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Superior talent ready for spring play
Brad Bussard will fill a major role on Ceres Highs varsity baseball team again. - photo by DALE BUTLER/The Courier

Ceres High and Central Valley sports enthusiasts will be thoroughly entertained this spring.

The Bulldogs and Hawks both have superior individual talent.

1. Julio Ochoa had a near-perfect sophomore season with Ceres High School's varsity boys tennis team in 2013. Ochoa reeled off 27 straight wins before losing 6-0, 6-0 to top-seeded Sean Alves of Casa Robles in the opening round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-II Individual Singles Tournament. Ochoa won his second straight Western Athletic Conference singles crown and MVP award. Julio posted a perfect 14-0 record in WAC play. He matched older brother Luis' title total and ascended to top-three status in program history. Ochoa will rank as the Bulldogs' all-time greatest player at the conclusion of this season.

2. UC Riverside recruit Anthony Bonales will try to win his third Western Athletic Conference individual title, tournament championship and Most Valuable Player award during his final season with Central Valley's varsity boys golf team. Andrew Bonner, a 2013 Central Catholic grad and University of Colorado freshman, ended Bonales two-year reign as the top player in the WAC a year ago. Bonales will also be striving for additional postseason success. He's qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Tournament once and Divisionals three times.

3. Ceres High junior Zachary Jones will be a dominant force in the pool again. Jones finished first in the 100 free (50.97) and fourth in the 100 breast (1:11.78) at the 2013 Western Athletic Conference Varsity Boys Swimming Finals. He took third in the 50 free (22.67) and eighth in the 100 free (50.09) at the Sac-Joaquin Section Frosh-Soph Section Championships. Jones starred in water polo this past fall. He earned first-team, all-conference honors. Zachary collected 54 goals, 37 assists and 31 steals.

4. Ceres High's varsity softball team has a talented sophomore class. Nicole Bates, who made a verbal commitment to the University of Washington prior to the start of the 2013 season, will star on offense and at shortstop for the second year in a row. Bates was selected to the Western Athletic Conference First Team last season. She hit .558 with three triples, two doubles, eight RBIs, 24 runs and eight stolen bases. Nicole was a standout basketball during the winter sports season. She earned second-team, all-league honors. Bates averaged 13.1 points per game. She jumper from the free-throw line at the buzzer propelled Ceres High to a 48-47 victory against crosstown-rival Central Valley.

5. Brad Bussard will fill a key role on Ceres High's varsity baseball team for the second consecutive season. The junior will pitch and play shortstop. Bussard garnered second-team, all-conference honors his sophomore year. Brad posted an 8-2 record with a 1.62 ERA, 54 strikeouts, 18 walks, four complete games and two shutouts. He batted .350 with one triple, six doubles, seven stolen bases, 18 RBIs and 29 runs. Bussard had a productive first season of varsity football with the Bulldogs in 2013. The second-team, all-league quarterback tossed for 2,853 yards and 25 touchdowns with 16 interceptions. Bussard had three 400-yard passing games. He totaled a program-record 437 yards and six TDs in his debut versus Modesto High.

6. Central Valley senior Ja'Quan Gardner was voted USA Today/Asics Athlete of the Year. A three-year starter on the Hawks' varsity football team, Gardner broke the Stanislaus District's career and single-season rushing yard records. All eyes will be on Ja'Quan this spring when he displays his talent in track and field. Gardner placed 18th in the 100 (11.40) at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Meet in 2013. Ja'Quan took fifth at Divisionals (11.38). He finished second in the 100 (11.17) and sixth in the 200 (23.75) at the Western Athletic Conference finals.

7. Heaven Simon had a sensational sophomore season with Central Valley's varsity girls track and field team. She won the 400 (1:03.25) and finished second in both the 200 (26.60) and 300 hurdles (51.56) at the Western Athletic Conference Championships. She set personal records while placing third in the 400 (59.59) and fourth in the 300 hurdles (47.24) at Divisionals. She took 16th in the 300 hurdles (47.51) at Masters. Simon should have an even-better junior campaign with the Hawks.

8. Mia Lorenzo, a slugging senior shortstop on Central Valley's varsity softball team, was named to the Western Athletic Conference Second Team last season. She batted .341 with 10 RBIs. Lorenzo was a standout in basketball during the winter. A first-team all-conference selection in hoops, Lorenzo averaged 12.1 points and 4.0 assists. Mia was selected to the WAC Second Team for her outstanding play in volleyball last fall. She led the Hawks in digs and ranked second in assists.