The perfect season.
That’s the best way to describe the Muhlenberg women’s basketball team’s tremendous 2008-09 year. It was perfect on the court, where the Mules made history as the first team to go undefeated through the Centennial Conference regular season and postseason. And it was perfect in the hearts and minds of the players, a close-knit group who extended their time together more than any previous Muhlenberg team.
The Mules finished with a record of 26-4, tying the school and CC record for wins in a season, set in 2006. The freshmen on that team were seniors this time around and ended their careers with an impressive record of 92-21.
After winning its third CC championship in four years, Muhlenberg advanced to the “Sweet 16” of the NCAA Division III Tournament for the first time in history. Shipped to Maine for the first two rounds despite their strong record and high regional ranking, the Mules turned heads when they handed Bowdoin its first-ever homecourt postseason loss.
Muhlenberg finished the year ranked 14th by D3Hoops.com and 15th by the Women’s Basketball
Coaches Association – its highest postseason ranking ever.
Boyle, Kaitlin Strumph, Bethany Enterline and McSherry got to hold the CC trophy three times in their four years. Their 92 wins were topped by only one senior class in
Muhlenberg athletic history.
The Mules opened their campaign by capturing the Scotty Wood Tournament with double-digit wins against St. Elizabeth and William Paterson, then began CC play with a 72-63 win at Gettysburg that established a couple of trends that would recur throughout the season.
One was a comfortable margin of victory: Of Muhlenberg’s 20 wins against CC opponents, 16 were by eight points or more. The other was the outstanding guard play of the trio of senior Lauren Boyle, sophomore Kelly McKeon and freshman Alexandra Chili, who combined for 52 points against the Bullets. The threesome would go on to record 60 percent of the team’s points and 78 percent of its assists for the year.
Non-conference losses to Moravian, Marymount and Alvernia, the latter two on the road by four points, were the only bumps in the road for the Mules, although they nearly were tripped up at McDaniel, needing two free throws by junior Alexis Bates with 1.7 seconds left in overtime for a 77-76 win.
Muhlenberg was undefeated (7-0) in the month of February, starting
with a big non-conference win at DeSales, which entered the game ranked 14th in Division III and had knocked the Mules out of the 2008 NCAA Tournament. Senior Erin McSherry played the best game of her career, scoring 24 points on 10-of-12 shooting.
The Scotty Wood Tournament MVP, Boyle graduated as one of only four players in CC history to score 1,500 points and dish out 250 assists. She averaged 14.2 points in
13 career postseason games.
With the top seed for the CC playoffs already clinched, Muhlenberg ended the regular season with three difficult road games, the first two against teams scrambling to make the playoffs. After winning at Johns Hopkins, 63-54, the Mules escaped at Dickinson, 67-65, when a last-second desperation shot from halfcourt hit the back of the iron.
That set the stage for the most dramatic game of the season. Seeking to finish the first 18-0 season in CC women’s basketball history, Muhlenberg trailed Ursinus by 15 points in the first half and by 10 with 7:07 left. Spearheaded by McKeon’s triple-double (13 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists), the Mules came back to win by scoring the last eight points of the game. Chili’s three-pointer with 1.2 seconds left put the stamp on the 68-65 victory.
The final CC standings showed Muhlenberg seven games ahead of five teams that tied for second place. And the CC playoffs affirmed that the Mules were the best team in the league by a wide margin. Playing on its home court, Muhlenberg toppled McDaniel by 16 points and Johns Hopkins by 21 to win its fifth CC championship.
The Mules began the NCAA Tournament with an 80-63 win against
Westfield State, then tackled a Bowdoin squad that entered the game 31-0 all-time in NCAA and conference home games. Playing in front of a loud, mostly hostile crowd, Muhlenberg took a 58-48 lead with 5:26 left but failed to score the rest of the game. The Polar Bears cut the gap to one point and missed a potential game-winning shot from the corner in the last few seconds of regulation.
McSherry finished 10th on the program’s all-time list with 580 career rebounds. Her 164 blocks tied for fourth in CC history.
The 58-57 victory put the Mules in the “Sweet 16” for the first time, but their run ended there with an 82-70 loss to Brandeis at Amherst.
Boyle earned All-America honorable mention for the second straight year and All-CC first-team honors for the third year after averaging 14.0 points. She finished her career second on the Mules’ all-time lists in points (1,505) and field goals (603), fourth in assists (282) and fifth in free throws (258).
McKeon also made the All-CC first team. She averaged 12.4 points, 4.97 assists and, incredibly for a 5-6 point guard, a team-leading 8.5 rebounds per game. McKeon was ninth in Division III in assist-to-turnover ratio and was at her best down the stretch, averaging 16.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists while shooting 49.0 percent from the field and 82.3 percent from the line in the last nine games.
Chili, the D3Hoops.com regional rookie of the year, led the Mules in scoring at 16.0 points per game, setting school records for points in a season (480), three-pointers in a season (96) and assists by a freshman in a season (118). She was third in Division III in three-pointers per game; her 96 total threes led the country and were the third-most ever by a Division III freshman.
McSherry was recognized for her defensive prowess for the second straight year, earning All-CC honorable mention. The Mules’ all-time leader with 164 blocked shots, she averaged 6.6 points and 6.2 rebounds as a senior.
Sophomore Sheila Cook had a breakthrough year, averaging 9.7 points – helped by a 26-point effort against McDaniel in the CC semis – and shooting 55.1 percent from the field. Juniors Alexis Bates, Kaitlyn O’Malley and Maiza Mock and freshmen Kathleen Naddaff and Kimberly Mui gave the Mules a strong bench.