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Courier changes sports coverage due to coronavirus
Cade Cowell shot
Ceres teenager Cade Cowell appeared in 18 games during his second season of professional soccer with the San Jose Earthquakes. Cowell turned 17 in October.

2020 was unlike any other year.

Sports coverage changed for The Ceres Courier as the spring season was cut short in April due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We did our best to provide interesting content.

We shined a spotlight on former Ceres Unified School District athletes.

We also wrote articles about how the coronavirus impacted sports at all levels, including youth, high school, college and professional.

Here’s a list of some of our top stories from the past 12 months.

1. Hope turned to heartbreak after student-athletes from Ceres High and Central Valley found out the spring sports season was canceled on April 1 when Ceres Unified and the other school districts in Stanislaus County extended campus closures through the end of the 2019-20 academic year to prevent the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus. 

2. Cade Cowell appeared in 18 games during his second season of professional soccer with the San Jose Earthquakes. The 17-year-old Ceres native/Cesar Chavez Jr. High grad entered the record books by becoming the youngest player to start and score and make a playoff appearance in team history. 

3. Ceres High School grad/former University of Georgia softball player Mahlena O’Neal used her athletic talent to bring awareness to social injustice and brutality following the death of George Floyd on May 25. O’Neal offered hitting and catching lessons to a half-dozen softball players, aged 9-16, from the 209 area that donated money to organizations that support the Black Lives Matter movement.

4. Using results from a fan poll, ESPN unveiled its Greatest All-Time Softball Team on June 9. Ceres High School grad/University of Washington star Nicole “Sis” Bates received the most votes for shortstop. Bates (37.21%) beat out Natasha Watley (UCLA, 19.92%), Dot Richardson (UCLA, 16.76%), Laura Espinoza (Arizona, 7.58%), Ashley Hansen (Stanford, 5.25%), Madison Shipman (Tennessee, 5.00%), Jessie Harper (Arizona, 4.56%) and Delaney Spaulding (UCLA, 3.73%).

5. Blane Abeyta’s baseball journey changed drastically on June 20. The 2017 Ceres High School grad/University of Reno, Nevada junior right-handed pitcher signed with the New York Yankees as an undrafted free agent. Abeyta will suit up for the Gulf Coast League Tampa Tarpons, a Class-A affiliate, in the near future.

6. Omar Leon completed his 12th year of teaching Spanish and coaching boys soccer at Central Valley High School in June. He believes his career path from undocumented field worker to educator/coach was predetermined by a higher power. Leon emigrated from Mexico to the United States in the mid-1990s.

7. Ja’Quan Gardner’s professional football career has been put on hold again. A year removed from suffering a season-ending shoulder injury while starring at running back in the Alliance of American Football League, Gardner and the Seattle Dragons played their last XFL game on March The XFL and sports leagues across the United States have postponed and/or canceled their 2020 seasons to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

8. Mike Reynolds’ love for his family prompted him to change careers. The former Central Valley High School coach/special education teacher worked for Ceres Unified School District for 10 years before turning his focus to the cannabis industry. Reynolds and his wife Katharine have used a cannabis-rich CBD tincture to treat son Kase, who was diagnosed with a neurocognitive disorder characterized by epilepsy and intellectual disability at the age of four months. 

9. For the first time in its 37-year history, Ceres Youth Soccer Organization did not have a season due to safety concerns related to COVID-19.

10. Jesse Padilla stepped down as head coach of Central Valley High School’s varsity girls basketball program to spend more time with his family. Padilla led the Hawks to three conference titles and five playoff appearances in 14 seasons.

11. Former Ceres High School coach Frank Cheek passed away peacefully at the age of 82 on May 30. Prior to making a name for himself coaching softball and wrestling at Humboldt State for a combined 47 years, Cheek taught physical education and health classes and led multiple sports teams at Ceres High School from 1964-69.

12. The Ceres Youth Baseball & Softball Organization planned to start its 2020 campaign on July 13 with COVID-19 safety measures in place. Officials announced the cancellation of the recreational season in a press release posted on Facebook in June.

13. The local softball community lost a giant when Bill Evans passed away on June 30. He was 63 years old. Family, friends, peers, and former colleagues and players spoke fondly of Evans, who dedicated more than 40 years of his life to coaching college, high school and travel softball.

