Gabriella McKee showed maturity beyond her years on the soccer field from the start of her high school career at Owen J. Roberts. As a freshman, McKee garnered first team All-Pioneer Athletic Conference recognition, a feat she duplicated in every successive season.
It only stood to reason that McKee would exhibit a mature approach to making her college choice.
"You have to be able to go to a school that you'd love even if you weren't playing soccer there,' she said.
For a player of McKee's quality, soccer is certainly on the table. It will be in the fall when she begins her freshman year at Liberty University after signing a letter of intent in February to join the Flames' NCAA Division I women's soccer program.
A starting center back for Owen J. Roberts all four years, McKee helped the Wildcats win the PAC-10 championship as a freshman and reach the PIAA Class AAA semifinals as a sophomore. A poised defender with equal ability as a free kick taker, she had nine goals and four assists as a senior and seven goals and seven assists as a junior, huge totals for a defender.
Liberty, located in Lynchburg, Va., entered into McKee's life after she received recruiting emails from the school.
"I wasn't expecting to go there but they started sending me emails and I thought, ' Why not?' I'll check it out,' she said. "The campus is beautiful and the coaches are the nicest people. I felt it was the perfect school for me.'
In the classroom, McKee hopes to study international business with an eye toward a career in sales.
The University of Pittsburgh and St. John's University were her other top contenders. But Liberty being a Christian university and featuring a more rural setting and milder climate helped it win out.
"The religious foundation (influenced my decision). And I wanted to go south because I really don't like the cold weather,' McKee said. "I didn't want to go to a huge school, but go to a school that I could come in and make an impact.'
McKee's joins a Liberty program, coached by Jessica Hain and assistants Laura Armstrong, Adam Godwin and Brian Davidson, that went 16-6-2 in 2013 and won the Big South tournament. Liberty qualified for the NCAA Tournament but fell to perennial power North Carolina in the first round.
McKee was on hand to watch the Flames dispatch High Point, 4-1, in the semifinals of the Big South tournament, getting a glimpse at her future.
"I went to the semifinal game and I got to see them grow as a team,' she said.
McKee is still growing with her club team, Continental FC Delco, which will play a full spring schedule with a visit to Boston on the docket after the winter season concluded with a tournament in Florida.
"I've been playing soccer since I was 5 and there was so much invested into it I wanted to get the most out of it and my career,' McKee said.
She will certainly have that chance after landing at Liberty.
Follow Austin Hertzog on Twitter @AustinHertzog