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Wrestlers have a new head coach
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Steve Vieira has an impressive resume.

He accumulated 201 wins and just 20 losses while wrestling varsity for four years at Hughson High School. During his senior year, he won the state title in the 135-pound weight class and finished fourth at the National High School Senior Wrestling Championships to earn All-America honors.

Vieira, 24, helped coach at Central Catholic, which sent four wrestlers to the Sac-Joaquin Section Meet this past season. He was also in charge of Mae Hensley Jr. High's program.

When Vieira found out Ceres High needed a head coach for the 2004-2005 school year, he jumped at the opportunity. Vieira grew up in Ceres. He moved to Hughson after the sixth grade.

"They seem to be happy with me," Vieira said. "And I'm happy to be here. I'll stay for as long as they want me."

Vieira inherits an inexperienced team. Just two of his 23 wrestlers competed at the varsity level on a regular basis last season.

"We're real young," Vieira said.

"I had some of these kids at the junior high."

Johnny Bridges (103s) and Zach Van Wagoner (152s/160s) are Ceres' top returners.

Bridges, a senior, and Van Wagoner, a sophomore, both advanced to the sub-section meet last year.

Bridges is confident he can accomplish a lifelong athletic goal--qualify for the CIF State Wrestling Championships--with Vieira in his corner.

"We've got a coach that's been there and done that," Bridges said.

Ceres' top newcomers are Mike Tubera (112s), Louis Bracamonte (119s/125s), Tony Chaves (130s/135s), Marc Dias (135s, 140s), Jake Keidel (140s), Steven Chaves (152s/160s), Jake Elwess (171s/189s), Hector Reyes (189s), Russell Bridges (215s) and Nathan Niemeyer (275s).

Dias, Keidel, Elwess and Niemeyer all wrestled JV last year.

Keidel turned an ankle while running sprints at practice and will be sidelined for at least six weeks.

"We're hoping to get him back mid-January," Vieira said.

Tony, Steven, Louis and Mike Tubera competed at the junior-high level a season ago. Tony, Steven and Bracamonte at Mae Hensley. Tubera at Blaker Kinser.

"They (Tony and Steven) have the most mat experience out of everybody," Vieira said. "They wrestled a lot of freestyle."

Reyes and Bridges are first-year wrestlers. They were members of the Ceres High football team, which claimed a share of the Modesto Metro Conference in November.

Ceres started training for the 2004-2005 season on Nov. 1.

At the beginning of each practice, members of the team run for 30 minutes. They work on technique for 60-90 minutes inside the wrestling room, which is located next to the small gymnasium. There's also a lot of live wrestling.

Each practice lasts three hours, from 3-6 p.m.

"These kids seem to be picking up things really well," Vieira said.

Added Van Wagoner: "The practices are the biggest difference. We do a lot of drilling. We practice more of the basic moves so we get better at those."

No time is being wasted.

"I want them to get something out of every practice," Vieira said.

And a lot of energy is being spent.

"That's what I've been accustomed to," Vieira said. "Nothing but hard training."

Vieira is also making sure all of his wrestlers eat right. A lot of fruit is being consumed.

"I'm trying to get them prepared," Vieira said.

The Bulldogs will participate in the Western Invitational, a 50-team tournament at Modesto Junior College, on Friday and Saturday.

"We have a good month of competition before we get to our league matches," Vieira said. "We've got a lot of potential. I think we have an outside chance of beating every team in our league."

Fans shouldn't be disappointed if Ceres High struggles in the beginning. The makeover won't happen overnight.

"It's going to take a couple of years to build a powerhouse," Vieira said.

"We're going to have our ups and downs because we're young."

Promoting the sport at the elementary and junior high levels is essential.

Vieira said he will continue to coach at Mae Hensley Jr. High. He also wants to establish a youth wrestling club in Ceres.

"I'm trying to start something new here," Vieira said.

Vieira is rebuilding a program with a storied past.

Frank Cheek led Ceres High to its third-straight and last section title in 1970.

The Bulldogs haven't won a league title and/or sub-section championship in nine years.

Ceres' last individual state champion was Charlie Davis in 1998.

Vieira is hoping to lead a return to glory. - By DALE BUTLER / Staff Reporter of The Ceres (Calif.) Courier