New head coach Ryan Donnelly has been tasked with the job of rebuilding Central Valley High School’s boys volleyball team this spring.
Kelly Heese’s third year as leader of Ceres High’s program could be her most productive.
Heese believes the Bulldogs will experience a major turnaround in 2023 due to a mindset change.
Ceres High struggled to a 2-17 overall record and last-place finish in the Western Athletic Conference with a 1-14 mark last year.
“I’ve seen a big change,” Heese said. “They have a different mindset. They’re receptive to my coaching. Everybody is paying attention at practice. They’re focused. They motivate each other. They matured.”
“They didn’t enjoy last year,” she added. “It wasn’t fun. That (losing) makes for a long season.”
Ceres High returns seven players from a season ago, including Isaiah De La Torre (Sr.), David Flores (Sr.), Ethan Oiterong (Sr.), Isaiah Rodriguez (Sr.), Joseph Rodriguez (Sr.), Faiva Taukalau (Sr.) and Andre Pina (Jr.).
Oiterong, an outside hitter, earned WAC honorable-mention accolades as a junior.
“We have a solid core,” Heese said. “They have experience.”
The Bulldogs have five newcomers on their roster: Joshua Miguel (Sr.), Ethan Xiong (Sr.), Manuel Ortega (So.), Giovann Sio (So.) and Bo Moring (Fr.).
Xiong, Ortega and Sio competed at the junior-varsity level a season ago.
“They love the sport,” Heese said. “They’re learning and growing every day.”
Ceres High lost five players to graduation in Yair Munoz, Bryce Piatt, Miguel Rivera, Rajneel Singh and Jessie Villalobos. Munoz was named to the WAC First Team.
“They’re a fun group to coach,” Heese said while talking about the 2023 Bulldogs. “They’re happy to be there. They enjoy playing the sport. It makes coaching so much fun. We should go pretty far this year.”
Ceres Highs’ conference schedule includes matches against Beyer, Grace Davis, Johansen, Los Banos, Pacheco, Lathrop and Mountain House.
Beyer and Johansen are fielding their first-ever boys volleyball teams.
Grace Davis is a second-year competitor.
Lathrop (15-0), Mountain House (11-4), Pacheco (10-5), Los Banos (4-11) and Grace Davis (4-11) placed first, second, third, fourth and fifth, respectively, last season.
Ceres High collected its lone victory against Los Banos.
“If the boys put their minds to it and play well together, I believe they have the potential to do well,” Heese said. “Outside of Lathrop, everybody is pretty comparable. We’ll be competitive. We have the talent. The athleticism is there.”
Donnelly is Central Valley’s second head coach in the last two years.
He replaces Donald Dudley, who led the Hawks to a program-best 10-10 overall record during his lone season at the helm.
“Dudley asked me if I wanted to take over his spot after the basketball season,” said Donnelly, who also coaches girls hoops at his alma mater. “I’m not going to coach something if I don’t enjoy it. Growing up, I played volleyball a lot with family and friends.”
“The biggest adjustment is learning the game rules and regulations,” he added. “I’m always big on effort, trying your hardest. These kids do.”
The Hawks return just two players from a season ago: Andrew Dong (Jr.) and David Luna (So.).
Central Valley has 10 newcomers, including James Chavan (Sr.), Ivan Nava Corona (Sr.), Sylvester O’Bryant (Sr.), Josue Yepez Salcido (Sr.), Sahibjot Deol (Jr.), Anthony Gil (Jr.), Wasu Maza Yang (Jr.), Charles Nguyen (Jr.), Emmanuel Carranza (So.) and Garrett Akiona (Fr.).
Central Valley lost five players to graduation: Yoshi Kumar, Bernardo Pulido, Guillermo Garibay, Osvaldo Pelayo and Elias Vasquez.
Gage Mastropierro and Gerardo Pantoja did not return to the team.
Mastropierro opted to play baseball.
“We’re young,” Donnelly said. “I’m also new. We’re going to make mistakes. I want them to gain knowledge and experience. In the long run, that will help us get better.”
“They work hard,” he added. “They always want to practice. They all love the game of volleyball. Team chemistry is really good. Everybody gets along. That’s huge. There’s going to be a lot of growth.”
Central Valley’s Central California Conference schedule includes matches versus Patterson, Livingston, Merced, Golden Valley, El Capitan, Buhach Colony and Atwater.
The Hawks placed sixth in the 2022 CCC standings with a 4-8 mark
Merced (12-0) won the league title.
El Capitan (10-2) and Golden Valley (10-2) took second and third, respectively.
Buhach Colony (5-7) and Patterson (5-7) tied for fourth.
Atwater (0-12) was last.
Central Valley topped Atwater twice and Buhach Colony and Golden Valley once in conference play.
“It’s definitely a strong league,” Donnelly said. “The other teams have a lot more experience. If this team continues to be committed, I think we can get to the level of play we have in our league. We’ll have more production as far as winning if we limit our mistakes and capitalize on opportunities.”