Former Carolina Christian standout goes to NCAA D-II Final Four with Catawba

Catawba College’s women’s basketball team recently wrapped up a historic postseason run with links to Stanly County.

Head coach Terence McCutcheon and freshman guard Abi Svenson were part of the Indians’ run to the Final Four of the NCAA Div. II national tournament. The Indians lost Wednesday to Minnesota-Duluth, 70-59, wrapping up a 29-6 season.

Svenson’s journey to the Salisbury college took a different route than many players. Having played for and graduated from Carolina Christian School, the 5-foot-11 shooting guard did not enter college right away.

Instead, Svenson joined a prep program, 1-of-1 Academy in Indian Trail, started by Brian Morris and coached by Anthony George.

“I had a very different recruiting process than all my teammates,” Svenson said. “Coming from a small school, my only options was really through AAU.”

Svenson played for Lady Attack Elite, an AAU team, for three years in high school before joining 1-of-1’s team and going through a year of prep school.

“She needed to play some tough competition before she was ready,” Julie Svenson, Abi’s mother, said.

She said her daughter had to enroll at Central Piedmont Community College and have a job to pay to play for 1-of-1.

Julie Svenson said she and her husband, David, looked at each other and asked, “We’re going to pay for her to play for a year?”

Abi worked at Publix while going to CPCC and paying $2,000 for her classes.

“She came home some nights saying, ‘This is a lot,’ ” Julie said.

When her parents asked her if she still wanted to do this, she said, “Yes.”

Abi’s mother said her daughter practiced all the time.

“I’ve never seen her shoot so much in my life,” she said. “She’s a gym rat. She wants to be in there.”

The Catawba freshman said her schedule was beyond hectic. She said she would practice in the morning, go to classes, work and then come back later for more practice in the evenings. The team also played a 40-game schedule.

She said her freshman year at Catawba has not been easy but feels easier than the year of playing for 1-of-1 with everything else going on.

At the end of her prep year, Svenson played in an all-star game for seniors who had not signed to play.

This is where McCutcheon saw her play.

“He reached out to me, took me on a visit and it all happened from there,” Svenson said.

McCutcheon played for Coach Dave Davis at Pfeiffer in 2001-02 and graduated in 2002. After coaching at both the high school and college levels, including the 2014-15 season with Davis at Newberry College, McCutcheon took over in February 2020 as the Catawba head coach.

This season, Svenson said she spoke to her mother and mentioned what a special group of seasoned players Catawba had.

“I’m so blessed to have my freshman year be on this team,” she said.

She has played in 13 games, averaging about five minutes per game, which was different, she said, since she was used to playing all the time.

“Sitting and watching has been helpful to my game,” she said. “When you are playing, you just really focus on your own position. Having this different view has opened my eyes to learn the game from so many new levels, whether it’s the coaches or other positions. I’ve learned a whole lot.”

Abi’s mother mentioned McCutcheon has the freshmen competing in games with the seniors in practice to build the freshmen up.

“He knows his future’s there, so he allows (the freshmen) to be in contests with the seniors,” she said.

Having her daughter at Catawba was something she believes is where God wanted her to be. She noted Abi joined the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at school and has become a leader of the group.

Abi also changed her major to education to become a teacher, which Julie said she could not be prouder of since she also teaches.

“She’s been happy with Catawba in every sense,” Julie said.

Catawba’s run to the Final Four was the furthest trip for a women’s team into the national tournament in school history. The Indians finished No. 1 in the Southeast Region and hosted the regionals, earning three wins to take the regional crown. Catawba won Monday in St. Joseph, Missouri, with a 77-70 over Cal State Dominguez Hills before Wednesday’s loss.

Being a part of the team and representing Stanly, Abi said, “is just so awesome to be a part of this. It’s so awesome to represent.”