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CHS boys soccer, golf top list for best teams in 2019
Part II of Courier's sports year in review
boys soccer program enjoyed
Ceres High’s varsity boys soccer program enjoyed its best season to date by compiling a program-best 20-2-4 overall record, claiming the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III crown and advancing to the CIF Northern California Regional Championship for the first time. - photo by Dale Butler

The Courier presents the second of two parts highlighting the best in sports of 2019.

Team Effort

1. Ceres High’s boys soccer team enjoyed its best season to date. The Bulldogs compiled a program-best 20-2-4 overall record, claimed the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III crown and advanced to the CIF Northern California Regional Championship Tournament for the first time.

2. Ceres High’s boys golf team won the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV championship a week after Johansen and Los Banos prevented the Bulldogs from earning their fourth consecutive Western Athletic Conference overall title. Ceres High posted a team score of 513 at Divisionals. The Bulldogs topped runner-up Los Banos (531) by 18 strokes. Los Banos and Ceres High placed first and third, respectively, at the WAC Year-End Tournament. Johansen, the conference’s overall champion, shot a 583.

3. Central Valley’s boys soccer team amassed a 20-6-2 overall record, finished first in the Central California Conference (10-2-0) and advanced to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-II championship game. The Hawks secured their 11th playoff berth and claimed their seventh league title in program history. Central Valley also made its first appearance at NorCals.

4. Central Valley’s girls soccer program amassed a 17-7-2 overall record, claimed its fourth straight league title and advanced to the quarterfinals in the Division-II playoffs.

5. Central Valley’s girls wrestling team made program history by winning its second straight league title. The Hawks shared the Central California Conference’s overall championship with Atwater. Central Valley placed first at the CCC Tournament. Newcomers to the CCC, the Hawks claimed Western Athletic Conference overall, tournament and dual titles in 2018.

6. Ceres High’s softball program compiled a 19-6 overall record, qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III playoffs and claimed the Western Athletic Conference title with a near-perfect 13-1 mark. The Bulldogs outscored their league opponents, 127-39.

7. Ceres High’s girls soccer program won one of two games to earn a top-eight finish  in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III playoff bracket. The Bulldogs managed to compile a 15-8-2 overall record, place second in the Western Athletic Conference (10-3-1) and advance to the playoffs for the fifth straight year despite competing shorthanded for most of the season.

8. Ceres High’s boys and girls cross country teams both placed second in the Western Athletic Conference overall standings for the second year in a row. The Bulldogs had eight runners earn all-league honors. Ceres High qualified nine individuals for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III Sub-Section Championships.

9. Ceres High’s boys volleyball team enjoyed its best season to date. The Bulldogs posted a 19-12 overall record, finished second in the Western Athletic Conference standings (9-3) and advanced to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs for the second time in three years.

10. Ceres High’s girls water polo team qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs for the fourth year in a row under head coach Stephen Dias’ guidance this year. The Bulldogs posted a 10-5 record and finished in third place in the Western Athletic Conference standings. Ceres High secured the WAC’s final postseason spot with an 11-8 tiebreaker win over Grace Davis.

11. Ceres High’s girls tennis team participated in the playoffs for the second year in a row. The Bulldogs (9-5) finished third overall in the WAC standings.

Other notable stories

1. Ceres native Cade Cowell inked a five-year contract with the Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes in January. He became the youngest signing in Earthquakes and Bay Area team sports history. Cowell, a 5-foot-9 154-pound forward, turned 15 on Oct. 14, 2018.

2. Central Valley High School grad Ja’Quan Gardner was watching television at a friend’s house in Modesto on Oct. 16 when he found out the Seattle Dragons selected him in the fifth and final phase of the XFL Draft. The season will kick off in February. Gardner starred at running back earlier in the year with the San Diego Fleet in the Alliance of American Football League, which got underway in February and ended prematurely due to funding issues. He was named the league’s Offensive Player of the Week after setting multiple records in the Fleet’s 31-11 home win over the San Antonio Commanders on Feb. 24. He rushed for an AAF single-game record 122 yards. He raced 83 yards for a TD in the third quarter. It was the longest scoring play in Alliance history. Gardner also became the first player in AAF history to post back-to-back 100-plus yard games. He had a league-leading 281 rushing yards through the league’s first three games prior to having his season cut short by a shoulder injury.

