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Ceres High's varsity boys tennis team ended a 16-year playoff drought by earning the Valley Oak League's final berth last season.

The Bulldogs are hoping for a repeat performance in 2008.

"I think we actually have a chance at making sections again," said sophomore Luis Ochoa, Ceres High's top singles player. "But it's going to be way harder."

"We're going to battle for the second playoff spot," Bulldogs head coach Brian de la Porte said. "I hate to say that but that's a reality. Manteca has every single starter back. They have 12 solid guys. They have so much depth."

Ceres High returns seven players from a squad that compiled a 13-3 overall record, finished second in the VOL standings (12-2) and stunned Metropolitan Conference league champion McClatchy 5-4 in the opening round of the Division II playoffs. They are Ochoa, Mike Hundal, Aaron Salazar, Harmon Bains, Jose Cortes, Raul Massie and Wilson Liang. Luis, Mike and Hundal started last year. Bains, Cortes, Massie and Liang all logged valuable playing time.

"We have experience," de la Porte said. "That's a big factor."

Ochoa will play No. 1 singles for the second straight season. He posted a 30-6 record and earned first-team, VOL honors as a freshman.

"I expect him to be the league champion and go to sections the next three years," de la Porte said. "He's one of the hardest hitters I've ever seen. He's a beast."

"I want to go undefeated," Ochoa said. "I think I can do it if I focus and try hard."

Luis tied for eighth place with Mike Hundal, Manteca's Yaseen Annis and Oakdale's Casey Earle at the 2007 VOL Singles Tournament. He fell 8-4 in the quarterfinals to Manteca's Gabe Lopez.

Ochoa had a 2-5 mark on the year against Manteca's top three players.

"I could have worked a lot harder," Luis said. "My conditioning wasn't really good. This year, I'm practicing at the racket club more. I read a few books to improve my mental game."

Ochoa also attended a week-long tennis camp at UC Santa Barbara during the summer. He trained seven hours a day.

"He lives and breathes tennis," de la Porte said. "It's insane."

"I want to be league champ," Ochoa said.

Mike Hundal had a productive junior campaign in 2007. He compiled a 25-8 record at No. 3 singles, advanced to the quarterfinals of the league tournament and was named to the VOL second team.

Hundal will face stiffer competition at No. 2 singles during his senior year. He supersedes Jose Magana, who amassed a 35-7 record, placed third at the VOL championships and earned second-team, all-conference accolades.

"That's a big void I'm worried about," de la Porte said. "Mike's got to fill that position in order for us to go to the playoffs. I think he's ready. He has the experience."

Aaron Salazar and 2007 Ceres High graduate Calvin Kong teamed up to win 17 of 26 matches at No. 2 doubles for the Bulldogs last season. Salazar, a senior, will play No. 3 singles this year.

"He's a scrapper," de la Porte said.

Harmon Bains, a sophomore, and Jose Cortes, a junior, make up Ceres High's No. 1 doubles team. The duo replace VOL first-teamers Tony Casal and Rodrigo Cortes (24-4 record). Harmon and Jose played in two playoff matches and one regular season tilt last season. Their 6-3, 6-3 triumph in No. 2 doubles proved to be the difference during the Bulldogs' opening-round playoff upset.

"They're the ones that clinched it," de la Porte said.

Sophomores Raul Massie and Wilson Liang start at No. 2 doubles. They participated in two playoff and regular season contests last year. Massie and Liang replace VOL second-teamers Salazar and Kong.

The top two teams in the VOL make the playoffs. Ceres High will be in a three-team race for the No. 2 seed with Oakdale and Sonora. Defending league champion Manteca shouldn't have any trouble repeating because of its superior talent and depth.

"That's the truth," de la Porte said. "There's no hiding it. It's like saying Modesto Christian isn't going to win the TVL in basketball."