Every goal Gabriella McKeown scores this season could be a record breaker.
The Lower Cape May Regional High School senior entered the season as the school's all-time leading girls soccer scorer with 63 goals. She scored her 64th in the Caper Tigers season opener, a 4-3 loss to Egg Harbor Township.
McKeown, a midfielder who verbally committed to Temple University in August, led the area in scoring last fall with 34 goals. Her biggest competition to stay on top wears the same uniform.
Junior forward Madie Gibson has 50 goals through two seasons. She scored 26 as a sophomore and along with McKeown makes up the area's most dangerous 1-2 scoring punch.
"I love playing with Madie," said McKeown, 17, who lives in Cape May. "It's not that we read each other's minds, but we know where the other will be. We can read defenses and connect on passes well."
The two are longtime friends who have played together on club teams for years. That chemistry has worked wonders for Lower Cape May's offense.
"It works for us because teams usually have to pick one to mark," said Gibson, a 16-year-old Cape May resident. "That leaves one of us open. We like to use each other a lot."
McKeown and Gibson have instilled energy and life into the Caper Tigers' program. Once a perennially losing team, Lower Cape May has steadily become a force in the Cape-Atlantic League and in South Jersey.
In the past two seasons, their success exploded. Lower has posted a 28-8-4 record, a trip to the South Jersey Group III finals and the program's first CAL National Conference title. The team is off to a slow start this season at 0-2 after a 4-2 loss to Mainland Regional on Wednesday.
"This is probably the first year where I feel we're the team marked as the team to beat," Lower coach Brett Matthews said. "It's been kind of nice being the team everyone's not really looking at."
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With McKeown and Gibson leading the attack, it's impossible not to attract attention from future opponents. Teams are bringing their best stuff when they face Lower Cape May.
Monday's loss to Egg Harbor Township was disheartening to a Caper Tigers team that enters the season with high hopes. Lower led 3-1 but EHT scored three times in the final 15 minutes.
Lower admittedly has some holes on the field left by graduating seniors. But their core is strong.
"We've come a long way from the start of the (preseason)," Gibson said.
McKeown, the lone captain, and Gibson have readily accepted the challenge of leading the team as the rest of its roster falls into place.
"One thing we are certain of is those two are on the same page and doing the exact same things they were doing last year," Matthews said.
McKeown's and Gibson's achievements have inspired the team, as well as the entire Lower Cape May Regional district to get excited about girls soccer. Their passion for the game makes their teammates want to succeed.
As McKeown gears up for her final season, she sometimes thinks of the legacy she'll leave behind. Though her name will be etched in record books, she hopes to show future players much more than a number of goals.
"I want to be remembered as a team player - not for my goals," McKeown said. "I want people to remember that I'd do whatever I could to help the team."
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