3. Central Valley High School grad Ozzie Ramos had a successful tryout with San Diego 1904 FC. He signed a one-year contract with the third-division professional soccer team on Aug. 29. Ramos and 1904 FC fell one win shy of advancing to the NISA Western Conference finals. Ramos played for ASC San Diego in the National Premier Soccer League earlier in the year prior to joining 1904 FC. He filled a major role in leading the amateur team to a 15-6-1 overall record, the West Region title and semifinal appearance in the NPSL Playoffs for the first time. 

4. Sis Bates batted .387 from the plate with three triples, 11 doubles, 77 hits, 30 RBIs, 60 runs and 10 stolen bases during her junior year with the University of Washington softball team. She was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season. She earned Pac-12 All-Academic honorable-mention accolades for the second consecutive year. She was also voted a National Fastpitch Coaches Association First-Team All-American for the second year in a row. Bates had a .988 fielding percentage. She committed just two errors. The Huskies posted a 52-9 overall record, advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Division-I Women’s College World Series and tied for first in the Pac-12 standings (20-4).

5. Concordia University Irvine softball pitcher Callie was named a First-Team All-American for the sixth time in her college career. Fastpitch News announced its 2019 FPN NCAA DII Pitching and Offensive All-American selections on June 13. Nunes, a 2017 Ceres High School grad, was the lone sophomore to earn first-team accolades. A top-10 finalist for National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division-II Pitcher of the Year, Nunes was also named a First Team All-American by NFCA and Division 2 Conference Commissioners Association (D2CCA). This is the second consecutive season three associations have recognized Nunes as a First-Team All-American. Nunes was selected D2CCA West Region Pitcher of the Year for the second straight season. She earned first-team, all-region honors as well. She was named to the NFCA First-Team All-Region Team for the second consecutive year. Nunes tied for first in NCAA DII with 33 victories and was fourth in strikeouts (266) while posting a 1.34 ERA. She had four no-hitters. Nunes helped lead Concordia to the NCAA DII Super Regional for the first time in program history, a 47-8 overall record and its second straight PacWest Conference title. The Eagles claimed the Regional championship and climbed to No. 1 in the NFCA West Regional rankings for the first time. 

6. Ceres High grad Azia Brewster enjoyed a breakout season during her first season with the Modesto Junior College women’s track and field team. She brought home an eighth-place medal in the javelin from the California Community College Athletic Association State Championships. She had a throw of 112 feet, four inches. Brewster also took ninth in the high jump (4-11). The top eight individuals in each event medaled.

7. Citing a desire to spend more time with his family, Scott Edwards resigned as head coach of Central Valley High School’s varsity football team following its season-ending 49-17 win at El Capitan on Oct. 25. Edwards, 47, will be remembered as the Hawks’ most winningest coach. Central Valley amassed a 32-30 overall record, claimed one conference title and participated in the playoffs twice during Edwards’ six-year tenure.

8. Diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes leading up to his first season with the Fort Hays State University football team, Ceres High grad Ramon Coral spent a week in the Intensive Care Unit in a Kansas hospital. Coral’s blood-sugar level soared to 600. Coral lost 30 pounds from his 6-foot-4 frame and missed the first five games of the 2018 campaign due to health issues. On Nov. 16, Coral wrapped up his two-year athletic career at NCAA Division-II Fort Hays. He logged playing time on the offensive line in a total of 13 games.

9. A standout on Central Valley High School’s boys soccer team for three seasons, Gerardo Flores made history in October at the college level. Flores became just the second male player from Cal State San Bernardino to register a hat trick in the past nine years. The freshman forward contributed off the bench in a big way as the Coyotes rolled to a 6-1 win over Stanislaus State in California Collegiate Athletic Association play. Flores was named CCAA Player of the Week.

