UTD Assistant Softball Coach Abby Sterling was hired in September 2022 and quickly made her mark both on the field and within the department. Tragically, just two weeks before Thanksgiving, Sterling passed away unexpectedly at 27 years old.
A big personality and warm spirit, Sterling quickly made her presence felt within UTD Athletics. In Sterling’s first season, the Comets played to a .571 winning percentage — but her impact extended well beyond the softball field. Joining UTD Athletics at a time of departmental transition, Sterling became a fast friend to the new staff. Athletics Director Angela Marin said her public memorial service in Nederland was attended by about 40 Comets, including most of the softball team and many of the department’s staff.
“Abby just made us all smile,” Marin added. “She made us all laugh, and she was full of life.”
Bill Petitt, the associate athletic director for External Affairs, said that everyone in the department loved to be around Sterling.
“Abby came along at a time when there was a lot of transition within the department,” Petitt said. “She’d only been here about a little over a year, but she had a huge impact on the department as far as chemistry, and the team just adored her.”
Dylan Kuester, marketing and social media coordinator for athletics, was one of Sterling’s closest friends on the department’s staff, along with former assistant softball coach Kaylie McHugh. He said he first met Sterling when the department was working on headshots, and from the first meeting, she was warm and friendly.
“She introduced herself to me, all very happy and smiling, and the first thing she said was ‘Dylan, I’ve heard a lot of good things about you. I love the work that you do, you’re your killer with your job, and you do a great job with media,’” Kuester said. “We kind of just became friends after that occurrence.”
On the field, Sterling was a fierce competitor. Marin recalls coming across a picture of the ASC players of the week from March of 2019: it featured Sterling alongside UTD Senior Melissa Livermore as co-hitters of the week. As a player for ASC rival Louisiana College, Sterling slugged over .600. Marin said that Sterling’s experience, competitive spirit and outgoing personality translated into a love of coaching.
“She was always on the softball field,” Marin said. “She was always making herself a better coach so that she could be better for her student athletes.”
Kuester said that many of his favorite memories of Sterling came from spring 2022’s softball trips. It was during those tournaments, that he could glimpse how strong her bond was with the student athletes on the softball team.
“Her team meant the world to her,” Kuester said. “Really, every time that we talked about something, her team was always brought up – how about how she feels about these athletes, how much she appreciates them. The girls loved her, and she was just a light to her team.”
Marin said that the loss was especially hard on the student athletes, and that the student counselling center played a large role in helping both students and staff process Sterling’s passing.
“The office is quieter without her here,” Marin said. “We feel her absence. We’re such in close quarters, here in athletics, that we see each other every day, which means that it’s just that much [more] personal when we lose one of our own.”
The Thanksgiving season provided an opportunity for Athletics to remember the softball coach and celebrate what she brought to the department. Petitt said that he had promised Sterling, an East-Texan, that he would make gumbo for the department’s Thanksgiving potluck.
“When she passed, I went ahead and made her gumbo – with potato salad, which she said was the East Texas way – and we had it on Tuesday [at the department’s Thanksgiving potluck] as a small tribute to her.”
While her presence on the field will be missed, Sterling’s memory will remain in the hearts of her athletes and the department. Marin said that the department is dedicating the upcoming season to Sterling, and there are other initiatives in the works to honor her memory.