The Ceres High School varsity softball program's team picture looks drastically different from a season ago.
The Bulldogs lost six players to graduation, including Kaycee Creek, Jessica Ellsworth, Cierra Hammons, Kassandra Carrillo, Alexis Cummings and Christin Ornells.
Expectations remain high for this year's group thanks in large part to a host of new talent.
Freshmen Nicole Bates (SS), Mahlena O'Neal (C), Kaytlin Donaldson (P/1B), Mackenzie Veuve (P/3B/1B) and Sabrina Baisdon (OF), and sophomore Megan McCormick (3B/OF) earned varsity roster spots.
"This could be the most talented team we have ever had if everything falls into place," head coach Donnie Donaldson said. "They have a lot of travel ball experience. They already know how to win."
Bates, O'Neal, Donaldson, Veuve and Baisdon played together with the Tri County Smash 12s and 10s for a combined four seasons.
The Smash 12s placed fifth at the ASA/USA Girls' Class A National Championships in Alabama in 2011. Tri County won six of eight games and posted a 49-3 overall record.
Bates made a verbal commitment to the University of Washington in November.
O'Neal is considering committing to UCLA or Cal.
"I've watched all of these girls grow up since the age of 10," coach Donaldson said. "It's going to be a privilege to coach them now. A lot of them have been waiting for this."
The Bulldogs' top returners are Camrynn Broumas (2B, Jr.), Dia Borden (OF, Sr.), Laura Story (1B, Sr.), Jayme Langon (OF, Sr.) and Darian Sawyer (UTL, Sr.).
Broumas was named to the WAC Second Team as a sophomore. Camrynn batted .273 with two RBIs and seven runs.
Newcomers Mikayla Watley (3B/OF, Jr.), Tessa Corsaut (UTL, Jr.) and Isabell Saldana (UTL, Jr.) contributed at the JV level in 2012. "You don't own a position just because you're an upperclassman," Donnie said. "Everybody gets an opportunity to compete for a starting spot."
Ceres High claimed its first league title since 2005-06 and returned to the playoffs following a two-year absence this past season.
The Bulldogs won 10 of 12 conference games, posted a 17-9 overall record and finished fourth at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV championships.
Ceres High erased a 2-0 deficit and defeated Central Catholic 4-2 in extra innings for the WAC crown on the final day of the regular season.
"Central Catholic will be tough again," coach Donaldson said.
Donnie was promoted to head coach in 2007. He's led the Bulldogs to 99 victories, four playoff appearances and one league title in six years.
"All the girls want to continue the legacy," he said.
Ceres High will complete a grueling non-conference schedule. The Bulldogs will battle Hughson, Sierra, Enochs, Gregori and Tokay.
The five teams all made the playoffs and had a combined record of 93-34-4 last year.
Hughson won the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-V championship, posted an overall record of 28-1 and captured the Trans-Valley League crown (12-0).
Sierra, the Valley Oak League's No. 3 seed, placed second in Division IV and finished 18-6-1 on the year.
Enochs took first in the Modesto Metro Conference (12-0).
"We've always carried a tough preseason schedule," coach Donaldson said. "We got to face the best pitching we can. It gets us ready for league and playoffs."