In today’s Courier, we highlight the success of prep athletes that excelled in their respective sports this past year. Here’s Part One of the best of 2022 list.
1. Ruben Valenzuela had a memorable final season with Central Valley High School’s boys wrestling program. Valenzuela qualified for the CIF State Championships for the second time in three years. The 184-pound senior captured his second Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III title and repeated as Central California Conference champion. He was named the CCC’s Most Valuable Wrestler. Valenzuela placed first for the third time at the Ceres Invitational. He brought home a championship belt buckle from the James Riddle Memorial Tournament. He took second at the Asics Southern California Challenge. Valenzuela climbed to as high as No. 6 in the state rankings. He had an overall record of 32-7.
2. Tarrell Lee-Gill made program history by becoming just the second football player from Ceres High School in the last 37 years to be voted league MVP. Former Bulldog quarterback/head coach Bret Durossette was named Most Valuable Player of the Golden Valley League in 1985. Lee-Gill, a dual-threat running back, was the top player in the Western Athletic Conference during his final season with the Bulldogs. He rushed for 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns and caught 18 passes for 305 yards and three TDs.
3. Alysabeth Marquez made program history by becoming the first girls golfer from Ceres High School to receive conference Most Valuable Player honors for the third time. She won the Western Athletic Conference MVP award during her final season with the Bulldogs. Marquez posted the second-best score (87) at the 2022 WAC Championships. She compiled an 11-3 record versus conference cluster competition. She earned her second-consecutive berth to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV Tournament.
4. Brooklyn Heffernan, a senior pitcher on Ceres High’s softball team this past spring, added to her already-impressive resume. She was voted league MVP for the third time in her career. She shared the Western Athletic Conference’s Most Valuable Player award with Los Banos’ Paige Smith and Beyer’s Delaney Pratt. Heffernan was named MVP of the WAC South Division as a junior and the WAC’s top player in the ninth grade. She posted a 14-6 record in the circle with a 1.58 ERA, 170 strikeouts and 20 walks during her final season at Ceres High. Opponents batted just .175 from the plate versus Heffernan. She also contributed on offense with a .351 batting average, three homers, two triples, eight doubles, 23 RBIs, 23 runs, 17 walks and nine stolen bases. Heffernan had an on-base plus slugging percentage of 1.091. She made just one error while posting a .980 fielding percentage. Heffernan earned a scholarship to San Francisco State University.
5. Verlis Smith starred in basketball and track and field during his senior year at Ceres High. Smith earned four all-league patches for his dominance at the Western Athletic Conference Track & Field Championships. He placed first in the long jump and 100, and second in the 200 at the WAC finals. He also ran the anchor leg on the Bulldogs’ runner-up 4x100 relay team. Smith advanced to the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Meet in the 100 and long jump after turning in standout performances at Division-IV Championships. He took second in the 100, fourth in the long jump and seventh in the 200 at Divisionals. Smith claimed individual titles in both the 100 and 200 at the Stanislaus County Championship Meet. He was first in the 200 at the Tiger Rustbuster Invitational. A four-year starter in hoops, Smith was voted Most Valuable Player of the WAC as a senior. The standout forward/guard averaged 18.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game for the Bulldogs.
6. Ceres High boys soccer standout Isaac Arana tallied 27 goals and 19 assists, both career-highs, on his way to earning the Western Athletic Conference’s Most Valuable Player award as a senior.
7. Erik Hott enjoyed his best season to date with Ceres High’s boys golf team as he refused to let a knee injury derail his final year. Hott had a memorable showing while competing in the postseason. He secured an individual berth to the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Tournament by virtue of his standout performance at Divisionals. Hott claimed the Division-IV title. Hott shot a 1-under-par 71 at Divisionals. He missed qualifying for NorCals by five strokes as he fired a 5-over-par 76 while competing at Masters for the first time. He shot a 12-over-par 84 at the Western Athletic Conference Championships. He earned first-team all-conference honors for the second year in a row. Hott cemented his legacy as one of Ceres High’s greatest male golfers.
8. A newcomer to girls wrestling, Central Valley’s Brianna Espinoza secured a berth to the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Championships. The 237-pound freshman placed fourth at the South Regional Tournament, first at the Central California Conference Finals, Firebaugh Lady Eagle Invitational and Bristow Brawl, and third at the Brittany David and Mark Fuller events.
9. A first-year kicker on Ceres High’s football squad, senior Nicholas Vieyra was voted the Western Athletic Conference’s co-Special Teams Player of the Year. He finished second on the team in scoring with 50 points. Vieyra made seven of nine field goals, converted 29 of 39 point-after kicks and totaled 17 touchbacks. He booted two 45-yard field goals, one 44-yarder, two 35-yarders, one 30-yarder and one 23-yarder.
10. Ceres High senior Faiva Tuakalau was named the Western Athletic Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year for his dominance in football. He had 65 tackles, one sack, two interceptions, two pass deflections and one forced fumble at linebacker. Tuakalau was also a first-team all-league offensive lineman. He started at tackle as the Bulldogs’ piled up 1,899 yards and 29 touchdowns on the ground.
11. Bulldog senior Jeremiah Diaz was voted the Western Athletic Conference’s co-Defensive Lineman of the Year. He tallied 40 tackles, including five for a loss, one sack and one fumble recovery while being double-teamed by opposing offensive linemen.
12. Central Valley’s Fernando Cano was named the Central California Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year in boys soccer. The senior striker led the Hawks in scoring with 20 goals.