and Heather played two seasons of hoops together at Ceres High, leading the Bulldogs to their first section title in 2004-05.

3. Rivals in soccer during their childhood, Nicole Bates and Mahlena O'Neal formed a tight friendship through softball. Bates and O'Neal will be remembered as two of Ceres High's all-time greatest players. Nicole and Mahlena both filled major roles in leading Ceres High to 85 victories, one section championship, three WAC titles and four playoff appearances from 2013-2016. Bates and O'Neal earned scholarships to Washington and Georgia, respectively.

4. Nicole Bates became the first player from the Stanislaus District to be named Cal-Hi Sports Ms. Softball State Player of the Year. Bates posted a batting average of .625 with three home runs, three doubles, seven RBIs and eight runs as third-seeded Ceres High won five of six playoff games on its way to winning the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III championship. She blasted a three-run homer and solo shot during the Bulldogs' 5-3 triumph over Oakdale in the quarterfinals. She doubled once, singled twice and scored once as Ceres High edged No. 5 Benicia 3-2 in the championship game. Bates secured the victory with an unassisted double play. Bates batted .571 from the plate with five homers, four triples, nine doubles, 33 RBIs, 45 runs and 14 stolen bases while striking out just five times in 113 plate appearances during her final season with the Bulldogs. She collected 60 hits. Bates committed just one error on defense.

5. Central Valley grad Ja'Quan Gardner filled the stat sheet while starring on Humboldt State's football team for the third year in a row. Gardner was named to the NCAA Division-II Collegiate Commissioners Association (CCA) All-America Team for the second year in a row. The second-team pick rushed for a conference-leading 1,300 yards and 18 touchdowns. Ja'Quan ranked 10th in Division II in TDs and total rushing yards, 13th in rushing yards per game (118.2) and 14th in all-purpose yards per game (159.9). He also caught 42 passes for 324 yards and one TD. Gardner had 1,759 all-purpose yards and 19 total touchdowns. Ja'Quan earned CCA Super Region Three First Team honors for the second straight season. He also garnered first-team all-Great Northwest Athletic Conference recognition for the second consecutive year. Gardner has cemented his place in history as the Lumberjacks' greatest running back by shattering 10 team records, including rushing yardage in a career (4,121), rushing yardage in a season (2,266), rushing yardage in a single game (313), touchdowns scored in a career (53), touchdowns scored in a season (25), touchdowns scored in a game (5), points scored in a career (318), points scored in a season (150), points scored in a game (30) and longest rushing play (87).

6. Surrounded by players, head coach Angela Durossette smiled while hoisting the blue Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III championship banner over her head. Ceres High's varsity softball team edged Benicia 3-2 in the finals. Citing the need to spend more time with her family, Durossette stepped down as leader of the Bulldogs. Ceres High enjoyed one of its most productive campaigns to date this past spring. The Bulldogs captured their second section title in program history. Ceres High ended a 21-year gap between championships. The Bulldogs posted a combined record of 45-14, captured one section title, claimed two Western Athletic Conference crowns and participated in the playoffs twice under Durossette's direction. The Bulldogs won 21 of 24 games.

7. After eight years, two Sac-Joaquin Section playoff appearances and one Western Athletic Conference championship, Central Valley varsity girls soccer head coach Cyndi Meshach was relieved of her duties after Spanish teacher/former JV Hawks leader Maria Briones applied for the position. Central Valley had a combined record of 40-47-12 in conference play during Meshach's tenure. The Hawks accumulated 29 wins, 13 losses and five draws over the past four seasons. Central Valley enjoyed its best season to date during the 2015-16 school year by claiming its first conference title and advancing to the playoffs for the second consecutive year. The Hawks were 5-23 under different leadership from 2006-08. Meshach, WAC Coach of the Year the past two seasons, changed CV's girls soccer program for the better.

8. Randy Cerny announced his plans to step down as head coach of Ceres High's varsity girls golf program prior to the start of the 2016 season. The Bulldogs established a tradition of excellence with Cerny leading the way. Ceres High accumulated 63 wins and just 19 losses in Western Athletic Conference play from 2010-16. The Bulldogs participated in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs seven years in a row. Ceres High made history in 2014 by capturing its first-ever conference title. The Bulldogs won all 12 of their WAC dual matches. Ceres High placed first at the conference's mid-season and year-end events. The Bulldogs posted a team score of 513 on their way to a program-best runner-up finish at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV Tournament. Ceres High finished 14th overall (534) while competing at Masters for the first time. The Bulldogs took third at the prestigious Merced Tournament. Cerny was voted WAC Coach of the Year. The Bulldogs' roster consisted of Hannah Smith, Monika Ramirez, Caitlin Pfaff, Erica Hogner, Abigail Nou, Brittany Turnbow and Savannah Beltran.

9. Eighty-nine-year-old Jack Lackey's coaching stint with Ceres High's varsity girls tennis team was short but successful. Ceres High edged out crosstown-rival Central Valley Hawks 5-4 for the WAC's third and final playoff berth. The Bulldogs (8-7) lost their previous seven matches to the Hawks, who advanced to the postseason in 2015 and 2014. Ceres High was beaten twice by identical scores of 5-4 while battling Central Valley earlier in the year. The Bulldogs returned to the playoffs following a one-year absence. Lackey stepped down because he missed his regular routine which consists of playing tennis twice a week, going to the gym and doing Tai Chi with his wife.

10. A standout at Central Valley High School for two seasons, Janita Vongphoumy came close to quitting golf. The sport became more of a chore than a joy for Janita, who longed to step out of her older sister's shadow. Juliet had a storied career at the University of Maryland. Janita completed her freshman season with the Modesto Junior College Pirates in November. She posted a two-day score of 157 (78-79) while placing 12th in the individual standings at the California Community College Athletic Association State Championship. Vongphoumy placed fourth at the NorCal Regional Finals and third in the Big-8 rankings.