(Missourian file photo)
The Redhawks were upset in the semifinals of the OVC tournament played in Cape Girardeau after winning the program's fourth Ohio Valley Conference regular-season title. Morehead State scored in the final minute of regulation to post a 2-1 victory.
That cost the Redhawks a shot at the program's third NCAA tournament berth. They hope to make amends this year.
"We did have a great season, but I hope we go further this year," sophomore Erin Shulman said. "Maybe this year we can get that tournament finalized. That's our goal."
Despite losing six key seniors, including two of their three top scorers, the Redhawks again carry high hopes into the 2012 season that begins Friday at 6:30 p.m. against defending Missouri Valley Conference champion Illinois State. Southeast plays its first four games at home.
"I'm very excited," senior defensive standout Hayley Abbott said. "We were so close last year [in the OVC tournament]. We hope to make it to the NCAAs this year."
Southeast, which went 12-6-1 overall and 8-1 in conference play last year, has been among the OVC's most consistently successful squads since Heather Nelson started the program in 1999.
Nelson, who won her fourth OVC coach of the year award last season, has a 13-year record of 130-78-26. She has led Southeast to four OVC regular-season titles along with two OVC tournament crowns and NCAA berths.
"We're proud of the program we've built over the years," said Southeast associate head coach Paul Nelson, who is running the team while his wife is sidelined due to an accident over the summer.
Paul Nelson knows it will be a challenge to replace the six seniors, three of whom earned first-team all-conference honors. Another made the all-league second team.
Graduation losses include first-team all-OVC selections Jessica Crabtree, the league's offensive player of the year, and Lauren Bozesky. They combined for 16 of Southeast's 35 goals.
Also gone are all-OVC first-team defender Nikki Edwards, who started every game of her four-year Southeast career, and second-team all-conference midfielder Vanessa Hart.
"We lost six great seniors. It will be difficult to replace what we lost," Paul Nelson said. "You never know how well you're going to do. I think we have a good nucleus. Team spirit, team camaraderie is good.
"You look at all our returning players. They all have that experience of disappointment [in last year[']s OVC tournament]. Maybe that will help us to work even harder."
The Redhawks return 15 players, including six starters among 10 letter winners, and welcome nine newcomers. They have just six seniors.
Shulman had a big rookie season and was named the OVC freshman of the year. She ranked second in the OVC by matching Crabtree with nine goals and finished with 18 points despite missing five games due to injury.
Joining Shulman as a returning Southeast player on the all-OVC first team is junior goalkeeper Ashton Aubuchon, who led the league with eight shutouts and a 0.78 goals-against average.
"Anything but a really good season would be unacceptable," Aubuchon said. "We have a great coaching staff, great leaders."
Senior Ali Bauer and junior Jacey Boyko tied for fourth on the team last year with eight points on two goals and four assists.
Sophomore Torey Byrd equaled that pair with two goals while adding three assists to rank sixth with seven points.
Junior Stephanie Palmer had one goal and two assists last season, while Abbott, senior Courtney Luehmann, junior Amy Ward and junior Rachel Compton all added one goal.
Compton and senior Meg Herndon both contributed two assists a year ago.
Abbott, one of Southeast's defensive anchors, earned first-team all-OVC honors during her first two seasons with the Redhawks and was on last year's OVC all-tournament squad. She has started all 55 games in her Southeast career and is on pace to break the school's career records for most starts and minutes played.
Herndon, another defensive anchor, joins Abbott as returning players who started all 19 games last year.
Byrd started 18 times in 2011, while Bauer made 15 starts.
Luehmann, a Notre Dame Regional High School graduate, was among Southeast's top scorers as a first-team all-conference sophomore but suffered through an injury-played season last year.
Palmer also was among Southeast's leading scorers in 2010 as a freshman.
Other players who return after seeing limited action last year are sophomore Kasey Crowden from Jackson High School, senior Sarah Uptmor from Central High School and sophomore Ellie Hight.
Sophomore Taylor Byrd redshirted last year with an injury after being a key contributor as a freshman in 2010.
An interesting roster addition is senior Renee Kertz, a four-year softball standout at Southeast who will use her final year of collegiate eligibility as a goalkeeper. She begins the season backing up Aubuchon.
Also figuring into the mix will be eight freshmen, including St. Vincent High School graduate Storm French.
The other freshmen are Ashley Brendel, Jenna Collingridge, Ashley Geist, Tenealle Hay, Amy Harrington, Paige Luehmann and Breck Robinson.
"When you bring a really good freshmen class in, everybody gets excited," Paul Nelson said. "We have a few that turn heads."