By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Gardner, Bates headline list of top individual performers
Nicole Bates, a standout hitter and shortstop on Ceres Highs varsity softball team, earned a scholarship to the University of Washington. - photo by DALE BUTLER/The Courier

In today's Courier, we present the best of 2015 list.

Peak Performers
1. Ja'Quan Gardner, a 2014 Central Valley High School grad and sophomore running back on Humboldt State's football team, finished second in voting for the Harlon Hill Trophy. Gardner ranked first in NCAA Division II in rushing yards (2,266), rushing yards per game (188.8) and rushing touchdowns (25). Gardner broke the Lumberjacks' single-season and single-game rushing yard records. He also shattered the Great Northwest Athletic Conference's single-season rushing yard and carries marks as well. Gardner has already climbed to No. 2 on Humboldt State's career rushing list. He was voted GNAC Offensive Player of the Year. Ja'Quan also earned spots on the Conference Commissioners Association and American Football Coaches Association All-America teams.

2. Nicole Bates, a standout hitter and shortstop on Ceres High's varsity softball team, earned a scholarship to the University of Washington. She put up impressive numbers during her junior year with the Bulldogs. Nicole batted .518 with three homers, seven triples, 14 doubles, 27 RBIs, 51 runs and 14 stolen bases. Bates was voted WAC Offensive Player of the Year. She ranked first in the WAC in batting average (.521), slugging percentage (.875), on-base percentage (.558), doubles (7) and runs (24), second in homers (2), triples (2) and RBIs (17), and third in stolen bases (6). Bates was selected to the FloSoftball All-American First Team. Nicole was named to the MaxPreps and Cal-Hi Sports all-state teams as well.

3. Ceres High varsity softball star hitter/catcher Mahlena O'Neal finalized her college plans when she signed a national letter of intent with the University of Georgia. O'Neal earned first-team all-Western Athletic Conference accolades the past three seasons. She ranked first in the WAC in homers (3), RBIs (20) and fielding percentage (1.000), third in triples (1) and doubles (4), fourth in slugging percentage (.733), and eighth in batting average (.400) and runs (9) her junior year.

4. Ceres High's Nolan McCaig brought home a runner-up medal from the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-II Varsity Boys Tennis Championships for the second year in a row. Nolan (30-2) suffered just two losses this year. He's won 59 of 62 matches over the past two seasons. McCaig captured his second straight Western Athletic Conference singles title and MVP award. He has a perfect 29-0 record in conference play.

5. Heaven Simon was named Central Valley's top female athlete. The fleet-footed senior qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Varsity Girls Track & Field Championships for the third year in a row. Simon placed fourth in the 300 hurdles in a personal-best time of 44.07 seconds. She was named an alternate for the CIF State Meet. Heaven set PRs while successfully defending her 300-hurdles title (45.77) and finishing first in the 400 (58.11) at the Division IV-V competition. Heaven claimed four individual titles at the WAC Finals. She swept the 100 (13.09), 200 (27.05), 400 (59.59) and 300 hurdles (46.85). Simon won the 300 hurdles (48.53) and 400 (1:04.68) at the WAC Finals in 2014. She also ran a leg on the Hawks' winning 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams. She placed first in the 400 (1:03.35), and second in the 200 (26.60) and 300 hurdles (51.56) her sophomore year. She finished first in the 400 (1:05.81), third in the 100 (13.35) and fifth in the 200 (28.36) as a freshman.

6. Central Valley varsity girls golf star Janita Vongphoumy was named Western Athletic Conference Most Valuable Player for the second consecutive year. The senior placed first at the WAC year-end and mid-season tournaments during both of her seasons with the Hawks. This year, Vongphoumy won the title at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV Championships. She qualified for the Masters event her senior and junior years.

7. A four-year starter with Central Valley's varsity boys basketball team, Jaron Dickson was voted Western Athletic Conference Most Valuable Player his senior year. Dickson averaged 23.9 points, 9.2 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game. Jaron played in the 20th Annual Six County All-Star Classic and First Annual Central Valley Senior Showcase games. Dickson totaled 16 points and buried four treys while earning MVP honors for the first contest. He was also named Central Valley's top male athlete.

8. Moses Ghiorso did just about everything for Central Valley's varsity football team this past fall. The senior racked up 2,639 all-purpose yards and 25 touchdowns. Ghiorso rushed for 1,515 yards and 21 TDs. He averaged 11 yards per carry and fumbled just once. Moses also caught 27 passes for 411 yards and two touchdowns. Ghiorso was named the Western Athletic Conference's Outstanding Offensive Player .

9. John Alba had a memorable sophomore season with Ceres High's varsity wrestling program. Alba captured 152-pound titles at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV and Western Athletic Conference tournaments. John compiled a 1-2 record at Masters.

10. Ceres High varsity girls swimmer Julia Pata swept the 50 free and 100 free at the Western Athletic Conference Finals for the second year in a row. She placed fifth in the 100 free (55.58) and 13th in the 200 free (2:01.56) at the Sac-Joaquin Section Frosh-Soph Girls Championships. She finished seventh in the 100 free and 17th in the 50 free in 2014. Pata also starred on the Bulldogs' varsity girls water polo team. She received first-team all-conference honors.

11. Ceres High's Zachary Jones competed at the Sac-Joaquin Section Varsity Boys Swimming Championships for the fourth year in a row. Jones placed 19th with a personal-best time of 22.42 seconds in the 50 free during trials. He took 28th in the 100 free (49.55). Jones finished 27th in both the 50 free and 100 free at the section competition his junior year. He was a four-time champion in the 100 free at the Western Athletic Conference Finals. Zachary also won the 50 free twice at the conference's year-end meet.

12. Ceres High senior Brad Bussard was tabbed as the Western Athletic Conference's Most Valuable Player in baseball. Bussard, the Bulldogs' No. 3 hitter, ranked first in the WAC in triples (3), doubles (4), RBIs (19), runs (15), stolen bases (10) and slugging percentage (.700), third in fielding percentage (.953), fifth in batting average (.450) and ninth in on-base percentage (.457). A standout pitcher, Brad ranked second in league play in wins (5) and complete games (3), and third in ERA (1.18) and strikeouts (34). Just six of the 12 runs Bussard allowed were earned. He was also named Ceres High's Male Athlete of the Year.

13. Senior Julia Ramsey earned first-team all-Western Athletic Conference honors while starring on Central Valley's varsity volleyball team. Ramsey tallied 204 kills, 112 digs, 35 aces and eight blocks.

14. Central Valley senior center midfielder Emely Amaya was voted the Western Athletic Conference's Most Valuable Player. She was a four-year starter with the Hawks' varsity girls soccer team.

15. Angelica Slater was named to the Western Athletic Conference First Team. Slater, a four-year starter on Ceres High's varsity girls soccer team, anchored a defense that allowed just nine goals in 12 conference games this past spring.

16. Ceres High senior Austin Stiles was selected to the Western Athletic Conference First Team for his outstanding play at receiver. Stiles led the WAC in receptions (38), yards (594) and touchdowns (9). He caught 64 passes for 1,015 yards and 14 TDs in 10 total games. Austin played prep football for the first time during his junior year.