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Trio of seniors will lead Lady Bulldogs
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Heather Mazza, Krystle Brown and Meghan Franksen were rivals in the sixth grade. In the seventh grade, the trio suited up for the Mae Hensley Jr. High girls basketball team.

Now seniors at Ceres High School, Mazza, Brown and Franksen are determined to help the Bulldogs continue their winning tradition. The fourth-year varsity basketball players used to be fans.

"It's cool," Mazza said.

"Whenever we were in the eighth grade, we would look up to them."

Last season, Ceres finished second in the Central California Conference and advanced past the first round of the playoffs for the second year in a row.

The 2004-05 squad should be just as good if not better despite losing several starters.

Quantelle Daniels graduated and is a member of the Merced College women's basketball team. The four-year varsity player averaged 12 points, four rebounds and three assists per game during her senior year.

Heidi Eisenbeis decided not to play basketball this season. She played varsity for three years.

"This year, everybody gets along," Mazza said. "That plays a big part in us doing good."

The team bonded over the summer. Ceres competed in several tournaments, including one in Hawaii.

"You always work first to win league and second to make the playoffs," said Ceres coach Shawna Nunes. "That's the goal."

Ceres has the personnel, which includes a talented supporting cast, to accomplish that feat.

Varsity experience

Seven players return from last year's team, including Brown, a 5-foot-11 forward/center, Mazza, a 5-7 point guard, Franksen, a 5-7 guard, Kelsey Sayad, a 6-foot senior center, Jennifer Arnold, a 5-7 junior guard, Jessica Mazza, a 5-8 junior guard/forward, and Heather Jones, a 5-5 sophomore guard.

Donna Zaragoza, a 5-5 senior guard, Jordan Nash, a 5-5 junior guard, Emily Coutrakis, a 5-4 junior guard, Crystal Perez, a 5-8 junior forward, Jessica Hunter, a 5-10 junior center/forward, and Kristen McClure, a 5-10 sophomore center/forward, are newcomers.

Brown, Heather Mazza, Franksen, Sayad and Arnold start.

Brown averaged 14.2 points per game last season en route to earning second-team, all-CCC honors. She reached double figures in scoring in 11 of 13 league games.

Mazza used to be a role player. Through this year's first seven non-conference games, she totaled 79 points (11.2 ppg).

"I'm shooting the ball way more this year," she said.

Franksen is a defensive standout but also poses a threat on offense.

Arnold is a 3-point specialist.

Coutrakis, Nash and Perez played JV ball last year.

McClure averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds per game while playing for the freshman team in 2003-04.

"Everyone has improved," said Heather Mazza.

Making history

Ceres has never failed to make the playoffs under the guidance of Nunes. She's been coaching since the 1993-94 school year.

"The kids who are here know the history," Nunes said. "They expect it.

"Each year they set the bar."

Mazza, Brown and Franksen have guided Ceres to an impressive 43-15 record during the past two seasons. The Bulldogs went 21-8 last year and 22-7 in 2002-03.

As freshmen, Mazza, Brown, Franksen and the Bulldogs went 7-6 in league, 14-14 overall. In the first round of the playoffs, Ceres committed 35 turnovers in losing 73-25 to Laguna Creek.

Mazza, Brown and Franksen learned from that embarrassing experience. And haven't been blown out since.

"They remember what it felt like to have a team do that to you," Nunes said.

Ending the streak

Ashley Walker joined the Davis High varsity girls basketball team during her freshman year. With Walker in the lineup, the Spartans have won 10 straight games over Ceres, including four in a row last season.

"We don't really talk about the playoffs," said Heather Mazza. "We talk about beating Davis. That's definitely one of our goals."

Tough schedule

The Modesto Metro League should be extremely competitive. Davis is the front-runner. Ceres and Beyer should be strong too.

"I think they're the favorite in league but I don't think they're unbeatable," Nunes said.

"We're going to battle." - By DALE BUTLER / Staff Reporter of The Ceres (Calif.) Courier