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Optimism abound
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Ceres High and Central Valley student-athletes participated in their first practices for the fall sports season last week.

The lineup included football, volleyball, cross country, water polo, cheerleading, boys soccer, girls tennis and girls golf.

On Monday, Aug. 18 at Ceres High, Bulldog football players donned helmets, t-shirts, shorts and cleats as they cycled through six agility stations.

"It's similar stuff to what we did all summer," head coach Brett Johnson said. "But it's just a matter of stepping it up a little bit."

Added senior quarterback/linebacker Johnny Clark: "There's so much excitement in the air. Everybody's fired up and ready to go. I love being out here."

"It's more than just football for the seniors," said Martino Bertolotti, who will play receiver and defensive back in his final season. "We're trying to cherish our last year together. We're going to go hard at practice everyday."

Clark, Bertolotti and Co. want to restore Ceres High's football program to its once-proud past. The Bulldogs finished 0-10 overall and in last place in the Valley Oak League standings (0-7) in 2007.

"We don't want to go through that again," Martino said. "We don't want to let down our fans. Most of all, we don't want to let down ourselves."

"The past is the past," Johnny said. "We got to live for now this year. It's going to be difficult, but anything can happen. This team has a lot of heart."

More than 100 yards away, Koeurn Phe evaluates talent during the first day of tryouts for his varsity boys soccer team. Ceres High's new head coach finalized his roster on Tuesday, Aug. 19.

Returners are: David Estrada, Luis Martinez, Aron Mejia, Jose Meza, Kyle Cerny, Eleazer Padilla, Justin Breckenridge, Erik Orozco, Edgar Martinez, Alejandro Castro and David Gutierrez.

Last season's team finished in fourth place in the VOL (5-7-2). The top three teams qualified for the playoffs.

"If we stay focused and committed, not too many people will be able to stop us this year," Phe said. "We will be tested though."

"We got a strong team this year, said Cerny, a junior goalkeeper. "We'll be contenders."

Across town at Central Valley, volleyball players are in the middle of a grueling workout inside the gymnasium. They run suicide sprints with their new coach towards the end of the second day of tryouts.

"They're working hard," said Tauheedah Gaines, who takes over a program that posted a combined league record of 1-27 the past two years.

Outside at the tennis-court facility, rookie head coach Veronica Giddens has her players run three laps, stretch in a circle and introduce themselves prior to engaging in drills.

The Hawks return five of seven starters, including Anna Polovin, Jessica Gutierrez, Jessica Rodriguez, April Hernandez and Carissa Garcia.

Polovin, Gutierrez, Hernandez and Garcia are fourth-year members.

"As long as we improve, I'll be happy with that," said Rodriguez, a third-year player.

Central Valley's coming off a respectable 6-8 VOL campaign. The Hawks went 1-13 in conference play in 2006.

Like the Bulldogs, Central Valley spent the first three days of football practice in helmets before going to full pads. The Hawks started hitting on Thursday.

"This is what we've been waiting for," senior quarterback Trevor Mew said. "Everyone's excited. And that's good. We're hoping for the best."

Mew led Central Valley to a 3-7 record and sixth-place finish in league (2-5) as a junior.