Mercury All-Area: Owen J. Roberts’ inseparable stars Gabbi Koury and Alexa Vogelman deliver Wildcats championship sweep

Gabbi Koury and Alexa Vogelman put their heads together and went back to the beginning.

Recounting their first meeting, Koury and Vogelman fittingly passed the sentence back and forth, like countless passes they’ve traded in many sports over the years.

“Second grade,” Koury started.

“It was basketball. At the YMCA,” Vogelman continued.

“Malvern league basketball. It was an all-boys team except us two,” Koury said. “We were really bad.”

“No, we were not,” Vogelman contested.

If the following decade is indication, Vogelman’s recollection is more likely.

Owen J. Roberts’ Alexa Vogelman, facing, hugs Gabbi Koury (22) after a goal in the second half of the PIAA 3A championship game against Penncrest. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

That same year, the Vogelman family moved to West Vincent and Vogelman joined Koury’s second-grade class. They’ve been inseparable since.

Koury and Vogelman spent their Owen J. Roberts high school careers as three-sport athletes in soccer, basketball and their primary sport, lacrosse, collectively staring down the sizable expectations they walked into the moment they took a varsity field as freshmen.

The expectations were never greater than this past spring as seniors for the Owen J. Roberts lacrosse team, a stacked squad with eight NCAA Division I-bound seniors and a demand of state championship-or-bust.

With three-time All-American midfielders Koury and Vogelman as the terrific twosome leading the way, the Wildcats lived up to sky-high expectations and soared to Pioneer Athletic Conference, District 1 and PIAA Class 3A championships. Raising a PIAA championship trophy on the final day of their high school careers was the fitting finale for two of the most talented all-around female athletes in area history.

In Owen J. Roberts’ 27-1 campaign worthy of the No. 9 national ranking by Inside Lacrosse, Koury had a team-high 205 points (115 goals, 90 assists) and team-bests in ground balls (142) and caused turnovers (44). Vogelman netted a team-best 117 goals – so often the finisher of a move started by Koury – to go with 64 assists (181 points, 108 ground balls, 38 caused turnovers).

On the topic of The Mercury’s All-Area top honor this spring, the result was like their relationship: Koury and Vogelman were inseparable. It’s why Koury and Vogelman are the 2023 Mercury All-Area Girls Lacrosse Co-Player of the Year.

Owen J. Roberts players celebrate as Alexa Vogelman raises the PIAA championship trophy after winning the 3A final over Penncrest on June 17 at Penn State’s Panzer Stadium. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)
Owen J. Roberts’ seniors, from left, Rachel Sbei, Gabbi Koury, Alexa Vogelman, Cailin Harrington, Ava Clemson, Colby Wasson, Avery Wentzel, Kalli Mullen and Blakely Doyle pose with the PIAA championship trophy after winning the 3A final over Penncrest on June 17 at Penn State’s Panzer Stadium. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

Koury took the award solo the previous two years, putting her in rare company as a three-time Player of the Year in a team sport. The University of Florida signee concluded her OJR lacrosse career as the program’s all-time leading scorer with 288 goals, 192 assists and 480 points, a feat accomplished in three seasons after the COVID-19 pandemic canceled their freshman season.

Conestoga’s Kate Galica and Owen J. Roberts’ Gabbi Koury, right, compete for a draw during a District 1-3A semifinal at Owen J. Roberts. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

Vogelman, bound for Syracuse, also eclipsed the previous goals record (255 goals by 2016 grad Maddie Gebert) during her goal-scoring tear in the postseason, finishing her career with 268 goals, 140 assists and 408 points.

Beyond the statistics and accolades, Koury and Vogelman earn equally high marks as teammates.

“Obviously Gabbi and Alexa have had amazing careers, but they are the two most humble people I’ve ever met,” senior teammate Blakely Doyle said.

One generational player is great. But to have two who also happen to be best friends with the chemistry to match is special.

“(OJR girls soccer coach Joe Margusity) used to say that we share the same brain. And it’s true,” Vogelman said. “We’ll say the same thing at the same time, have the same idea. In lacrosse, it’s eye contact and we know.”

“Having that best-friend relationship off the field has helped us so much on the field,” Koury said.

* * *

Koury, the youngest of Trip and Nikki Koury’s three children, had a lacrosse stick in her hands very early while following older siblings Austin (2017 graduate) and Maddi (2020), both OJR lacrosse standouts during their careers.

“I was playing in preschool. And I had to play up (in age group) on Maddi’s teams most of the time,” Koury said.

In third grade, she wanted company.

“Then I recruited every single one of my friends to play,” Koury said.

That group began with Vogelman, the daughter of Steve and Jamie Vogelman, who started in gymnastics and was a past state champion while reaching Level 9 before gravitating to every team sport she could take on.

The cast would include the rest of OJR’s title-winning seniors, Colby Wasson (Xavier), Rachel Sbei (Furman), Cailin Harrington (Villanova), Ava Clemson (Butler), Avery Wentzel (Duquesne), Kalli Mullen (Haverford) and Doyle (Liberty).

Little did they know, Koury was setting the foundation for a future state champion.

“All the seniors, she recruited us all,” Vogelman said of Koury. “We always say, Gabbi’s the one that built it all. If we have someone to thank, it’s Gabbi.”

