Jennifer McCann watched her older sister, Danielle, play varsity soccer as a freshman at Middle Township High School.
Jennifer, then in seventh grade, saw her sister score 22 goals and help win a South Jersey Group II championship in her first season with the Panthers.
"I used to think, 'Two years from now, I hope that's me playing with her,' " Jennifer said Sunday.
Now a freshman, Jennifer's wish has come true. The McCann sisters both start for Middle (14-4-2), which on Friday beat Cape-Atlantic League National Conference rival Buena Regional 2-1 in a first-round South Jersey Group II game (soccer roundup on D3).
Danielle, a junior, is the one of the area's most talented strikers and is second in the CAL with 30 goals, including the first one in Friday's game. With 77 career goals, she is 31 away from Tara Davies' school record of 108. Jennifer (three goals) started the season up top with Danielle but now starts in the midfield, where she has excelled for the Panthers.
The sisters have helped Middle, in a major rebuilding year after having reached the sectional final two years in a row, remain atop the National Conference.
The McCanns work well together. They enjoy being teammates and reminiscing about games at their family's Cape May Court House home.
"It's exciting to work with your sister in a sport," Danielle said. "When you win, it's great because you're winning with your family."
Being sisters also means they don't have to censor themselves when it comes to praise or criticism.
Jennifer often relies on Danielle, a two-time Press All Star, for advice and tips on how to play better.
"We're not afraid to tell each other what to do," Danielle said. "If she needs to improve on something, I'll tell her and she'll do it. We cooperate well."
When they're on the same side, at least.
Middle Township coach Bob Wishart Jr. joked that he always puts the McCanns on the same team when they're scrimmaging to avoid conflict.
"You can't put them on opposite teams because they'll kill each other. … But these two, they work. They're both the same kid. They're tenacious on the ball, no quit, the both of them," Wishart said.
Having beaten Buena, the fifth-seeded Chiefs will play a quarterfinal game Tuesday at 2 p.m. against host West Deptford, the No. 4 seed.
Friday's victory added another highlight to a season that, given Middle's youth and inexperience, already has been a success. Many of the Panthers' players will return next fall, including both McCann sisters.
"I'm really happy with how it's going now," Danielle said. "Next year we'll be that much better. Our defense is young and they've already gotten so much better."
The defense, backed by junior goalie Olivia Salvo, has compiled 10 shutouts.
Regardless of how long their playoff run lasts, the Panthers can be happy with what they've achieved. Expectations for the program's future are high.
The season has been a whirlwind for the younger McCann. She's thrilled to have the chance to play for a Middle Township team that has become one of the area's most revered programs.
"It was a dream of mine to start varsity soccer," Jennifer said. "It's still soaking it in now. I'm so honored to play."
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