(Missourian file photo)
Abbott, one of the Redhawks' defensive anchors, has started all 55 games during her Southeast career and is on pace to break the school's career records for most starts and most minutes played.
Abbott takes over as Southeast's iron woman from Nikki Edwards, a senior first-team all-Ohio Valley Conference defender last year. Edwards started all 69 games of her career with the Redhawks, a school record. She also holds the minutes played mark.
"It's been a great run," said Abbott, a senior from Australia who will make her 56th straight start today when Southeast opens the season with a 6:30 p.m. home contest against defending Missouri Valley Conference champion Illinois State. "Coming in as a freshman, I just wanted to get a little bit of playing time. I ended up starting. I was very surprised."
Abbott earned first-team all-OVC honors during her first two seasons with the Redhawks and was named to the OVC all-tournament squad last year.
Abbott said the streak is nice, but it's not what she focuses on.
"That's not really my goal," said Abbott, a Southeast Scholar-Athlete and a member of the OVC Commissioner's Honor Roll. "I'm more interested in us doing well as a team."
Abbott is one of three Australians playing for the Redhawks this year. She joins freshmen Jenna Collingridge and Tenealle Hay. Abbott is familiar with both.
"I grew up with Tenealle. We went to the same high school. I played with Jenna's older sister," Abbott said. "It's pretty cool having them here."
One new addition gives the Redhawks four players from local high schools.
Senior Courtney Luehmann, a Notre Dame Regional High School graduate, has been a key performer the past three years. She earned first-team all-OVC honors as a sophomore in 2010 before battling injuries last season.
"She's had a very good career for us, and she's had a really good preseason. She's healthy and fit," Nelson said.
In their second year with the program are sophomore Kasey Crowden from Jackson High School and senior Sarah Uptmor, a Central High School graduate who played her first two seasons on the NAIA level at Spring Hill College in Alabama.
Joining the local trio this season is freshman Storm French, a St. Vincent High School graduate.
"It's always nice to have local players," Nelson said. "They're all going to help us."
The Redhawks face another rugged nonconference schedule. Among Southeast's opponents is nationally ranked Memphis.
Other nonleague opponents are Saint Louis University, Missouri-Kansas City, Drake, Kentucky, Nebraska, Evansville and Louisiana Tech.
"I think this is the toughest schedule we've ever had," Nelson said. "It helps prepare us for conference. That's our goal."
Southeast plays its first four games at home. The Redhawks round out their opening weekend by hosting Saint Louis at 6:30 p.m. Sunday.
The Redhawks beat Illinois State 3-2 in last year's opener and tied 0-0 with Saint Louis. Both contests were on the road.
"We'll be tested this weekend," Nelson said. "These first two opponents are top teams."
Breana Beine, a transfer from Evansville, will have to sit out this season under NCAA transfer rules but will have two years of eligibility beginning in 2013. She is allowed to practice with the Redhawks.
Beine was Evansville's top scorer with seven goals and 16 points to earn Missouri Valley Conference freshman of the year and first-team all-MVC honors as a freshman in 2010.
She scored three goals for the Aces last year.
"She's outstanding," Nelson said. "She'll be a great addition for us next year."
* Abbott, Ali Bauer and Uptmor were voted Southeast's captains by their teammates. All are seniors.
* Luehmann is joined on the squad this year by her cousin, freshman Paige Luehmann from Granite City, Ill.