Ceres High School's varsity boys basketball program is aiming to make its second consecutive playoff appearance this winter.
The Bulldogs secured the Western Athletic Conference's third and final postseason berth last year.
"I'm excited," Bulldogs head coach Julio Marquez said. "The kids are excited. They put in a lot of work during the summer and offseason. We'll be competitive."
Ceres High welcomes back five players from last year, including Austin Stiles (Sr.), Haaydn Martinez (Jr.), Ismael Ontiveros (Jr.), Trevor Nash (Sr.) and Xavier Mendoza (Sr.).
Cristian Garcia (So.), Nick Jones (Jr.), Blane Abeyta (Jr.), Michael Alconcher (Jr.), Marcellus Boykins (Jr.), Jacob Langan (Jr.), Jordan McGrath (Jr.) and Andralas Wallace (Jr.) are new to the team.
"The kids all get along," Marquez said. "I just have to worry about basketball."
Garcia, Jones, Martinez, Stiles and Ontiveros start at center, power forward, small forward, shooting guard and point guard, respectively.
Austin, a third-year varsity player, had a breakout season at receiver with Ceres High's varsity football team this fall.
He caught 64 passes for 1,015 yards and 14 touchdowns.
"Football helped him a lot," Marquez said. "I don't think there are any guards in the area that are as physically strong as he is. He puts in so much work with so many different people."
Slowed by an ankle injury for most of his junior season on the hardcourt, Stiles scored a team-high 16 points during 18th-seeded Ceres High's 83-64 loss to No. 2 Vanden in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III playoffs.
"Last year, he had trouble understanding what I wanted him to do," Marquez said. "He needs to be more aggressive. He's been working on his shot. It looks better."
Cristian led Ceres High's freshman boys hoops squad to 19-4 mark and runner-up finish in the Western Athletic Conference (9-2). He averaged more than 20 points per game.
"I decided to bring him up," Marquez said. "It wouldn't be much of a challenge for him at the JV level. He can be one of our betters if he puts in the work."
Jones, Alconcher, Boykins, Langan and McGrath were members of the Bulldogs' 15-6 and second-place (8-4) junior-varsity boys basketball team.
Ceres High's varsity squad posted a 14-12 overall record and placed third in the WAC standings a year ago.
The Bulldogs erased a 14-point deficit on its way to stunning El Dorado 58-54 in a Division-III out-bracket playoff game. Ceres High hadn't won a playoff game since 2000-01.
The top three teams in the Western Athletic Conference advance to the postseason.
Central Valley (12-0), Patterson (9-3) and Ceres High (7-5) represented the WAC in the playoffs this past season.
El Capitan (5-7), Pacheco (4-8), Los Banos (3-9) and Livingston (2-10) took fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively.
"From based on what we did during the summer, I think we have a playoff-bound team," Marquez said. "We're more athletic. We're bigger. We're pretty deep. We'll be one of the more physical teams in our league. We got a chance at doing something special. The kids want to win league. If we don't make playoffs, it would be a disappointment."