ALAMEDA -- It's been well over a decade since the St. Joseph Notre Dame High School boys soccer team made the playoffs, but in the last two seasons, the team has been getting closer.
Now, with Seth Feldman in his third year of building the program, spirits are high and the future is bright as the Pilots look to navigate the North Coast Section's Division II landscape and land in the playoffs this season.
"This team has the potential to be very special," Feldman said. "They are hard-working, smart and athletic. This summer they attended camp and really dedicated themselves to getting better.
"What is particularly nice about this year's team is that many of them have been together for three or four years and they have wonderful team chemistry."
This year, 44 players are in the program.
"The soccer program at St. Joseph Notre Dame High School has grown exponentially over the last three years," Feldman said. "The growth of the program is the reason why we have been steadily improving from year to year. We attract soccer players who love the game and outstanding athletes who want to learn the game for the first time."
A big reason this team has a chance to succeed this year and make the playoffs is that they have perhaps the best player in the league. Antonio Ramirez is returning to lead the squad in the new Tri-County Athletic League.
Last year, Ramirez was selected as the Bay Shore Athletic League's Defensive MVP despite the team finishing seventh in the standings.
"Antonio has been crucial in teaching the next generation of players," Feldman said. "He is one of the hardest-working team members and is consistently working to acquire new skills. What makes him special is his unselfish play."
Ramirez is not the only Pilots senior who is a leader. St. Joseph Notre Dame has a strong group of seniors who have stuck with the program through the lean years and should hopefully benefit from the reward of their hard work and dedication.
"What makes this group of seniors stand out is that they stuck with the program and continued to play soccer when they could have easily stopped playing after their freshman year," Feldman said. "Instead they had faith that the school would support the team."
Sam Levy-Wendt, Angelo Sibal and Scott Burgess join Ramirez as the group that has kept this team together and has provided leadership on and off the field.
But like any program, consistency is what is needed to keep a system in place and to keep the players believing in the direction in which things are going. Feldman understands this and has the desire to be around for the long haul.
"Consistency is the key for any successful high school sports program," Feldman said. "I am only in my third year but that puts me near the top of our league in terms of seniority. There are too many teams who change coaches way too often.
"I would like to be at the school for at least 10 years so that I will have two cycles of players come through the program and we can measure the success."
At a tournament in Redding, the Pilots tied Foothill-Palo Cedro 1-1 on a goal from Levy-Wendt, then beat Anderson 2-0 with Ramirez and Michael Monica scoring.
Last week was a rough one for the Pilots as they were shut out 5-0 by Eastside Prep-East Palo Alto and 4-0 by Crystal Springs Uplands-Hillsborough, but started league play on Dec. 11 at Albany. Results of that game was not available at press time.