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Bulldogs eye breakthrough season
• CHS girls basketball second in conference play last winter
Mia Rodriguez and Celeste Leon
Mia Rodriguez, Celeste Leon and Ceres High’s girls basketball team will be vying for the WAC title and a Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berth this season. - photo by Dale Butler

Ceres High’s girls basketball team had it Western Athletic Conference South Division title hopes dashed by Los Banos during the 2020-21 school year.

The Bulldogs had to settle for second place after losing twice to the Tigers.

Fourth-year coach Mike Estrada Jr. believes Ceres High will compete for a league title and playoff spot this winter.

“We set our expectations really high,” Estrada said. “We have a lot of talent and experience. I think this team can move the program forward if they play smart and the right way.”

Ceres High returns six players from last year’s team, including Celeste Leon (Sr.), Mia Rodriguez (Sr.), Sandra Espinoza (Sr.), Jalaycie Melendez (Sr.), Carmen Espinoza (Jr.) and Jaleen Melendez (Jr.).

Alayna De La Torre (Sr.), Citlali Miranda (Sr.), Alexa Sandoval (Jr.) and Ana Ursua (Fr.) are newcomers.

The Bulldogs lost three players to graduation in Catryna Marquez, Lysaida Munoz and Melannie Gonzalez. Marquez and Munoz were three-year varsity contributors. Marquez earned first-team all-league honors as a senior. She averaged 11.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.5 steals and 3.3 assists per game.

Leon has been selected to serve as Ceres High’s team captain.

“She was a captain last year,” Estrada said. “It’s her role again. She’s a good leader. She picks people up with her energy. She’s always in the gym getting in more work. She’s committed to making the team better.”

Leon and Rodriguez are both four-year varsity players. They were both named to the WAC South First Team following productive junior campaigns.

Leon averaged 12.5 points, 5.7 steals, 4.5 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.

Rodriguez averaged 10.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.5 steals and 1.5 assists per game.

Sandra Espinoza and Jalaycie Melendez are third-year varsity players.

Carmen Espinoza and Jaleen Melendez were promoted to varsity as sophomores.

Ceres High will compete in the reassembled Western Athletic Conference this winter, along with Beyer, Grace Davis, Johansen, Lathrop, Mountain House, Los Banos and Pacheco.

The Bulldogs were previously members of the league from 2010-20.

“Talent-wise, we’re going to be able to compete with everybody."
Coach Mike Estrada Jr.

“Talent-wise, we’re going to be able to compete with everybody,” Estrada said.

Ceres High spent this past year in the WAC South Division for coronavirus safety reasons. The Bulldogs compiled a 4-3 overall record and finished second in league play (4-2).

A total of five games were canceled after Bulldog players came in close contact with an infected person during a conference contest.

Playoffs were postponed for all sports during the 2020-21 school year because of a late start to the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ceres High would have accomplished a first under Estrada’s guidance had the season not been cut short because of coronavirus-safety reasons.

“It sucks we weren’t able to show our team’s full potential because of the shortened season,” Estrada said. “I 100 percent believe we would have made the playoffs.”

Ceres High secured its last playoff berth in 2012-13. The Bulldogs finished 11-9 overall and third in the WAC standings (7-5) under Vanessa Morris’ guidance.

Ceres High snapped its streak of six straight losing seasons in 2019-20. The Bulldogs came agonizingly close to ending years of playoff futility. Ceres High dropped out of postseason contention after losing back-to-back games to Los Banos. A year removed from earning just eight wins, the Bulldogs amassed a 15-13 overall record and placed fourth in WAC play (8-6).

“There’s not too much talk about what happened in the past,” Estrada said. “We’re focused on this team’s success and what we can do to move this program forward.”