Roncalli soccer standout a leader on and off the field
April 21, 2021
A “natural leader.” A “monster of an athlete.” A soon-to-be Nebraska Cornhusker soccer player. And “a disciple of Christ.”
All of these things have been said of Roncalli Catholic High School senior Abbey Schwarz. A standout soccer player, she has tallied more than 70 goals and averaged more than two goals per game during her four years playing for the Class-B Crimson Pride.
But she’s not just a leader on the field. Besides praying before every match with her team, she leads prayer in the school chapel and is active in the Omaha high school’s Peer Ministry program.
Her strong Catholic family has been a big factor in her faith development. She also credits two March for Life pilgrimages and the Pride For Life pro-life group at Roncalli.
“I’ve been lucky to grow up in a house that doesn’t just believe it,” Schwarz said about her Catholic upbringing. “My parents are good about carrying out those teachings.”
Abbey, who has played soccer since she was 4 years old, started receiving recruiting attention from Division I universities in eighth grade, and by her freshman year in high school was prompted to decide whether to play college soccer.
During that time, Creighton University, South Dakota State University, the University of Nebraska-Omaha (UNO) and University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) all pursued her. In the end, she chose UNL because of their coaches, facilities, proximity to home and atmosphere.
As in athletics, the need to make big decisions had also come to the fore in her spiritual life. The fall of sophomore year proved to be a turning point in her relationship with God.
“That was the time where everything I did really started to center around (faith) and not focus on myself so much in what I wanted, but relating everything back to my faith, which was something I didn’t necessarily do before,” Abbey said.
“That time (in) my life was probably when I really started to feel a genuine connection with God and actually have a relationship with him,” she said.
The roots of that relationship have been nurtured by Abbey’s own perseverance and commitment to prayer, as well as her parents’ Catholic convictions.
Parents Laura and Ryan Schwarz both grew up in Catholic families with parents who were “fabulous at teaching us the faith, so we were able to pass that on to the kids,” Laura said.
In particular, Laura recalled a time during Abbey’s freshman year when she challenged her daughter’s faith, which led to that turning point in her sophomore year.
“Just like every kid … she had her struggles (freshman) year,” Laura related, saying she prayed a lot for her daughter. “And I remember one day, I looked at her and (asked), ‘Are you praying? Because I need some help here.’ I remember I had gone into her room a few days later and I saw her rosary sitting on the nightstand.”
Abbey sees her mother and father as role models, setting good examples of living out their faith.
“They’re pretty good about practicing those rules and beliefs within our house and holding us to those standards … taking us to Mass every Sunday and instilling those good habits within us,” Abbey said.
“You can only do so much as a parent,” Laura added. “That’s where prayer comes in. And so you just hope that you’ve done your best when you send them off … .”
Abbey is active in Roncalli’s Peer Ministry, a group of junior and senior students who help minister to the spiritual needs of the student body, said Coco Osborne, one of Abbey’s religion teachers.
“The group has primarily focused on leading prayer in our chapel before school twice a week,” Osborne said. “Abbey has enjoyed serving the students because it has given her a chance to faithfully lead others, participate in a faith-based community, and pray with small groups of students in the chapel.”
She said Abbey embraced the opportunity “to search for Scripture passages to use for prayer, offer reflections on the Word of God, and be present to her peers in a unique way.”
She described Abbey as a “natural leader” and a growing “disciple of Christ.”
While her athletic abilities give her a competitive disposition, Abbey is a team-first player.
Brandon Palmer, who coached Abbey with Omaha’s Evolution Soccer Club, described her as “a monster of an athlete.”
“UNL is getting a teammate that truly cares about team,” said Palmer, who also coaches girls soccer at Blair High School. “She cares about everyone, regardless of who you are or what specific background you hail from.
“That is a beauty especially when coaches are trying to put together teams from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Abbey knows she is only as successful as her team.”
Knowing that you have a teammate “willing to run through a wall for you” energizes your team like nothing else, he said.
Though Abbey has been a Division I soccer recruit for the past few years, she hadn’t focused solely on soccer until this year.
Playing multiple sports – including volleyball and basketball – has been her choice, as well as that of her parents and coaches, Laura said.
There was a time in grade school, she said, when Abbey started getting burned out. “So we pulled back because she was on a team that was traveling … and went to a team that was just here in Omaha. And it was just a great fit for her.”
“She’s always chosen coaches who respected the fact that she wanted to play multiple sports and still enjoy her high school years,” Laura said.
Palmer, also a proponent of young athletes playing multiple sports, helped Abbey avoid the overload and burnout of too much soccer.
“Most parents want their kids to focus on their primary sport much sooner than past generations” with the misconception that it will lead to college scholarships and all-star teams, Palmer said.
The reality, he said, is that these dreams hardly come true. Instead, “playing multiple sports longer will benefit the body and mind in addition to preparing various aspects of your agility, endurance, stance, stamina and mental approach for your primary sport emphasis around the age of 15 to 16,” he said.
LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE
Laura said her daughter is “really excited” about going to UNL.
“They’ve talked to her about the fact that when she goes to college, it ends up being like more of a job,” Laura said, “but I’m happy that she’s in the position she’s in because she’s ready for it.”
At UNL, she’ll benefit from the Newman Center as well as a Catholic roommate with whom she can share accountability as she manages life more on her own.
“College is a time where you’re kind of on your own now and you’re having to … make your own decisions for yourself,” Abbey said.
“And I think it’ll be an important time to start instilling good habits (that will) hopefully last the rest of my life because I’m not going to have someone constantly holding me accountable … or holding my hand.”
At Roncalli, she’s learned that faith is not just to be exercised in church or in the classroom.
“I’ve learned that it’s in everything you’re saying, doing and thinking,” she said. “It’s the way you treat other people and the way you act.”
Now that she’s reached the end of her high school days, Abbey has some advice and wisdom for younger players.
“Give it your all and make sure you’re truly enjoying it,” she said, realizing that being able to play sports and exercising your talents “is a gift from God.”
“It’s a unique way to praise him and thank him for all that he’s done,” she said. “And it might not seem that way, but it’s a cool way to … worship him or just give thanks for the things that he’s blessed us with.”