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Talented Tandem
Local high school basketball fans would be hard-pressed to find another varsity girls team in the Stanislaus District with a formidable tandem like Ceres High's Jode Johnson and Jamie Beck.

"We have two go-to players," Johnson said. "We don't have to depend on just one person."

Jode made the Valley Oak League first team as a junior. The 5-foot-10-inch senior averaged 17.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. The league's No. 2 leading scorer from a season ago buried game-winning shots against conference champion East Union and fifth-place Sierra.

Jode attended a point guard camp in Oklahoma City during the summertime in an effort to prepare for her final season.

"It helped me a lot mentally," she said. "I know how to handle certain situations in games. It made me more confident with the ball."

Added Ceres High head coach Shawna Nunes: "She's worked hard on her all-round game."

Beck, a 6-foot-2-inch junior center/forward, earned second-team accolades last season. She ranked first in league in rebounding (13.9) and blocks (4.4), and in the top 10 in scoring (11.7). Jamie had eight double-doubles.

"She definitely takes pressure off me," Johnson said. "I don't have to do as much."

The Bulldogs lost their point guard, Aimee Gunzenhauser, to graduation. She averaged 11.6 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.

A standout at Mae Hensley Jr. High last winter, 5-foot-10 freshman Bryce Ford was promoted to varsity to help fill Gunzenhauser's void. Johnson, a fourth-year varsity member, has been more than happy to pass on her basketball knowledge.

"We talk about everything at school," Jode said. "She's going to be dominant by her senior year."

Added Nunes: "She's tall, athletic and she can handle the ball. She does a lot of great things on instinct. She sees the floor very well."

The Bulldogs' supporting cast consists of Lili Jaimes (G, Jr.), Stephanie Yankovich (G, Jr.), Leah Rose (G, Sr.), Haley Duarte (C, Jr.), Vanessa Cuevas (C, Sr.), Elizabeth Nunes (G, Jr.), Sherhea Hamilton (C, Jr.), Cheyenne Blanton (C, Jr.) and Kaycee Creek (G, So.).

Jaimes was selected to the VOL All-Defensive Team for the second straight year last season. She shares co-captain duties with Johnson.

Nunes, Hamilton, Blanton and Creek are newcomers.

After struggling to a 4-8 start, Ceres High won seven of its final nine games last year to secure a berth in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.

The Bulldogs finished in third place in the VOL standings (9-5) and posted a 13-14 overall record.

Ceres High bounced back after having its string of 14 consecutive postseason appearances halted in 2007-08.

"I think we can be better than last year," Johnson said. "We have more experience since most of us have played together for three years. It would be disappointing if we (didn't place first in league), but if we make it to playoffs and go farther than last year, that would be more of a success."

"Our goal is to win league," Nunes said. "It's going to be tough, but I believe we can do it."

Ceres High also wants to continue its dominance against crosstown rival Central Valley. The Bulldogs own a 6-0 head-to-head record against the Hawks.

"I don't think it's going to change," Jode said.

Intimidated as a freshman, Johnson has worked hard to earn the respect of her coaches and peers. She understands what a privilege it is to play for the tradition-rich Bulldogs.

"I need to be a role model," Jode said. "I don't want to be a disappointment."