Abbey Cheek, Kentucky Seniors Eager For WCWS Return
Each swing of Abbey Cheek's bat, capable of obliterating a ball to the deepest reaches of the outfield, is a stamp on Kentucky softball history.
In 2019 alone the senior from Inman, S.C., became the program's career leader in home runs (61) and runs batted in (200). Cheek also ranks in the Kentucky top ten for all-time slugging percentage and batting average.
This season, Cheek's 20 homers, 51 RBIs and .448 batting average netted her another piece of history. Last week, she won the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year award and became the first Wildcat player to do so.
"I've always wanted to have that honor," said Cheek during a phone interview with Softball America. "I think that all the work that I've put into this year has now paid off."
Already comfortable with her swing mechanics, Cheek attributes her maturity at the plate to a newfound sense of patience she developed during the offseason.
"I really just focused on taking the marginal pitches and really focusing on the vision part of hitting," she said. "I take a lot of pitches that last year--or the year before--I would have been swinging at."
Erring on the side of caution in the batter's box led to Cheek drawing a career-high 63 walks this season, more than her total from the previous three seasons combined.
Many of those walks have been intentional, though, to keep Cheek from teeing off with runners aboard. The strategy has backfired for opponents who refuse to pitch her. Cheek has scored a team-high 51 runs, demonstrating just how deep the Wildcats lineup is.
Kentucky's collection of gifted hitters is another reason why Cheek said she developed a relaxed demeanor at-bat.
"I know that the people in front of me are going to get on base, and if they don't pitch to me, the person behind me is going to do it too," Cheek said.
Cheek has good reason to trust her teammates, especially her fellow seniors, who are one of the most decorated classes in Kentucky history.
The class includes Cheek, catcher Jenny Schaper, shortstop Katie Reed, pinch hitter Kelsee Henson and platoon outfielder Sarah Rainwater.
The quintet has won 153 games and counting during their tenure in Lexington. They have won two NCAA Regionals, played in two Super Regionals and have played at home in John Cropp Stadium in four straight NCAA Tournaments.
More importantly, they forged a lasting bond of friendship.
"Our senior class is close. We're really good friends," Cheek said. "We do a lot together. There isn't many things we don't do together."
The five bonded instantly once they got to campus, and the result is four years of excellent chemistry on the diamond.
"I think that is what makes us so great because we know each other and so much about each other," Cheek said. "We know how each other play and know how we play together, especially me, Katie and Jenny. We've been on the field together for the past four years."
Leaving as the most decorated slugger in Kentucky history is still a surprise to Cheek.
"It never crossed my mind when I got here that I would be doing this," she said.
Cheek expects her records to fall one day and she wants to have a hand in developing the next generation of softball players.
"In the next couple of years, I want to be a Division I softball coach," Cheek said.
Her degree in Community Leadership Development, which she officially earned last week, has prepared her for a future in the dugout.
"I think my major helped me develop leadership skills and taught me how to work out in the community," she said.
Despite being drafted by the Chicago Bandits in the third round of the National Pro Fastpitch draft, Cheek is laser-focused on her goal.
"I'm going to grad school and am going to be a grad assistant--I don't know where yet," Cheek she said. After two years of graduate studies, she hopes to find an assistant coaching job.
The future can wait for a little bit, though. Cheek still has games to play this weekend starting on Friday against Toledo, and hopefully more history to write, namely Kentucky’s second trip to the Women’s College World Series.