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Bound For Success - Bruins Boys Keep The Fire Going
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The steady elevation of Riverbank High's boys basketball program is showing no signs of quit.

A 7-1 start to the 2010-11 season propelled the team to a .500 conference win percentage and playoff qualification. Last year, an undefeated romp through the preseason gave way to a sterling 9-3 record in the Trans-Valley League, an appearance in the Sac-Joaquin Section semifinals and the NorCal Championship Tournament.

Not much is different this year.

The team is 7-1 thus far in the 2012-13 season and boasts a terrific returning cast with sharp additions to the varsity level.

"These guys have put in a ton of gym time, so I'm real proud of how much they have improved," Riverbank coach Jeff Jennings said. "(We) definitely want to contend for the league title and host one to two playoff games."

The Bruins return the co-most outstanding player from last year's All-TVL first team in junior Rolaun Dunham. The standout point guard is joined by savvy senior shooting guard Kenny Veliz, who showed impressive range beyond the arc throughout the 2011-12 campaign. The two are joined by the likes of returners Markus Benson (senior guard), Luis Solorio (senior center), Armando Manriquez (senior center) and Trey Jones (senior forward). Benson has already shown huge improvements from his junior season, with an uncanny ability to crash to the hoop despite a frame generously listed at 5 feet, 9 inches. New to the varsity level are the likes of Reilly Nabors (junior guard) and Tristan Rodgers (junior guard), who already have seen a serious rush of playing time this year.

They represent the type of talent necessary for Riverbank to compete with a gauntlet of league opponents. Atop the league pecking order is the ever imposing Modesto Christian team that hasn't lost a conference game since joining the league in 2006. The Crusaders return almost every cog of a 2011-12 team that captured a section crown over fellow TVL foe, Ripon. Since Ripon beat Riverbank to reach the finals, the TVL was represented by three of the four semifinal teams in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV bracket.

Jennings said he expects the TVL to be a tough league again this year. Modesto Christian will be heavily favored, but Ripon lost by two points to 9-0 East Union this year, beat Riverbank twice late last year and upended Gridley to capture a win in the NorCal Championships. Riverbank's lone loss this season was 60-47 to East Union, but the team won its next four games. The Bruins shellacked reigning Western Athletic Conference co-champions, Los Banos, 64-23 on Dec. 18 in a stunning defensive performance. In all, Riverbank has outscored opponents 462-338 thus far.

Most of the Bruins' success is rallied around strong guard performance. With Manriquez (6-3) representing Riverbank's tallest player, the team rushes to quick full-court press attacks with a four-guard lineup and even five-guard look.

Jennings said his team strengths are quickness, defense, talented guards and a solid skill set with team depth. He admitted they have a weakness in size, but said a commitment to the weight room has helped overcome that. Riverbank begins a tournament in Oakdale on Dec. 27.