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Muhlenberg College

Thursday, March 5, 2009

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NCAA Preview
fighting irish invade maine

It’s a very lucky thing for the Muhlenberg women’s basketball team that the NCAA Tournament takes place in March.

With St. Patrick’s Day just a few weeks away and names on their roster like NCAA basketball Kaitlyn O’Malley, Kelly McKeon and Erin McSherry, the Mules hope the luck of the Irish will be with them.

“I hope all our Irish descendants help us out,” said senior Bethany Enterline, who is entering her third NCAA Tournament. “[Junior] Katie Ferris went to Ireland and brought us back souvenirs, so hopefully those will bring good luck, too.”

The Mules (24-3) face Westfield State (22-4) in the first round of the NCAA Division III Tournament on Friday. The teams travel to Maine, where the host school, Bowdoin, will face Castleton State in the second first-round game tomorrow.

The Mules, who hosted last year’s first two rounds, are
Lauren Boyle
Boyle was selected to the All-Centennial Conference first team for the third consecutive year. She scored 18 points in each of the previous two NCAA first-round games in which she played.
looking at the trek to Maine as their Spring Break trip.

“Other people go south,” said Enterline. “We’re going to Maine.”

“We’re excited to travel,” said senior McSherry, who has blocked 46 shots this season. “It makes the NCAA experience more real.”

Muhlenberg has plenty of experience returning to the NCAAs; among the starters, seniors Lauren Boyle and McSherry and sophomores Sheila Cook and McKeon all played in the tournament last season (do you sense the Irishness of Muhlenberg women’s basketball here?). And Boyle and Enterline played when Muhlenberg made national playoffs in 2006.

“Our experience will help us without a doubt,” said Enterline. “Our senior class has been to the tournament three times. And our sophomores now have the experience of last year.”

The team’s schedule this regular season has also prepared it for the tough competitors in the tournament.

“We’re used to playing a high level of competition,” said McSherry. “We’ve played games when we
Sheila Cook
Cook is averaging 9.5 points (fourth on the team) and 4.6 rebounds (third).
were down and were able to come back and vice versa; we’ve played games where other team has come back. This season has prepared us for all different types of situations.”

“We had the pressure of going undefeated in our league,” said Enterline. “We’re used to having that focus and we know how to win under pressure.”

Muhlenberg has won an unprecedented five Centennial Conference titles and is making its fifth appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Mules are 2-4 in their previous showings, having reached the second round in both 1998 and 2006. Last year, Muhlenberg lost to DeSales in the first round.

The Mules are riding a 10-game winning streak and have won 18 of their last 19 games. They are averaging 70.4 points per game, and five Mule players have had 20-point games during the season. Freshman Alexandra Chili has one 30-point game under her belt and is tied for second in Division III with 3.2 three-pointers per game (86 total). McKeon is 10th in the division with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.34.

The Mules rank in the top 30 in Division III in turnovers per game (fifth), assist-to-turnover ratio (seventh) and three-point field goal defense (16th). Muhlenberg is ranked 14th by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association and 18th by D3hoops.com, for the highest ranking of the four teams in the pod (Bowdoin is 17th in the coaches poll).

Westfield won its last two games to capture the Massachusetts State College Athletic Conference for its third berth to the NCAAs; the Owls fell in the first round in 1995 and 1996. The team is ranked 43rd in scoring defense.

From watching tapes of Westfield, Enterline and McSherry said it looks like the Owls like to play up-tempo.

“The key is to play good defense and slow down their game,” said McSherry.

There’s a pot of gold at the end of the national tournament rainbow — or rather a nice, shiny championship trophy. Muhlenberg needs six lucky Irish wins to get there. But just in case there really isn’t such a thing as luck of the Irish —

“We don’t need luck to win,” said McSherry. “This team has talent and the mindset and embodies teamwork more than any other team I’ve been on.”
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