By Matt Williams
---- — Not many Beverly High athletes find college sports programs that share their uniquely loud school color, orange.
Though it was far from her top priority, attacking midfielder Eva Gourdeau is pretty happy to have found one.
Heading into her junior year of high school, Gourdeau gave a verbal commitment to play soccer at Syracuse University this past spring.
The Orange are coached by Phil Weddon, who coached the US Women’s National Team to Olympic gold in 2004 and 2008, and will join the ultra-competitive Atlantic Coast Conference before Gourdeau arrives in 2015.
“It was a really tough decision, but in the end it came down to the fact that I wanted to play in the most competitive conference I could,” said Gourdeau, who fielded close to a dozen Division 1 offers and had a top three of Syracuse, Providence and Villanova.
“The coach’s style is very similar to what I’m used to. He has big ambition for the team with 2014 being their first year in the ACC and the Syracuse community behind him, so it’s exciting to become a part of it.”
In Gourdeau, the Orange are getting a highly regarded, technically skilled player. TopDrawerSoccer.com rates her at four stars (out of five), and she’s also the No. 3 player in the Northeast for the high school Class of 2015, and No. 40 among all forwards in her class nationally.
In two seasons at Beverly, Gourdeau has 39 goals, 36 assists and 75 points. She’s a two-time Salem News all-star and helped the Panthers win the Division 1 North title last fall. Along with senior teammates Caitlin Harty (Holy Cross) and Kristen O’Connor (Bryant), Gourdeau gives Beverly three Division 1 college players coming back next season.
“It all became real for me when I made my decision. I was able to reflect on my love for the game and how much I put into it over the years,” said Gourdeau. “I love to play at the highest level.”
Gourdeau’s older brother Jack was a captain at St. John’s Prep, and she remembers playing with a ball on the sidelines at his games when she was as young as three. She also has a twin brother, which led to the unique experience of playing on some boys teams while growing up.
“The boys were so competitive, I wanted to work harder. I liked playing with the boys,” said Gourdeau, who was also a competitive figure skater as a youngster.
As she got older, Gourdeau began training with the Stars of Massachusetts, based in Acton. The Stars are a big commitment, with tons of travel time for practice and games. The time and effort were worth it, says Gourdeau.
“Playing for the Stars made me realize soccer was what I wanted most. I can’t even put into words the respect, passion and love I have for the game because of the things I learned there. I had coach Greg Cosgrove from age 11-14 and he taught me technique and to improve my ball skills. I have Jason Dewhurst now, and he’s taught me so much about the complexity and tactics of the game.”
The Stars also participate in the Elite Clubs National League, which is sponsored by Nike and others and brings some of the best girls club soccer teams in the country together regularly. Gourdeau’s Stars team recently finished 9th in the national tournament held in Denver.
“It’s very much like a pro atmosphere. There are major sponsors and most all college coaches are there, I can’t think of a big school I haven’t at least seen at one of them,” said Gourdeau. “There’s nothing like playing against a team from California that has five National team players ... to match up your skills and game against that kind of player is great.”
ECNL events are competitive and enjoyable, but they’re also showcases. Most of the players hope to play in college, at the Division 1 level if possible. Having so many high-level players in one place certainly makes recruiting easier for the coaches, but being seen does take some adjustment for the players.
For Gourdeau personally, the recruiting process began near the end of her freshman year and coaches were looking for verbal commits by Memorial Day of her sophomore year. NCAA rules will allow her to officially sign with Syracuse during her senior year.
“It’s not uncommon to have 40 Division 1 coaches at a game, sometimes more of them than there are parents,” she said. “It can be pretty intimidating and a little overwhelming and the decision is stressful. But at the same time, it’s pretty cool to know they’re interested and at times it drove me harder because it made me realize that this is what I’ve been working for.”
There’s also nothing quite like suiting for your hometown, and one of the great things about club soccer is that it doesn’t interfere with the high school season. At Beverly, Gourdeau has developed into a possession midfielder that has to be accounted for by opposing defenses.
She has immense passing skills (19 assists last year), and has been deadly along with Harty (50 goals last year) up front. Gourdeau also has a very good shot, and she’s comfortable with both aspects of the offense.
“I think my strengths are my vision of the field and understanding the game. I can see opportunities to pass and I understand patterns of play,” she said. “I feel like I’m at my best when the game it at a faster pace.”