Owen J. Roberts’ Alexa Vogelman (11) scores a goal in the second half of the PAC final against Boyertown on Thursday, May 11, 2023. (Mike Cabrey/MediaNews Group)

Eight of the nine seniors stuck together at the club level since seventh grade with NXT Black 2023 under outgoing OJR head coach David Schlesinger, creating total harmony between club and high school play.

Harmony is a good way to describe the balance in styles of Koury, the skilled creator, and Vogelman, the speedy finisher, and the appreciation they have for each other’s talents.

“Natural athleticism. Things just come easier to her,” Koury said of Vogelman. “She didn’t even know what lacrosse was when we first began and she picked up a stick and immediately was one of the best players on our team; and her on-field IQ, her ability to know the right play at the right time.”

“Gabbi’s IQ in any sport is tremendous, especially in lacrosse,” Vogelman said. “Nobody understands the game better than Gabbi. She sees every play a few steps ahead and you can see it through the way she plays. The confidence she has when she plays is because she understands the game so well. She helps and teaches so many people, including myself, so many things everyday in practice, in games. That sets her apart.”

* * *

Koury and Vogelman as teammates went much further. In soccer, they led the Wildcats to two PIAA tournament appearances (quarterfinals 2021, semifinals 2022). Vogelman was a three-time All-Area first team forward and holds OJR’s single-season goal-scoring record (41 goals in 2022, 100 for her career) while Koury was twice All-Area first team as a tempo-setting defensive midfielder.

In basketball, they were rotation players as freshmen when OJR reached the PIAA second round while Koury was OJR’s leading scorer last winter and second-team All-Area.

Over their three lacrosse seasons, OJR had a 70-6 record, a 92.1 winning percentage. Yet OJR’s highly-touted Class of 2023 was in danger of being labeled busts after failing to make it past the District 1 and PIAA quarterfinals as sophomores and juniors.

“When you had the talent level we had, it didn’t make sense that we weren’t able to get past those quarterfinal games. It didn’t add up,” Vogelman said. “Part of the reason we were so successful our senior year was because of how mature and experienced we’ve become from the losses we faced.

“People looked at our talent all four years we’ve been (at OJR) and would say, ‘How have you not won anything? You guys are a bunch of duds.’ OK, that kind of hurts. But we know we’re not a bunch of duds, we just haven’t been able to do it yet.”

“That was a lot of motivation to achieve and go out on top,” Koury said.

It showed all season. The Wildcats’ average margin of victory was nearly 13 goals a game (12.9), rolling through PAC opponents, culminating in a 21-1 win over Boyertown in the PAC final on May 11 to reclaim the title after losing in a stunning upset to Methacton a year earlier.

Gabbi Koury scores a goal from eight meters during the PIAA 3A final at Penn State on June 17. (Austin Hertzog – MNG)
Owen J. Roberts’ Alexa Vogelman reacts after scoring a goal on an assist from Gabbi Koury, right, during a PIAA 3A girls lacrosse semifinal on June 13 at Upper Perkiomen High School. (Evan Wheaton – MediaNews Group)

“Coming into lacrosse season, for us seniors, we know how much talent we have,” Vogelman said. “People can call us duds. Now it’s time to prove them wrong and show the kind of lacrosse we want to display and display it to everybody.”

After their lone loss to eventual PIAA 2A champion Archbishop Carroll (8-6 on April 11), the Wildcats won their final 19 games. That streak featured two hard-earned wins over defending PIAA champion Conestoga in the District 1 and PIAA semifinals and a second-half smashing of Penncrest in the PIAA title game for a 17-9 victory that gave OJR its first girls lacrosse state championship.

Where overconfidence may have once lived, this spring was the winning blend of confidence meeting commitment and desperation to take care of business while carrying the scars of past pain.

“I had this sense of confidence every game,” Koury said. “I know you should always be confident going into a game, but I would talk to the team and would say, ‘We can’t lose. I don’t think it’s possible for us to lose right now.’ Experience was the biggest thing. We lost our sophomore and junior years in districts and in states and we learned from all of those games.”

Gabbi Koury, facing, hugs Alexa Vogelman after a second-half goal against Conestoga in the District 1 semifinals. (Austin Hertzog – MNG)

Few teams have faced such a weight of expectation, which is why their state championship moment was more relief than euphoria.

“There was a lot of pressure. We didn’t want to be those duds,” Koury said. “We got to the state championship and as soon as we won I just felt relieved. I was more relieved than I was excited. ‘We finally did it.’

“We finally proved ourselves,” Vogelman said.

* * *

Their time as teammates isn’t entirely over — Koury and Vogelman tried out for the U.S. Women’s Under 20 national team in Maryland last weekend and will team up in the 18th-annual Senior All-America Lacrosse Game on July 29 at Johns Hopkins University (5:30 p.m. on ESPNU) — but time is ticking.

When fall arrives, Koury will be off to Florida to play for the Gators, guided by U.S. Lacrosse Hall of Famer Amanda O’Leary (better known in this area as Mandee Moore during her playing days at Spring-Ford and Temple in the 1980s) while Vogelman will head north to Syracuse.

Koury and Vogelman’s exceptional relationship as teammates and friends will enter a new phase. Once inseparable, now irreplaceable.

“I’ve said, ‘I need to find my new Gabbi.’ But I know I’m never going to find somebody like Gabbi,” Vogelman said. “There’s nobody that is going to be able to replace her. So the moments we have left we’re trying to appreciate.”

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