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Wrestlers raising the bar
Ceres High School's varsity wrestling squad will compete at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV Team Dual Championships this Saturday in Stockton.

The Bulldogs qualified thanks in large part to their talent, depth and dedication.

"It's not a fluke," Ceres High head coach Jon Nowicki said. "It shows where the program's headed. We didn't make team sections for so long. This is our second time going in three years. It's a big accomplishment. I'm really proud of the guys."

Seniors Nick Moran, Erick Garcia and Ivan Raya, juniors Gabe Balderas, Armando Morales, Ruben Sanchez, Joey Bettencourt, Dustin Palacek, Connor Joseph, Matt Lopes, Austin Moore and Sam Ochoa, sophomores Eric Bejaran, Ricky Garcia, Moses Gomez, Nick Santibanez and Daniel Soriano, and freshmen Rudy Gonzalez and Daniel Raya have all contributed to the team's success this year.

The Bulldogs, 9-3 overall and 4-1 in the WAC, placed third at the Ceres and Bear Creek tournaments, and fourth at the Hughson duals.

Ceres High made its first-ever appearance in the Section Team Duals during the 2009-10 school year. The Bulldogs amassed a 7-1 record on their way to a second-place finish in the Valley Oak League.

"I knew going into this season we were going to have a tough team," Nowicki said. "We don't have many superstars but we have strong kids in every weight class. It's impressive how hard they work."

"I suspected we'd do good but not this good," Balderas said. "It's a little bit of a surprise."

Ceres High wrestling has experienced a major turnaround since Nowicki and assistant coach Steve Festa returned to their alma mater in 2006-07.

The Bulldogs should contend for the WAC title next season.

Ceres High will also make a bid for its third section team duals berth.

"The wrestling IQ in our school is a lot higher," Nowicki said. "We really push the kids. We take them to some of the biggest tournaments in the state. That's how you build a program. We're always striving for perfection. There's always room for improvement."