Sean Gouveia had 13 goals and 11 assists as a freshman at Belleville West, helping the Maroons finish 18-2-1 and win the Southwestern Conference championship.
The Maroons were disappointed when Gouveia then opted to play club soccer, where he remained for two years and in the process signed a scholarship to Memphis.
That mission accomplished, Gouveia has returned to West for his senior year, and the Maroons are more than happy to throw the talented forward into their attack.
“It’s huge news to get Sean Gouveia back,” sixth-year Maroons coach Rob Thornberry said. “He had a major impact as a freshman, and now he’s back as a senior. He’s stronger, faster, better in the air and his decision-making is quicker. He’s a man-child; he’s hard to knock off the ball. He just has a lot of special skills that we’re thrilled to have.”
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The 5-foot-10, 160-pound Gouveia, an all-sectional and all-conference selection three years ago, is glad to be back.
“I’m really excited to play for West again,” Gouveia said. “I always knew I would; I was just waiting until I signed and I could not really worry about it any more. I didn’t want to leave, but I knew I would pretty much have to in order to get the exposure I needed.”
Gouveia said being back at West for soccer “has brought back a lot of memories,” including hat tricks against Collinsville at Althoff.
“My game has changed a little bit,” he said. “It’s more about speed. I’ve been working on fine-tuning everything. I want to go out there and play as well as I can and help us win as much as we can. I’ve always loved scoring goals. It’s the best part of the game.”
Senior Drake Terveer also returns at forward. Thornberry believes Gouveia and Terveer will be able to effectively “set each other up.”
“They’ll play off one another and also create opportunities for some other guys coming up through the midfield,” Thornberry said. “We’ve got some speed. I think we’re going to be a handful for some defenses.”
West, which was 7-10-3 overall and 3-2-1 in the SWC last year, opens the season with a home game against Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin at noon Saturday.
The Maroons also return senior sweeper Nick Harry, senior defender Jakob Kurtz, senior defender Kodi Kuhlmann and junior midfielder Ryan Herling, a defender last season. Thornberry is looking for another defender to start with Harry, Kurtz and Kuhlmann, with junior Austin Firestone showing the most promise in the preseason.
Herling has made major improvement since last season and will be relied upon to provide complementary scoring for Gouveia and Terveer.
“He’s really worked hard in the offseason,” Thornberry said of Herling. “His pace has increased and he’s really looking good offensively. He’s improved a ton.”
Other returning midfielders are senior Jordan Tastad and junior Max Oplt. Thornberry expects a good season from Tastad, who made gradual improvement throughout last year.
The Maroons graduated goalkeeper Nate Petrekovich, who signed with Quincy. Petrekovich will be replaced by junior Trevor Pentland or senior Brandon Gregory. Thornberry said Pentland could be an option in the midfield, which would leave the job to Gregory.
“Pentland’s got speed, so when we put him on the wing, he can fly,” Thornberry said.
Other players include senior midfielder Alex Barry, junior midfielder Trevor Biver, senior defender-midfielder Randy Haley, senior defender Jack Langen, junior defender Caleb Little, freshman midfielder Joey Pearson, senior midfielder Sam Taylor, senior forward Felipe Sanchez and sophomore midfielder Blake Williams.
“I think we have depth,” Thornberry said. “Langen is a hockey player, so be brings us a level of aggressiveness and speed. Blake Williams brings some skill and knowledge to the game, too, and Joey Pearson is full of skill. We’ll see how he does against the big boys.”
West is glad to be on its new field on campus. Last year, the Maroons were displaced as construction on the field began. Oerter Park in Columbia became their temporary home, but a wet fall forced many of their games to be shifted to different locations.
“It’s huge,” Thornberry said of the artificial surface. “Having the turf is awesome. It has really upped the training level; the kids are excited to be out there. They’re thrilled. Usually, soccer is played on grass. But in high school soccer in Illinois, the finals are on turf. If we’re going to compete on an equal playing field, we need to be playing on turf. We’ve got it now.”