LVC kicker continues to prove what’s possible for girls in football
There is something special about university football in the Lebanon Valley this season.
“We’ve built a culture that everyone who comes here fits a mold,” said LVC head coach Joe Buehler.
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The coach is looking for team-oriented players who fit into the culture, but there is one player who seems to be breaking that mold. Abi Sweger joined the soccer team as a kicker in 2020.
“You can tell she’s prepared to be a kicker,” Buehler said. “She worked on it. This is something that she keeps trying to improve her art and she is very good at it.
His hard work and focus on the team made Abi fit in perfectly with the Flying Dutchmen.
“I really think the team treats her like another guy on the team,” said punter Jeremy Bours Jr. “It’s no different for her.”
Not only do the team treat her no differently, the experience of playing with all the guys is nothing new for Abi. Prior to playing soccer, Abi joined the Big Spring High School wrestling team.
“It was really tough for them when I joined the wrestling team,” Abi said of his family. “The wrestling is a little more intense than watching me play football. But they absolutely loved it. They were like, “This is awesome, and if you think you can do it, go for it. “
In the fall of their senior year at Big Spring, the football team had no kickers on the roster. Just days before the first game of the season, the team asked him to come and try to hit in the uprights.
Abi was natural and she adjusted for the game the next day, never really learning the position or training with the team.
“The people there were so welcoming [at Big Spring]”Abi said.” If I hadn’t had this experience, I don’t think I would have been here now. “
Abi has played soccer her whole life and could have even played in college. But scoring goals turned into extra points. She scored her first at LVC against Alvernia in 2020.
“It was definitely a boost for me because it felt like everyone respected me more,” said the kicker. “They realized ‘okay, she’s here to help the team.'”
And earning that respect isn’t always easy with a team of 120 guys.
“I have the impression that sometimes, if I miss a kick, there will be someone who [thinks] it’s because [I’m] a girl, ”Abi said. “It’s just that extra pressure that you kind of have to put up with.”
Kickers often train alone each day. It can be isolating, especially as the only girl on the pitch.
“It’s definitely getting easier for the girls, but I don’t think it’s ever going to be easy,” Abi says of playing for a men’s team.
With that in mind, she’s actually not the first woman to play for Lebanon Valley College football. Brittany Ryan kicked the Dutch back in the early 2000s.
“She just broke the glass for me sort of,” Abi said. “It really helped me, I mean Coach Buehler was so welcoming to me.”
There are still challenges as a girl on the team. She says before each game she and the coaches need to find her a separate changing room to change into. It can be difficult to know what the other kickers in the lineup are doing before the game and communication can be a challenge at times. But once she’s on the pitch, she’s just another teammate.
“I like the way people see it and accept it,” Abi said. “They admire me and that makes me feel good and makes me feel like I’m doing something right.”
And doing something right starts at the top with Coach Buehler, who backed Abi as soon as he knew she was interested in playing football at LVC.
“Your gender doesn’t stop you from doing anything,” Buehler said. “So you can definitely do whatever you dream of and go for it. “
Abi hopes to continue playing professionally after college in a women’s league or join the handful of female soccer coaches across the country.