Lebanon Valley College Football has something special going on this season.
“We’ve built a culture that everyone who comes here fits a mold,” LVC head coach Joe Buehler said.
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Coach looks for team-oriented players who fit into the culture, but there’s one player who seems to break that mold. Abi Sweger joined the football team as a kicker in 2020.
“You can tell that she has prepared to be a kicker,” Buehler said. “She has worked at it. It’s something she continues to try to improve her craft and she’s very good.”
Her hard work and team-first focus meant that Abi fit right in with the Flying Dutchmen.
“I really think the team treats her like just another guy on the team,” punter Jeremy Bours Jr. said.”It’s no different for her.”
Not only does the team treat her no different, but the experience of playing with all guys is nothing new for Abi. Before playing football, Abi joined the wrestling team at Big Spring High School.
“It was really hard for them when I joined the wrestling team,” Abi said of her family. “Wrestling is a little more intense than watching me play football. But they absolutely loved it. They were like ‘this is great, and if you think you can do this go ahead.'”
During the fall of her 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 her to come try out kicking through the uprights.
Abi was a natural, and she suited up for the game the next day, without ever really learning the position or practicing with the team.
“The people there were just so welcoming [at Big Spring],” Abi said. “If I wouldn’t have had that experience, I dont think I would have been here now.”
Abi was a soccer player her entire 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.
“That was definitely a confidence boost for me because it was like everyone kind of respected me more,” the kicker said. “They realized ‘okay, she is here to help the team.'”
And earning that respect isn’t always easy on a team of 120 guys.
“I feel like sometimes if I do miss a kick there’s gonna be someone who [thinks] it’s because [I’m] a girl,” Abi said. “It’s just that added extra pressure that you kind of have to get through.”
Kickers often practice alone each day. It can be isolating, especially as the only girl on the field.
“It’s definitely getting easier for girls, but I don’t think it will ever be easy,” Abi says about playing on 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 for the Dutchmen in the early 2000s.
“She just broke the glass for me kind of,” Abi said. “That really helped, 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 have to find her a separate locker room to change in. It can be difficult to know what the other kickers on the roster are doing pregame and communication can sometimes be a challenge. But once she’s on the field, she’s just another teammate.
“I love how people are seeing this and are accepting it,” Abi said. “They’re looking up to me and it just 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 supported Abi from the minute he knew she was interested in playing football at LVC.
“Your gender doesn’t stop you from doing anything,” Buehler said. “So you certainly can do anything that you’re dreaming of doing and go for it.”
Abi hopes to continue playing professionally after college in a women’s league or to join the handful of women coaching football across the country.