ears of preparation have positioned a North Vernon native to shine in the national spotlight this weekend.

Morgan Abel, a 26-year-old nurse who works in the mental health unit at Columbus Regional Hospital, will represent Indiana in the Miss USA competition — with about 20 Hoosiers, including her parents and some co-workers, making the trip to Las Vegas to cheer her on.

Abel competes for the title at 7 p.m. Sunday at the T-Mobile Arena, which seats about 20,000.

The pageant will be telecast nationally on FOX.

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“The smile has not come off my face,” Abel said of her experience so far, including public appearances, photo shoots and rehearsals.

“I finally made it,” she said.

Abel has competed in pageants for years, having been crowned Miss Teen Indiana USA in 2008 and winning the title of 2010 Miss Southern Indiana.

But the Miss USA pageant is a bit different, she said.

Through this competition, she wants people to learn more about Indiana and about her platform, which is promoting mental health, she said.

And in addition to the title of Miss USA, Abel said she’s ready for the responsibilities that come with it, including competing for Miss Universe.

“I’m so ready for this job,” she said.

Wednesday was the first night of preliminary competition, streamed live on the Miss USA website. Her personal interview with judges was Thursday, giving them an idea of who she is and what she hopes to accomplish, she said.

She’s been rooming with Miss Connecticut, Tiffany Teixeira, a critical care registered nurse at Yale-New Haven Hospital, who works in surgical/trauma intensive care.

“We’re almost the same person,” Abel joked of the friendship. “We can finish each other’s sentences.”

She’s looking forward to meeting the Backstreet Boys and Chris Young, who are performing during Sunday night’s televised competition.

Back in Columbus, Abel’s coworkers who are staying in town are picking up some extra shifts at the hospital to allow their colleague to compete.

Donna Liebrandt, Columbus, who has worked with Abel in the mental health unit since Abel started there a couple years ago, described her as “a beautiful girl, in and out.”

And while happy that Abel is competing as Miss Indiana, there’s a little trepidation that if she wins Miss USA she’ll be leaving Columbus Regional Hospital, Liebrandt said.

Her co-workers would miss her, Liebrandt said, describing Abel as compassionate and caring with her patients.

“She’s had family members who have had some mental health issues, and mental health is near and dear to her heart. It’s very obvious,” Liebrandt said.

Abel’s friends, family and other fans have a chance to help her land among the top 15 in the Miss USA competition by casting votes. There are several options to vote, and fans may vote up to 10 times a day for their favorite.

“It’s really a big deal,” she said of the voting.

Abel encouraged Columbus residents to visit her Facebook page for step-by-step instructions on how to vote.

As she approaches the final competition on Sunday, Abel said she’s the most calm she has ever been when approaching a big event, with her entire focus during the competition on the judges.

Describing the experience as once-in-a-lifetime, she is particularly grateful for those who helped her get to the competition and have supported her efforts.

“I really want to bring some attention to Indiana,” she said.

Liebrandt confessed she hasn’t watched the Miss USA pageant in years, but nothing will keep her from Sunday night’s telecast to watch her friend.

Asked what she would say to Abel if she had a chance to talk to Miss Indiana USA just before the competition, Liebrandt stopped to think for a minute and then said, “I’d just say, ‘You go, girl.’”

Where to watch

The Miss USA pageant will be telecast at 7 p.m. Eastern time Sunday on FOX.

Co-hosts: Julianne Hough and Terrence “J” Jenkins

Telecast from: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas

Performers: Chris Young, Backstreet Boys

For more on the telecast, visit missuniverse.com/missusa

How to vote for Miss Indiana USA

Vote for Indiana pageant contestant Morgan Abel either by downloading the new “Miss U” app or by visiting missusa.com.

Ways to vote:

  • Open the Miss U App and the voting portal will be on the front page. Here is a link to share on social media: http://bit.ly/1sDfiwX
  • Visit vote.missusa.com
  • Using Twitter you can write a post and include ‪#‎MissUSA‬ and vote for Miss Indiana USA to be in Top 15 for #MissUSA live.

Both the app and missusa.com allow you to vote up to 10 times a day per Registered Facebook account

About Morgan Abel

Age: 26

Parents: Daughter of Pete and Sarah Abel, North Vernon

Education: Graduate of Jennings County High School and IUPUC

Occupation: Registered nurse in the mental health unit at Columbus Regional Hospital

Career ambition: To pursue a master’s degree at Indiana University to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner

In her spare time: Enjoys racing, snow skiing, knee boarding, exploring and singing

School and community activities: National Alliance of Mental Illness, Turning Point Domestic Violence Shelter, American Red Cross, Hospice, HOPE and CHAMP Camp

Follow her on Facebook

Search for morgan abel miss indiana usa 2016 on Facebook.com

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.