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Monday, March 4, 2024
The Observer

Legacy-making: Sweet reflects on four years of success, dedication and team camaraderie

When senior outfielder Abby Sweet first donned an Irish uniform, she was well on her way to creating a lasting legacy in the Notre Dame softball program. The four-year starter came out swinging her freshman season, rising in the ranks to lead the team in runs (38) while maintaining a .333 batting average, which was good for second on the team. 

By the time she was a junior, Sweet was named captain for a season filled with promise. She had already established herself as the hardest ACC player to strike out and led the team in batting average (.368), posing as a formidable threat for any opponent until the season abruptly skidded to a halt. With the pandemic pressing pause on all Division I competitions, Sweet and her teammates lost the opportunity to bring the Irish to the NCAA Tournament for their 22nd straight year. 

However, a year later, Sweet has rebounded in exceptional fashion. Sweet believes that the greatest improvements have taken place in her offensive play. She proudly holds a .463 batting average, continuing to lead the ACC in the category two months after taking the top spot. 

“I really stepped it up just from my previous three seasons,” Sweet said. “I think I’ve been a consistent hitter overall for all four years, but this year I really just took it to the next level ... I think I’ve been very productive offensively, and that’s definitely shown in the scores of our games, and just the amount of baserunners we’ve had overall throughout the season.”

Sweets’ capability as a batter has been noticed by others in the conference as well; she’s been hit by 18 pitches this season, the 10th-highest mark in the nation. She was hit on each of her four at-bats during the second game of a March doubleheader against NC State, which tied the NCAA record for the most in a single game by a Division I player. These HBPs have become more frequent as the season concludes, limiting her ability to perform at bat. Sweet spoke on how this has impacted her play and her mentality in games.

“Recognizing that as one of the top hitters, they’re probably not going to throw me a lot of great pitches, so when they do, obviously just capitalizing on that,” Sweet said. “But lately just understanding that I might walk a little bit more, and I definitely need to be patient up there and really just look for the pitch that I want and not chase any pitcher’s pitches ... so just recognizing that as the season has gone on, I wasn’t going to get great pitches at the plate all the time, so just kind of being patient and staying within myself up there.”

Despite this, as one of the top 25 finalists for USA Softball’s 2021 Collegiate Player of the Year, Sweet has demonstrated her outstanding capabilities as an athlete this season. This is the most prestigious honor in Division I softball, and Sweet becomes the third Irish player to receive the nomination.

Ari Denning | The
Irish senior outfielder Abby Sweet swings at a pitch during Notre Dame’s 6-5 home win on March 26 vs. NC State at Melissa Cook Stadium.

“It was cool to see my picture up there with a bunch of amazing other players that I’ve looked up to throughout my college career,” Sweet said. “It’s not an individual sport. It’s definitely a team sport, and I couldn’t have done it without help from my teammates, they helped me. They just pushed me to get better and I pushed them and, overall, it was just really cool. And I’m very grateful for it.”

It is Sweet’s aggression as a player that made her a standout for the award. She aims to keep this mentality with her the entire game, whether she is at the plate or in the field.

“Really just staying in that attack mode all the time helps me stay confident in myself,” she said.

Additionally, Sweet emphasized the importance of team camaraderie. She seeks to encourage the assertive dynamic that she holds for herself, pushing her teammates as they encourage her as well. Put plainly, Sweet said that she has had a “blast” this year in being a part of the group.

“I think this is definitely one of the most fun teams we’ve had,” she affirmed. “We all just get along so great. We’re a total family on this team — we have fun together, we laugh with each other — and that’s definitely contributed to our success this year: just playing loose, having fun and ultimately just playing together every single game.”

All of these qualities contributed to The Observer’s decision to name Sweet Women’s Athlete of the Year. Between her team mentality and her impressive athletic abilities, Sweet has exhibited her talent as a player and a leader.

“I’m very grateful,” she said. “I’m so grateful to be here and to just have spent four years at the University, and especially this year, I’m just so proud of our team for handling, obviously, all things COVID. It’s never easy to, one, go through a normal season but, two, especially to go through a season with COVID involved. And we’ve handled everything very well. We didn’t let any setback impact us. I think we did a great job and I’m just so, so grateful and so proud of this team on how we’ve handled this year so far.”

Reflecting upon her time at Notre Dame, Sweet named her teammates and the University as being incredibly important to her. Nearly 180 games as an Irish player have allowed her to define a legacy on the team and on campus, and it is an experience Sweet said she is extremely grateful to have had.

“This is a dream come true being here,” she said. “I couldn’t have drawn up a better plan. So overall, I’m just grateful.”