Abel granted 6th year of eligibility at Duquesne

| Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, 9:05 p.m.

Nine weeks into the college basketball season, Vanessa Abel waited for a special telephone call.

She was sitting on the court as her cell phone rang.

“I was scared,” she said. “I told coach Serio (Suzie McConnell-Serio, head coach of the Duquesne University Lady Dukes) that the compliance officer called.”

Abel explained that Serio suggested they “call the compliance officer together.”

As they did, Abel, a 2007 graduate of Southmoreland High School, got the news that she was granted a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA.

“When I got the news, I threw my phone (in the air) and told coach Serio,” she said. “My teammates hugged and tackled me.”

“I am so happy Vanessa received her sixth year of eligibility,” said Brian Pritts, who coached Abel in high school, and Southmoreland's current girls basketball coach. “She has worked extremely hard throughout her career and really deserves this opportunity.”

Abel, a 5-feet, 5-inch guard, originally attended West Virginia University, but never played there and transferred to Duquesne. For transferring, she sat out her first year as a Lady Duke.

She started 20 games in her sophomore year. In her junior year, she started all 33 games and was named Third-Team All-Atlantic 10 Conference. She was second in the A-10 with 157 assists and fourth with 81 steals.

Besides being a star on the court, she is a star in the classroom.

“I am most proud that Vanessa has earned both an undergraduate and graduate degree from Duquesne University,” said Pritts. “It puts a smile on my face every time I think about it.”

She earned a degree in elementary education and is currently pursuing a master's degree in sports leadership and is on the Director of Athletics' Honor Roll.

Abel's classes are “not bad at all.” She explained that many of her classes are online.

Abel credits her mother for her being back on the court.

“Without her, I wouldn't be playing,” she said. Abel explained that her mother called the compliance officer and “wouldn't take no for an answer.”

She participated in her first practice Dec. 10. The next day, was the “City Game,” the annually rivalry game between the Lady Dukes and the University of Pittsburgh.

Abel played six minutes in that contest had one rebound in a 70-61 Duquesne victory.

While at Southmoreland, Abel was a leader and did many great things for the Lady Scotties.

“Vanessa was awesome,” said Pritts. “She was a coach out on the floor. She always wanted the ball and wasn't afraid of key moments. The team always followed Vanessa's lead in games.”

While playing a rival in high school, Abel had a big night.

“The night she scored 45 was just a normal night” said Pritts. “We were playing Yough and it was a high-scoring game. I don't even think she played the entire game that night.”

Abel had many other achievements in high school as she was named the Pittsburgh Tribune Review player of the year in 2007.

She also led the WPIAL in scoring in her junior year (2006) and senior year (2007) and was named First-Team All-State during those years as well. She was on the all-section team in her four years Southmoreland and finished her high school career with 2,327 points.

Last season, Abel battled a knee injury, playing 12 games with a stress fracture in her knee cap.

“They thought it was just a bruised knee,” she said in a recent interview. Abel had surgery in the off-season.

As she enters this season, Abel hopes to provide film after her surgery that ultimately leads her to a professional career. She once considered playing overseas to continue her pro aspirations in the Women's National Basketball Association.

After this season, Abel said that she still may be playing overseas. She isn't sure where at or for what team.

This year, the Lady Dukes are looking to get the NCCA Tournament, as they are 8-1 without Abel this season.

“We have to focus on the season and keep working hard,” she said. She also explained that she has to “ease into her role” and will fight for her starting point guard position or come off the bench.

No matter what though, she and her team will “keep fighting” to reach their goal of a deep run in the NCAA Tournament in March.

Bill Tissue is a freelance writer.

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