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Bates-led Bulldogs expect to be more competitive this year
Fourth-year standout guard Nicole Bates and Ceres High Schools varsity girls basketball team have high hopes for the 2015-16 campaign. - photo by DALE BUTLER/The Courier

Ceres High School's varsity girls basketball team struggled to a 7-12 overall record last season.

Head coach Kristen McClure believes the Bulldogs will be more competitive this year.

"I want the girls to improve and have fun," she said. "I honestly think we'll go far if they play together and work hard. I'm excited."

Ceres High's roster consists of a mix of veterans and newcomers.

Bulldog returnees include Nicole Bates (Sr.), Jessica Arreola (Sr.), Allyson Hailey (Sr.), Ariel Knights (Sr.), Jade Moore (Sr.) and Jasmine Moore (Sr.).

Breanna Moreno (Jr.), Kaylee Holloway (Jr.), Leena Bassi (Jr.), Triana Burgess (Sr.), Natalia Cortez (Sr.), Ayannah O'Neal (So.) and Mahlena O'Neal (Sr.) are first-year varsity players.

Moreno, Holloway, Bassi and Cortez led Ceres High's junior-varsity girls hoops squad to a 22-2 mark and first-place finish in the WAC standings (12-0). "We have such great players on our team," McClure said. "I've been coaching some of the girls since they were freshmen. I know how they play."

Bates, a four-year varsity starter, was selected to the WAC First Team as a junior.

She averaged a team-leading 19.4 points per game in conference play.

"We depend on Nicole so much," McClure said. "She's a great all-round athlete. She's one of the best players I've coached. She brings a lot to the team."

The WAC sent three teams to the playoffs this past season, including Patterson (12-0), Central Valley (10-2) and Livingston (8-4).

Ceres High (4-8) tied for fourth place with Los Banos. "If we play as one, we'll have a good chance at having a winning record this year," McClure said. "The girls get along awesome. I really want to see them be confident in themselves."

Ceres High lost twice (45-42, 55-47) to Central Valley during the 2014-15 campaign.

"It's always exciting playing against Central Valley," McClure said. "They do have good players. That's why they took second and made playoffs last year. We want to give them a run for their money."

The Bulldogs last participated in the playoffs during the 2012-13 school year.