Anyone who has been to the Bell Soccer Complex recently to watch the Kentucky women’s soccer team play has probably thought at least once, "Wow, that No. 22 in blue is fast."
No. 22 is indeed very fast. According to her head coach Ian Carry, her fastest 40-yard dash time, 4.8 seconds, is faster than a majority of the Kentucky men’s soccer players.
The girl zooming across the pitch in the No. 22 jersey is Abby Steiner, a freshman soccer player from Dublin, Ohio. Steiner’s combo of speed and technical soccer skills makes it easy for her to get past defenders and set up opportunities for goals, which has earned her a large amount of minutes on UK’s young team.
In the spring, when soccer season is over, Steiner will continue showing her bursts of speed in a different facility, wearing a different jersey and doing a different sport entirely, as Steiner will be chasing down competitors for the Kentucky track and field team.
“I think it’s really special that I have gotten the opportunity to do both,” Steiner said of being a multi-sport athlete at UK.
Steiner’s unique blend of speed, athleticism and soccer skills have given her the opportunity to play two sports at a division one college, something not many athletes can say.
Many athletes in high school often play two sports, but eventually figure out which one they are better at or enjoy more. For Steiner, she’s good at both sports and loves them both, so why choose?
“That was a big thing with school, I was definitely looking for a place that was open to letting me do both because I know some schools wouldn’t have been,” Steiner said.
Soccer was Steiner’s first love at the age of four. She quickly picked up the sport and eventually joined Ohio Premier, one of the best club teams in the nation.
While playing soccer, Steiner discovered that she had another athletic talent in running when she joined her middle school track team in eighth grade.
“Everyone at my middle school ran track and it was more like a social type of thing and all my friends were like, ‘you should do this and try this,’” Steiner said.
It did not take long for Steiner to realize that she had a future in track. In 2015, as a freshman in high school, Steiner won the 60-meter and 200-meter dash at the Ohio Indoor State Track and Field Championships. It was then that Steiner’s love for soccer was joined by her love for track.
It was not long after Steiner’s victories at the Indoor Championships that she took a visit to UK as a soccer player. In high school, soccer players are recruited early while track athletes are not recruited till senior year since the body is still developing at that age.
While visiting UK, Steiner met with the then track head coach Edrick Floreal to find out if she could run track while playing soccer at UK.
“I had run some times, I met with the track coach [Floreal] and asked him if that was – if he was open to that idea and he said yes, and it just took off from there,” Steiner said.
Steiner committed to UK in 2015, the fall of her sophomore year, as a dual-sport athlete. She would finish her track career with many titles and accolades, including two Ohio Outdoor State Track & Field Championship meet records her senior year.
Steiner’s senior year times certainly have her new track coach excited, as she would have placed third in the 100-meter dash and first in the 200-meter dash at the 2018 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
What makes her times even more impressed was the fact that Steiner tore her ACL about a year and a half before her senior year state meet. It’s difficult for an athlete to regain their speed after a torn ACL, but Steiner never once thought about losing her speed, and instead focused on coming back a stronger athlete.
“There is always that kind of underlying fear but I never really let myself go down that road where I would be like, ‘I’m never going to be that fast,’” Steiner said. “I knew if I came back, I would have that like kind of a roadblock and I didn’t want that to happen.”
As for Steiner on the soccer pitch, the injury forced her to miss the entire 2016 season. Steiner fully recovered for her senior season in 2017, but decided to not rush back into soccer games since she was coming off such a tough injury and had just wrapped up her junior season of track.
Instead of playing in games, Steiner focused on her game and worked to make her technical skills better.
That season spent working on her game has paid off for Steiner at UK, as she’s not just a speedster anymore in her coach’s eyes.
“She’s added so many tools and so many pieces to her game that – not that we were surprised, but we were like, ‘hey, this is who she can be,’” and if she continues to work in the vein that she’s working at right now, Abby’s going to be a huge threat,” Carry said.
Steiner’s speedy and technical skillset makes it near impossible for Carry to take her off the field. However, since Steiner is a freshman and has a track season ahead of her, Steiner can’t always be on the field, even if she wants to be.
“As a staff, we just got to continue to monitor where she is, just make sure we’re not pushing her top hard and she’s not overdoing it,” Carry said.
In order to keep Steiner at a proper fitness level and not push her too far, Carry works closely with the UK Performance Science Department to make sure that Steiner is at an optimal fitness level for certain points of the season.
When Steiner ended her track career with her two state meet records, she took two weeks off before beginning a special prescribed program from Dr. Chris Morris of the Performance Science Department. The program was designed to send Steiner to preseason in optimal fitness level, knowing that they were going to build on it.
Also before the season, Carry met with new UK track head coach Lonnie Greene to figure out how UK Athletics was going to handle its dual-sport athlete.
Carry admitted to being nervous about balancing Steiner on the soccer field and track before the meeting, but afterward, it was a different story.
“I walked away from that meeting with Lonnie and I’m like, ‘She’s in the best position she could ever be,’” Carry said. “I can’t wait till the spring to watch her compete for Kentucky and wear the blue with track and field.”
Steiner continues to wear a GPS and a heart rate monitor in practice so Steiner is efficiently prepared for each game, and setup well for her future on the track.
“The guidance that we have from the performance science department is making sure that when she finishes soccer season, she’s in great shape, take care of her body and she just walks straight into a track & field season,” Carry said. “… I can’t imagine how good she’s going to be when she actually steps into the coaching environment that she’s going to step in to here at Kentucky under Lonnie’s [Greene] guidance.”
Before she begins track, Steiner will finish her soccer season, which she said she is fully focused on right now, even though she occasionally daydreams about her upcoming track season.
It’s hard for Steiner to fully focus on one sport when she loves both, which is why she plans to play both sports as long as she can.
“It’s different in so many ways, it’s hard to compare, I like them both,” Steiner said.