Ex-Downers Grove North star Abby Swanson strikes the right balance at Loyola as soccer captain, aspiring nurse

Abby Swanson has always been passionate about soccer and serving others.

The former Downers Grove North star wants to play soccer professionally before embarking on a career as a nurse.

She’s well on her way to doing both.

Swanson, a junior midfielder, has started every game of her college career at Loyola, where she is balancing a tough workload on and off the field.

How does she do it?

“That it’s all I know,” Swanson said. “I only know college soccer with nursing and I think it would have been a lot different if I had started nursing without soccer, or vice versa, and then had to try to figure out how to adjust.

“From the start of my freshman year, the expectations were clear that they care just as much about school as soccer, if not more. That’s actually helped me a lot with finding a balance. Nursing students are notorious for getting lost in the books and soccer has definitely helped me develop a set time to study, so my stuff is done by practice.”

Swanson has had more time to study this year since the soccer season – which is usually played in the fall – has been postponed until at least late February because of the coronavirus pandemic. But that crisis has ratcheted up the stress on Swanson because she is in the midst of doing her clinical rotations, which take place in hospitals.

Swanson completed her first clinical this fall on a medical surgical floor and is scheduled to do a pediatric rotation next semester.

“These different clinical experiences help us to learn what we like and don’t like as we consider what we’d like to specialize in,” Swanson said. “This experience is critical to becoming a nurse because it is the start of our real-world application. It doesn’t take long to realize that each patient does not follow the textbook.”

Likewise, things often don’t go as planned on the soccer field, but Swanson has long shown the ability to adapt. The 2018 Suburban Life Player of the Year led Downers North to its first state trophy in 2017, when the Trojans finished fourth in Class 3A, and to a sectional title in 2018.

Swanson has scored seven goals and two assists while playing a defensive midfield role for Loyola, which has won back-to-back Missouri Valley Conference titles and reached the NCAA Tournament in each of her first two seasons. She was MVC Freshman of the Year in 2018 and First Team All-MVC in 2019.

That led to Swanson’s teammates naming her captain this season. She is the first junior to be chosen captain in Loyola coach Barry Bimbi’s 10-year tenure.

“It’s a pretty big honor,” Bimbi said. “She’s an absolute competitor and it kind of spreads throughout the team.

“She’s pretty serious about soccer and winning. She brings that mentality, whether it’s a practice or a game, of, ‘we’re there to get a job done, let’s do it to the best of our ability.’

“It’s pretty interesting how even some of the older players just follow her lead. She’s done a great job since she’s been on the team and on the campus.”

Swanson credits her teammates with accepting her from the start and giving her room to grow.

“They let me have a voice on and off the field even as a little freshman,” Swanson said. “If it weren’t for their openness, I’m not sure I would feel as comfortable. I’m glad I could experience that so I can now try to do the same for our younger players.”

Swanson is demonstrating the same type of laser-like focus off the field. While Loyola’s campus is closed, Swanson remains in Chicago living in an apartment with a teammate while she does her clinical rotations.

Working and studying in high-risk environments like hospitals makes things more difficult, but she is undeterred. Some days include seven hours on a rotation, followed by homework and soccer practice.

“I think a lot of the unknowns with what is going on in the world has put some mental stress on her,” Bimbi said. “She’s done a very good job of managing her time with her academics and all the things players need to do to succeed at the Division I level.”

Bimbi added that Swanson always wants to do more and he has to reassure her she’s doing enough.

“We always have to tell her, ‘Hey, you’re doing exactly what we’re asking of you,” Bimbi said. “That’s why we’ve been successful, because you’ve been doing your job on the field at a very high level.’”

Bimbi said that Swanson has the skills and mentality to play at the highest level, especially if she takes advantage of the NCAA’s waiver that allows all current athletes to play a fifth year. That would allow her to complete her nursing degree and then play the 2022 season, which ends just two months before the NWSL draft.

“I’ve wanted to play professional soccer since I was a little kid,” Swanson said. “Over the past few months, I have become a lot more serious about that goal and am excited to see where it can take me.”

Despite the dangers of COVID-19, Swanson is just as excited about nursing.

“As terrible as Covid is, it has made me realize even more how important nursing is,” Swanson said. “It is hard to watch all the work healthcare workers are putting in right now – and always - and not being able to help on the fron tlines yet. It has certainly added another driving factor in my studies to put in the work now so I am ready to help once the time comes.”