10. Jocelyn Lopez and Abigail Martinez accomplished a lot while playing a combined six seasons of high school and club soccer together. The Central Valley grads suited up for the Stanislaus State women’s team this fall. Lopez started every game at center back for the Warriors, who advanced to the NCAA Division-II Championship Tournament and posted a 15-6-0 overall record. She earned second-team, all-CCAA honors. Martinez, a defensive midfielder, contributed off the bench.

11. La Rosa Elementary third-grader Damon Flores improved his overall record to 20-1 after placing first at the USA Boxing Youth National and California State Silver Gloves championships in December.

12. The Ceres Earthquakes FC Elite under-18 girls competitive soccer team climbed to No. 1 in the national rankings in July. The Earthquakes’ roster featured 18 players, including local standouts Jocelyn Lopez, Abigail Martinez, Jackie Sanchez, Citlaly Salinas, Mariah Trevino, Edith Larranaga, Miranda Larranaga, Siriana Gudino and Arianah Martinez.

13. Inder Sandhu stepped up in a big way during the Modesto Junior College men’s basketball team’s Big-8 Conference opener on Dec. 18. The 2018 Ceres High School grad drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer as the Pirates erased a 22-point deficit en route to posting a thrilling 84-81 home victory over defending-league champion Delta College.

14. A total of 148 students tried out for Central Valley’s cheer program. Three males earned spots on the varsity squad, including Joeziah Mendez, Carlos Serrano and Anthony Valenzuela.

15. The Yosemite Community College District Board approved 1989 Ceres High grad Donnie Donaldson’s hiring as head coach of the Modesto Junior College softball team in August. Donaldson formerly coached at Waterford (2016-19) and Ceres High (2007-14).

16.  A standing-room-only crowd watched Central Valley’s and Ceres High’s varsity football teams face off for the 14th time in August. Approximately 2,500 fans attended the Ceres Classic rivalry game at CUSD Stadium. The Hawks prevailed, 55-13.

17. The child of divorced parents, Kenny Lopez Jr. always longed to have a more meaningful relationship with his father. Boxing has brought the 2013 Central Valley grad and Kenny Sr. closer together. He plans on following in his dad’s footsteps in the near future by becoming a professional fighter.

18. Told that he’d never play basketball in high school after getting cut twice in junior high, Elijah Hughes refused to listen to the critics. Hughes changed his lifestyle and developed into a standout player at Ceres High. He earned first-team all-Western Athletic Conference honors as a junior and senior. He also earned invitations to a pair of all-star games. Diet and exercise helped Hughes shed more than 80 pounds in high school.

19. Bonsu Elite Athletics celebrated its 10th anniversary on April 13. The 9,000-square-foot sports performance training facility is located at 3427 Railroad Avenue in Ceres. BEA, which is owned by Les Bonsu, specializes in speed, agility and strength training.

20. The Bates siblings, Sis and Jimmy, got fitted for their Pac-12 championship rings in June. Sis and Jimmy filled integral roles on the third-ranked University of Washington softball team this past spring. Sis batted leadoff and starred at shortstop. Jimmy was a graduate manager.

21. Central Valley grad Ja’Quan Gardner experienced a “wow” moment after practicing with the San Diego Fleet in February. Gardner found out he had his own trading card with Topps, which teamed up with the Alliance of American Football league.

22. Steve Festa stepped down as leader of Ceres High’s wrestling program to spend more time with his family. He coached at his alma mater for 13 years. He was a walk-on head coach for the past seven seasons. Festa helped the Bulldogs continue their winning tradition. Ceres High finished in first place at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV Championships and claimed the Western Athletic Conference’s overall title during the 2016-17 school year. The Bulldogs took first at the WAC Tournament for the second year in a row in 2017-18.

23. Central Valley’s Greg Magni was named Sac-Joaquin Section Athletic Director of the Year by the California State Athletic Directors Association. He oversees an athletic department with more than 20 sports teams.

Cade Cowell
Ceres native Cade Cowell inked a five-year contract with the Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes in January of 2019. He became the youngest signing in Earthquakes and Bay Area team sports history. Cowell turned 15 on Oct. 14, 2018.