One of the most successful programs in the Centennial Conference proved once again that it is never a good idea to doubt it.
Picked to finish fifth in the conference in the preseason poll, the Muhlenberg men's soccer team defied all expectations in winning the regular-season title with a 7-1-1 CC record and 11-4-2 overall mark. The Mules were led by a balanced unit that finished second in the conference in goals per game and third in goals-against average.
The Mules earned the right to host the playoffs for the first time since 2003, but bowed out in the semifinals with a loss to Dickinson, the second straight year the Red Devils knocked them out of the tournament. Despite entering the playoffs ranked No. 18 in Division III and as high as third in one regional poll, Muhlenberg missed out on an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, as only two CC teams, Johns Hopkins and Swarthmore, were invited for the first time in three years.
Hayden started all of the Mules' 53 games over the last three years at center back, leading them to 27 shutouts over that span.
The season began shakily for the Mules, as they dropped two of their first three games, both one-goal losses at home to nationally ranked opponents (No. 20 Richard Stockton and No. 7 Montclair State). Sandwiched between was a 4-2 win over Baruch that served as a prelude to a high-scoring stretch.
The Mules won three consecutive road games by four or more goals in victories at Wilkes (4-0), Moravian (5-0) and Franklin & Marshall (4-0), a feat no other squad in school history ever accomplished.
After a 1-0 win at Gettysburg in which sophomore Cody Antonini scored the game winner with 7:08 to play, Muhlenberg returned home for back-to-back games against nationally ranked CC opponents that were played in a playoff-like atmosphere. The Mules topped No. 10 Dickinson 1-0 on another late Antonini goal, this one with 7:06 remaining, but fell to No. 14 Johns Hopkins 2-1 in double overtime, snapping a five-game winning streak.
Muhlenberg bounced back from that tough defeat by going 5-0-2 to close out the regular season. The Mules topped DeSales and Washington, tied Drew and beat McDaniel and Haverford to clinch a playoff berth and set up a crucial showdown at No. 6 Swarthmore. With Johns Hopkins' loss earlier in the day, all Muhlenberg needed was a draw with the Garnet to stay in first with one game to play, and it got just that in a 0-0 tie, giving the Mules a perfect 6-0-2 road record for the season.
Muhlenberg beat Ursinus 1-0 on the final day of the season to clinch the regular-season title and ensure homefield advantage. But Dickinson broke a scoreless tie in the 71st minute to knock the Mules out of the CC playoffs and put them on the bubble for an NCAA Tournament berth, where they fell just short, likely because of many other upsets in conference tournaments.
Miller finished his career as Muhlenberg's active leader in points (41) and assists (9). His 17 points as a senior were one more than he had two years ago, when he led the Mules in scoring.
The Mules were rewarded for their regular-season success by sweeping the CC postseason awards. Antonini became just the second Mule and the first-ever sophomore to be named CC player of the year after finishing second in the league in points and goals per game. He led the Mules with 12 goals and 26 points and tied a school record by scoring in the team's first eight games of the season. Head Coach Sean Topping was named coach of the year.
The accolades continued for Antonini at the conclusion of the NCAA Tournament. He was the only sophomore named a first-team All-American, becoming just the fifth Mule, and the first since 1995, to be named to the team.
Antonini was joined on the all-region and all-conference teams by three others. Junior goalkeeper Jason Daniels was a first teamer on both squads after posting a 0.70 goals-against average and .786 save percentage in his first season as a starter. He recorded six shutouts - all in CC play - and during one stretch helped hold Mule opponents scoreless for 543:38.
Senior Samuel Hayden was named to the All-CC first team and all-region second team. He started all 17 games at center back, helping the Mules to a CC-best 0.43 goals-against average in conference play.
Senior Eric Miller was the school-record fourth Mule to earn all-region honors. A third-team all-region and second-team all-CC pick, Miller finished second on the Mules with six goals and five assists and was seventh in the CC in points per game at forward.
Miller was joined on the all-conference second team by senior Adison Weseloh. Weseloh tallied two goals and an assist while playing as a defensive center midfielder. It was the sixth time in the last seven years Muhlenberg had at least five players named all-conference.
Junior Tom Reilly contributed four goals and three assists up front, and senior Mike Gehrmann enjoyed a breakthrough year on the outside flank by netting four goals and one assist after entering the season with just one career point.
Weseloh and the rest of the seniors went 43-19-7 (.674) in their four-year careers.
Junior Mike Williams finished second on the team with four assists to go along with one goal as an outside midfielder, and sophomore Andrew Lasiy contributed a goal and an assist in his first season a starter at center mid. Senior Johan Steiner and junior Evan Rubin were significant contributors off the bench.
Hayden was joined in the back by senior Nick Jones, junior Matt Cecconi and freshman Kyle Plifka. The back four held Mule opponents to just 13 goals and notched nine shutouts on the season.
Junior Eric Williams and sophomore Josh Luginbuhl were key reserves up front.