Southeast failed the initial exam, but the Redhawks believe it's only going to make them better in the long run.
Nobody was pushing any panic buttons following Friday night's season-opening 2-1 loss to Illinois State in front of more than 500 fans at Houck Stadium.
"We did know they were going to be a tough team. They're very aggressive, very strong," Southeast sophomore forward Erin Shulman said. "Playing tough and strong teams like this will help us going into the conference."
Friday's matchup pitted defending league champions. Southeast won last year's Ohio Valley Conference regular-season title, while ISU captured Missouri Valley Conference regular-season and tournament crowns.
Nelson and ISU coach Drew Roff both thought a factor was the Redbirds having played three exhibition games. The Redhawks originally were scheduled to have one exhibition but had to scrap that after adding nationally ranked Memphis to their regular-season schedule.
"It looked like we hadn't played a competitive game in a while," Nelson said.
Said Roff: "I think it definitely helped us. I think SEMO will do really well this year. They've got good athletes and they play hard."
The game was contested closely the entire way. Southeast held a 13-10 edge in shots and a 5-4 advantage in corner kicks.
"I knew it was going to be like this," Roff said.
ISU sophomore sensation Rachel Tejada proved to be the difference and helped ISU avenge last year's 3-2 season-opening loss to Southeast in Normal, Ill.
Tejada claimed 2011 Missouri Valley Conference player and freshman of the year honors after breaking the MVC and ISU single-season record for goals with 21. She added nine assists to finish with 51 points.
Tejada, who ranked fourth nationally in goals and points last season, scored both ISU goals Friday. She took advantage of high bounces off the Houck Stadium Field Turf when Southeast players failed to make connections.
"It's nice to see her start back up where she left off last year," Roff said. "She's a dangerous player. She doesn't need a whole lot of space."
Tejada gave ISU a 1-0 lead a little more than 22 minutes into the first half. Kristin Cooley's long free kick bounced high past Southeast's defense. Tejada beat junior goalkeeper Ashton Aubuchon to the ball and headed it home.
Tejada's second goal, which came with just less than 28 minutes remaining in the final half, snapped a 1-1 tie. A cross from Kyla Cross bounced over Aubuchon, and all Tejada had to do was tap the ball into the open net.
"We uncharacteristically did not do very well at the back, the back four and the keeper," Nelson said, suggesting that both goals could have been prevented. "Our reputation is that we are good at the back end, and I am not worried about it."
True freshman Ashley Geist, who did not start, scored Southeast's goal less than nine minutes into the second half to erase the 1-0 deficit.
The speedy Shulman, who had several impressive runs during the game, played a long ball through the ISU defense to Geist. She booted a low, rolling shot from about 30 yards just before ISU keeper Aryn Newsom got to the ball. It trickled into the net.
"It was really exciting. I didn't expect it at all," Geist said about her first college goal. "Erin made that run behind the defense. I saw her [Newsom] coming out at me. I just wanted to shoot it past her. I didn't know if it would get there."
Geist almost forged a second tie with less than 17 minutes remaining, but her header was saved by a diving Newsom.
Geist was among five of Southeast's eight true freshmen to see action. Amy Harrington started while St. Vincent High School graduate Storm French, Jenna Collingridge and Ashley Brendal joined Geist in coming off the bench.
"Since we didn't have any exhibitions, we wanted to get a look at as many people as we could," Nelson said.
Both squads had several strong scoring chances in addition to the ones that netted goals. Each side hit a post.
"We had a lot of opportunities we probably should have finished," said Shulman, the 2011 OVC freshman of the year when she scored nine goals to tie for the team lead. "It was a well-fought game. Both teams fought until the end."
* Southeast coach Heather Nelson, who will be away from the team indefinitely while she recovers from a broken back and wrist suffered during an accident last month, made an appearance on the sidelines.
Nelson watched the game while her husband directed the squad. It is not certain if she'll return to her coaching duties this season.
"It's good to be out here," Heather Nelson said.
* Southeast continues its four-game homestand to open the season today when Saint Louis University visits at 6:30 p.m.
The squads played to a scoreless tie last year in St. Louis. The Redhawks never have beaten the Billikens. They are 0-3-1 all-time against SLU.