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Newcomer Abby Cunningham is the starting right fielder and a regular in the middle of the lineup for the Warriors’ softball squad this spring. Abby, a sophomore, is in her first year at Valley Regional after having attended the Foote School in New Haven for the last several years. (Photo courtesy of Abby Cunningham )
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Sophomore Abby Cunningham has promptly stepped into an integral role with the Warriors’ softball team in her first year at Valley Regional High School. Abby started this year as a pinch runner and flex player, but after just a few games, she earned a regular spot in both the lineup and right field for the Warriors.
Abby lived in New Haven until she was five, when her family moved to Deep River. After attending New Haven’s Foote School from kindergarten through 9th grade, Abby enrolled at Valley Regional as a sophomore this year. While Abby loved playing softball at Foote, she acknowledges that the competition wasn’t nearly as tough as what she faces now. Being able to catch on with the Warriors’ varsity squad in her first year at the school is a huge accomplishment in Abby’s eyes.
“It was a big achievement, I think, just coming into a really intense league. My old school only went up to 9th grade, so before this year, I never really hit against a fast pitcher,” says Abby. “Being able to not let my concerns about hitting affect me and work my way up to hit the fast pitches, at first, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do that.”
Warriors’ Head Coach Ken Wilson wasn’t sure what Abby had to offer at first, and so he had to spend some time evaluating her abilities early on this season. It didn’t take long for Coach Wilson to see that Abby could provide his club with a nice presence at the plate.
“Abby caught my eye in the batting cage at practice and, after two games of playing as a flex player, she was put into the lineup to see what she could do offensively. She immediately responded by hitting 3-of-4 in her first game,” Coach Wilson says. “Abby is extremely coachable, listens, takes instruction well, and implements what she learns immediately. She has an excellent eye...and has only struck out once this season to date.”
Abby typically hits sixth in Valley’s order, although she sometimes bats fifth or even in the all-important cleanup spot. Abby currently sports a .500 batting average, a .581 on-base percentage, and a .577 slugging percentage to go with her 11 runs scored for the Warriors, who are 10-6 and on their way to the playoffs.
However, Abby’s value to Valley goes beyond her prowess at the dish. She’s also a huge asset in the dugout who always keeps up her teammates’ confidence by being talkative and reassuring.
“As a team, we’re focused on being able to hit. Sometimes we psych ourselves out, when in reality, we’re able to hit anyone. We just need confidence at the plate,” she says. “The other thing is keeping the energy up in games. We do better when everyone is cheering in the dugout and cheering for [freshman pitcher Addy Bullis]. I try to be loud, which isn’t hard for me. I’m a loud person and just try to keep the confidence up.”
Abby often spoke up when she was co-captain on the team at the Foote School. Abby embraced the role of mentor and helped her team stay focused and engaged in games. After her experience there, Abby knew that she would have something to offer the Warriors—and vice versa.
“I helped lead the younger girls at my old school. I wanted to continue playing at my new school, even though it would be a different experience,” says Abby “[The juniors and seniors] are really awesome. They really push us because they want us to do well. They’re really nice girls, and sometimes it’s nice to not be in the leadership role and be able to learn from other people, as well.”
Even though Abby is a newcomer on the Warriors, she certainly isn’t shy about getting her team going, and part of that attitude stems from her background in musical theatre. Abby describes herself as “musical obsessed.” She’s part of the theatre productions at Valley Regional, where she was recently the understudy for the role of Aida in the musical of the same name. She’s also a member of Madhatters Theatre Company in Old Lyme. Abby believes that softball and theatre are more synonymous with each other than one might think.
“The goals for both theatre and sports are similar. You are working together to succeed at something. Each takes hours, and you bond with everyone else involved,” Abby says. “Theatre has brought me confidence and shaped me, so that I’m very extroverted, which helps in softball with staying energetic and cheering teammates on.”
Whether she’s on the diamond or the stage, Abby feels grateful for every opportunity that comes her way at Valley Regional. Abby knows that a lot of people have helped her get to where she is now, and she makes sure to thank everyone who has supported her along the way.
“[Coach Wilson and assistant coach Karen Paulson] had to take a chance with a new kid. They gave me chances to prove myself and get to the point where I was playing full time and starting. I didn’t think I would do that at the beginning,” says Abby. “My parents and my dad, especially, they aren’t the type of parents that would force me to do anything, but they put me in a place where I had the chance to love what I was doing. And my [former director at the Foote School, Julian Schlusberg] was instrumental in me being who I am today.”
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