14. The Ceres Jr. Bulldogs and Seahawks Youth Football & Cheer Organizations had their seasons canceled this fall because of the coronavirus.

15. Mike Senseney passed away at the age of 50 on Aug. 29. Senseney coached wrestling in Ceres for 17 seasons, including eight at Central Valley High School. He also coached with the Ceres Hawks Wrestling Club and at Blaker-Kinser Jr. High for seven and two years, respectively.

16. Central Valley softball star Scarlett Lloyd earned a full-ride scholarship to Wagner College. She’ll become just the fifth Hawk student-athlete to compete at the NCAA Division-I level this spring.

17. Brothers Derrick and Clinton Goblirsch were promoted to head coach of Central Valley’s and Ceres High’s varsity football programs, respectively.

18. The California Interscholastic Federation’s 10 sections postponed the start of Season 1 high school sports until after the New Year on Dec. 1 due to the continued surge in COVID-19 infections.

19. Central Valley’s Ruben Valenzuela and Ceres High’s Jackie Ruiz were named the Courier’s Top Male and Female Athletes of the Year for the winter sports season. Valenzuela and Ruiz both enjoyed record-breaking seasons while starring in boys wrestling and girls soccer, respectively. Valenzuela made history by becoming the youngest male wrestler in Central Valley history to qualify for the CIF State Meet. The 182-pounder amassed a 35-7 record on the year. Ruiz set program records for goals scored in a single season, regular-season game and playoff match. She tallied 53 goals on the season. She scored eight times in an 18-1 win over Pacheco in Western Athletic Conference play. Ruiz accounted for all of Ceres High’s goals in its 4-0 shutout of Merced in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III playoffs. She was voted co-Most Valuable Player of the WAC.

20. The California Collegiate Athletic Association canceled all sports for the 2020-21 academic year on Dec. 3 because of COVID. The decision impacted thousands of student-athletes from 12 member schools, including Ceres Unified School District grads Jocelyn Lopez (Central Valley), Abigail Martinez (CV), Isaac Juarez (CV), Gerardo Flores (CV), Alex Solis (CV), Evan Duran (Ceres High School), Andrea Duran (CHS) and Vianney Perez (CHS).

21. Former Ceres High School girls tennis player Kimberly Ochoa leads a busy life. When Ochoa isn’t working as a clinical research assistant for the pediatrics department at the Stanford School of Medicine, she’s a student at Cal State East Bay. She also volunteers as a Spanish interpreter at a free clinic in San Lorenzo. Ochoa plans to apply for medical school this year.

22. Local wrestling coach Jorge Saucedo passed away unexpectedly at the age of 46 on Dec. 14. Saucedo coached at Central Valley High School and with the Ceres Hawks Club for a combined 12 years.

23. Marcellus Boykins’ dream of becoming a pilot became a reality on Oct. 21. A pair of hurricanes and the coronavirus pandemic didn’t stop the former Ceres High School standout athlete/current McNeese State University senior track and field member from obtaining his Federal Aviation Administration private pilot license for single-engine aircrafts.

24. Ceres High’s varsity girls and Central Valley’s varsity boys soccer programs had memorable campaigns this past winter. Ceres High’s girls team enjoyed its best season to date by amassing an 18-1-1 overall record, advancing to the quarterfinals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III playoffs and claiming the Western Athletic Conference championship (13-0-1). Central Valley’s varsity boys team had a 20-5-3 overall record, advanced to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-II championship game for the third time in four years and annexed its second consecutive Central California Conference title (9-1-2). The Hawks also participated in the CIF Northern California Regional Championship Tournament for the second year in a row.

25. Ohio youth softball players Mahaylee Bumgardner and Hailey Cooper received custom-made No. 22 Sis Bates jerseys from their fathers for Christmas. A standout shortstop at the University of Washington, Bates graduated from Ceres High School in 2016.

Bates Nicole again
Using results from a fan poll, ESPN unveiled its Greatest All-Time Softball Team on June 9. Ceres High School grad/University of Washington star Nicole “Sis” Bates received the most votes for shortstop.