PROCTOR – The little town with the big waterfall and the picturesque marble bridge over the Otter Creek has had its share of star athletes.
The little blond girl, dividing her time and energy between basketball and soccer, watched some of them set records and win championships. She learned their names, perked up when she saw them around town. She wanted to be like them.
“I remember my dad would always point out kids from our town and be like, ‘Oh, they’re a great athlete,’” Abby McKearin said. “And I wanted someone to say that about me when I graduate.
“I hope that I left my mark here.”
It’s safe to say, 168 goals later, the Proctor High School senior did just that.
Smashing a scoring record that stood for 26 years is the biggest, shiniest jewel in McKearin’s legacy, one that includes four trips to the Division IV girls soccer final, three straight championships and, now, the title of the Free Press’ player of the year.
Along the way, the 5-foot-3 scoring whiz turned a career spent with a shadow — McKearin always had one player marking her, if not more — into a career shaking it off, scoring 40-plus goals each of the last three seasons to lead the Phantoms to a three-peat.
“You’re thinking at some point (she’s) not going to get 40 because teams are going to do things. But that’s her doing it and being so tough,” said Proctor co-coach Chris Hughes, also the Phantoms’ girls basketball coach and McKearin’s uncle. “She’s missed penalty kicks, she’s missed shots, but she just keeps coming.”
As a senior McKearin, whose career output dwarfed several teams in the same four-year span, found the back of the net in every game and produced 44 of her team’s 59 goals.
Clockwork in cleats.
“It’s such a hard thing to do, to be able to finish on a regular basis,” Proctor co-coach Scott French said. “To do it at that rate for as long as she did — she just has a knack for it. The older she got, the better she got at putting it in in various ways. She could do what she wanted to with the ball.”
Some players go an entire career without notching a goal. For McKearin, it became second nature as her blend of speed, work rate and finishing instincts matured.
She recalled just two varsity games, one being the Phantoms’ 4-2 win over Arlington in the 2014 title game, in which she failed to tally.
“There was one (game) my freshman year I didn’t score,” said McKearin. “That was weird for me. I went home after that game and I didn’t really know what to think.”
But once the Proctor star got going, it was only a matter of time — and good fortune, avoiding injury — before she toppled the longstanding mark of 148 goals set by Nicole Levesque, the former Mount Anthony great and eventual WNBA player.
“Once she got done her sophomore year, we were all thinking she may break the school record,” Hughes said. “Then she got that her junior year. Then we looked at the state record and it was like, whoa, she could get there.”
Defenses from schools large and small had two options playing McKearin: They could attempt to mark her out of the game or play Proctor straight-up.
The one team this fall that didn’t shade McKearin from the opening kick, Windsor, found out just how devastating she could be. Inside 25 minutes, the striker had the first five goals of the Phantoms’ 6-1 victory.
“And their defense wasn’t bad,” French said. “It’s just what she does.”
Even when Proctor played against Division I and II teams as a part of the Marble Valley League’s B Division in 2013 and 2014, McKearin said she had to approach each game like she was the best player on the field.
Swagger is essential when everyone expects you to score and everyone prepares to stop you.
“I feel like you have to have a little confidence, a chip on your shoulder,” McKearin said.
“You can either think of it as, ‘Why me? Why am I this person?’ or it’s an honor to be this person,” she said. “I was glad I was that person for my team.”
Soon enough, probably around the holidays, McKearin, the Phantoms’ point guard, should also join the 1,000-point club in basketball (she has two state crowns in that sport, too).
But it wasn’t until she approached the even more exclusive 100-goal club a season ago that she realized soccer might be her calling.
“Basketball can be really structured, you’ve got to be here, you’ve got to be there,” Hughes said. “Soccer you can see things before they happen, adapt on the fly, and she can really just see it before it happens.
“It’s a unique thing. … I’ve never seen a player — she doesn’t score one, she’ll score three or four and the teams are still trying the same things (to stop her).”
If there’s a defense to manage the feat, it’ll have to be on the college stage. McKearin is considering an offer from Division I St. Bonaventure but is still undecided about her final destination.
What won’t change, though, is the place that spawned those dreams.
“In this town, our community is so small but it’s a huge deal,” McKearin said. “They know who you are and respect you and are proud of you.
“My dentist sent me a newspaper with (the story), a bunch of people from the town sent me newspapers after the record was set,” she said of breaking the scoring record. “It’s just crazy, I’ve had so much support that I don’t even recognize sometimes.”