By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Ceres High's last playoff appearance in volleyball came in 2004. The Bulldogs have gone 6-37 in conference play since.

Central Valley had a combined record of 1-27 over its first two seasons of existence.

The members of both varsity programs enter the 2008 campaign filled with optimism.

They're focused on the present and determined to succeed under the guidance of new head coaches.

The Bulldogs will be led by Stephanie Hamilton.

Tauheedah Gaines will direct the Hawks.

"I'm excited," Gaines said. "The girls have great enthusiasm."

"We have high expectations," Hamilton said. "All of the girls have great attitudes. They're going to work great together."

Stephanie inherits a Ceres High squad that returns four players from 2007, including Aimee Gunzenhauser (senior), Jode Johnson (junior), Leah Rose (junior) and Alyssa Eudy (junior).

Kaylee Brown and Chelsea Lomeli graduated.

The Bulldogs have eight newcomers in Kaela Causey (junior), Rachel Nevarez (junior), Nichole Fitch (junior), Shalaina Carvajal (junior), Hilary Haley (junior), Taylor Ross (junior), Emily Alvarez (junior) and Jamie Beck (sophomore).

Johnson and Causey, a transfer from Central Valley, were both named to the Valley Oak League second team as sophomores.

Rachel, Nichole, Shalaina, Hilary, Taylor and Jamie all played for the Bulldogs' junior-varsity squad a season ago.

Six-foot-1 Beck will help fill the void left by Brown.

"I think we're going to be way better this year," Johnson said.

"Everybody is more committed. We're all in tip-top shape."

Central Valley is moving foward without a handful of key players, including Causey, Julie Calderon and Alyssa Cardinal. Calderon and Cardinal decided to focus on basketball and modeling, respectively.

"I don't really think about that," Gaines said. "I'll just work with what we got. I've already seen improvement."

Added senior Ruby Ramirez: "It's sad but we're not going to cry about it. I'm sure everybody will step up and do what they have to do. We'll be fine."

The Hawks have experience on their side as five members return from last year: Ramirez, Kayla Lolkus (senior), Victoria Romo (senior), Nichole Weese (senior) and Alisha Segmiller (sophomore).

Central Valley has seven newcomers, including Amanda Lopez (junior), Gigi Sahota (junior), Valerie Uti (junior), Tiffany Reeves (junior), Angela Medina (junior), Alyssa Long (sophomore) and Kiana Lallana (sophomore).

Lopez, Sahota, Uti and Reeves suited up for the JV program last year.

Long starred on the 9-5 freshman team.

Medina ran cross country.

The Bulldogs have their sights set on a top-three finish in the VOL standings and Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berth.

Ceres High beat Weston Ranch twice, and Central Valley and East Union once on its way to a sixth-place finish in league last year (4-10). East Union qualified for the postseason.

"Playoffs is a possibility," Johnson said. "We're working hard. We have more talent than last year."

Added Hamilton: "It's really up to them. They're the ones that have to do the work."

The Hawks hope to narrow the competitive gap with the rest of the conference.

Central Valley earned its first-ever VOL victory last season, snapping a 19-match losing streak with a 3-2 triumph over Ceres High.

The Hawks placed last in league with a 1-13 record. They were edged out twice by Weston Ranch, suffering gut-wrenching 3-2 losses.

"We didn't have a lot of wins but we improved," Ramirez said. "We want to play as a team and continue to get better. We're going to try our hardest."

Ceres High has won three of the four head-to-head meetings with Central Valley since 2006.

"If they stay focused and keep working hard, the outcome will be in our favor," Hamilton said. "I'm sure they're going to give us a good game because we're rival schools."