Ceres High's varsity boys basketball team participated in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs for the second consecutive year last winter despite struggling mightily during non-league action.
The Bulldogs won seven of their final nine conference games and were awarded the 17th seed for the Division-III postseason tournament.
On paper, Ceres High's 2016-17 squad should be a lock to make its third straight playoff appearance.
The Bulldogs should also contend for the Western Athletic Conference championship.
"We're really hoping to win the WAC and make playoffs this year," head coach Julio Marquez said. "Our top goal would be having a home playoff game."
Ceres High brings back four starters from last year's team, including Haaydn Martinez (Sr., guard), Cristian Garcia (Jr., center), Ismael Ontiveros (Sr., guard) and Nick Jones (Sr., forward).
Marcellus Boykins (Sr.) and Blane Abeyta (Sr.) also returned to the team.
Martinez was selected to the WAC First Team as a junior.
Haaydn averaged a conference-leading 16.8 points per game.
"He'll have more responsibility this year," Marquez said. "He's definitely gotten better. He'll be up there in scoring in league again. He's really competitive."
Six-foot-six Garcia earned second-team all-conference honors as a sophomore.
Cristian averaged 13.0 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
"If he puts in the work, he can be one of the best big men in the area," Marquez said. "He's tall and lanky. He's got good footwork. He can finish with both hands. I want him to be more selfish around the basket."
Ontiveros will be the Bulldogs' floor general.
"He's a really good decision maker," Marquez said. "He knows when to pass, penetrate and shoot. He's more confident in his shooting ability. That will help his game."
Newcomers Inder Sandhu (Jr.), Donnavin Koeurn (Jr.), Gurraj Purewal (Jr.), Adrian Magdaleno (Jr.), Austin Schmidt (Jr.) and Vincent Guerrero (Jr.) played for Ceres High's 15-9 and third-place frosh-soph boys team in 2015-16.
"We have pretty good depth," Marquez said.
The Bulldogs' varsity squad compiled a 12-14 overall record and finished third in the WAC (8-4) last winter.
Ceres High eliminated fourth-place Central Valley (14-12, 7-5) from postseason contention.
The Bulldogs beat the crosstown-rival Hawks twice (62-59, 69-52).
Ceres High improved its all-time record versus Central Valley to 10-11.
El Capitan (11-1) and Patterson (10-2) placed first and second, respectively, in the 2015-16 conference standings.
"Patterson and Central Valley are always tough," Marquez said.
The Bulldogs dropped their Division-III out-bracket playoff game 68-59 to Cordova a season ago.
Ceres High had three players score in double figures, including Ontiveros (16) and Martinez (15).
The Bulldogs won their last conference title in 2010-11, ending a 17-year drought between championships.
Ceres High will play in the Modesto Christian Holiday Shootout this week.
The Bulldogs finished second at the Godinez and Phil de la Porte tournaments.
"By far, it's the toughest preseason schedule we've had," Marquez said. "It prepares us for league."