Once junior forward Gabriella McKeown intercepted a crossing pass in overtime against Rider University on Sept. 1, sophomore defender Kelcie Dolan knew the game was over.
McKeown then dribbled up the field, faked out a defender and booted a shot past Rider’s goalkeeper to seal Temple’s second win of the season.
It’s the shot coach Seamus O’Connor wants McKeown to take all year long.
“What we’ve kind of thrown on her is, ‘Hey, you can’t be giving this ball up, you have to take the shot,’” O’Connor said. “You can’t be giving it to somebody else. So soon as she won it, she was gone. And she knew she had the responsibility to take that shot.”
With the Owls losing their two top scorers from last season, McKeown is beginning to fill that void.
The North Cape May, New Jersey product leads the Owls in goals, points and shots through seven games this season.
McKeown also had a combined 58 shots in her first two years at Temple.
“Very few players are two-footed like she is,” O’Connor said. “She can hit it just as hard with her left foot that she can with her right foot. That tells me she’s worked on her game … being able to play with both feet was something that impressed me.”
But scoring goals wasn’t something McKeown just started doing on North Broad. Her roots go back to her high school, Lower Cape May Regional in South Jersey. McKeown broke Lower Cape May’s record for all-time goals with 90. In her junior year, she also broke the single-season record for goals scored with 34.
“Gab McKeown could have probably scored close to 150 goals,” said Brett Matthews, McKeown’s high school coach.
“She could break a girl down, create for herself,” Matthews added. “Any time she touched the ball she was a dangerous threat.”
McKeown led Lower Cape May to its first ever Cape Atlantic League Division in 2012 and Cape Atlantic League National Conference Championship in 2013.
Dolan, now a teammate, played soccer at Absegami High School, a 45-minute trip up the Garden State Parkway from Lower Cape May.
The two Owls faced off against each other throughout high school because Absegami and Lower Cape May were both members of the Cape Atlantic League. Dolan said McKeown’s speed created problems for her on defense.
“It was always a battle,” Dolan said. “Always going hard on each other.”
At the time when the two played each other, they were both committed to Temple and would often chat after games about their future as teammates.
McKeown originally wasn’t supposed to play soccer at Temple. She was committed to Iona College in New Rochelle, New York during the fall of her junior season.
After a coaching change, McKeown retracted her commitment in November 2012. She committed to Temple once she bought into O’Connor’s program in December.
“I really liked coming to school where you always had something prove,” McKeown said. “The team is really realized on heart, hustle and hard work, and I really like that.”
When O’Connor attended the Disney Soccer Showcase, a tournament held in Bay Lake, Florida at the ESPN Wide World Sports Complex where young players get the opportunity to experience national competition, McKeown stood out among the competition.
“Her attitude,” O’Connor said. “That combined with her athletic ability … you can’t coach that stuff. That’s the little bit that’s different.”
O’Connor said McKeown’s attitude is something he’s witnessed grow every year since she arrived at Temple.
Temple has the most freshmen on its roster since the 2013 season after the Owls lost nine seniors from last year’s team. McKeown is starting to assume a leadership role and hold people accountable for their actions on the team.
McKeown, who captained Lower Cape May for two years, knows how to leave her mark and lead her teammates, Matthews said.
“By the time she became a senior, she owned our team,” Matthews said. “All the girls looked up to her, all the girls respected her, all of them listened to her. She was really just a great role model for our team.”
Tom Ignudo can be reached at email@example.com.