One of the most accomplished - and largest - senior classes in Muhlenberg women's soccer history got to experience something new in its fourth and final season: a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
A remarkable second half of the season lifted the Mules to their first NCAA appearance since 2003, giving the seven seniors one last major accomplishment.
Such a feat seemed improbable midway through the season, when Muhlenberg sat at 5-5. But a seven-game winning streak carried the Mules to a 9-1 mark in the Centennial Conference and gave them the right to host the CC playoffs. Though they fell in the semifinals to Dickinson, their great run in CC play, combined with a very strong strength of schedule, was enough to earn them an at-large bid to the tournament, where they fell in the first round to No. 15 Ithaca.
Ashley O'Grady played in every game the last four years, starting all but one.
The season opened with a 2-0 loss to another squad that went on to NCAAs, Oneonta State, but Muhlenberg recovered with three straight wins, as it topped St. Joseph's (N.Y.) 1-0, DeSales 6-0 and Penn State Altoona 3-0.
The Mules fell 6-1 to top-ranked defending national champion Messiah, but recovered with two conference wins, 5-0 over McDaniel and 4-2 at playoff participant Haverford, sandwiched around a 2-1 loss at Scranton.
A two-game swoon in which Muhlenberg led both games 1-0 but eventually lost, 4-1 against Dickinson and 2-1 in overtime at Moravian, dropped it to .500, putting the season in jeopardy.
But then everything turned around, led by a recommitment to defense. After allowing 10 goals in their previous four contests, the Mules gave up just three in their final seven regular-season games.
A 2-0 victory over Washington began the streak, and the next two wins served as the two biggest of Muhlenberg's season. In back-to-back games the Mules defeated No. 16 Swarthmore 2-1 and No. 7 Johns Hopkins 2-0 to vault into a virtual tie for first place in the CC. The victory at Hopkins, the eventual CC champion, snapped the Blue Jays' 24-game home unbeaten streak and was their first loss in CC play in more than two years.
The Mules closed out the regular season with wins over Bryn Mawr (3-1), Franklin & Marshall (1-0), Ursinus (1-0) and Gettysburg (2-1) to tie with Hopkins for first place in the CC.
Eight of Christina O'Grady's 10 points came in CC play.
Muhlenberg served as the host thanks to its head-to-head win over the Blue Jays, but a second loss to Dickinson, this time 4-2, ended the Mules' great run. They were still invited to NCAAs, where they hung tough with perennial powerhouse Ithaca before succumbing 1-0 on a goal in the 79th minute, finishing the season 12-7 overall.
Senior Kasey Hacker had another fantastic season at center midfield, netting five goals - three of which were game winners - and two assists en route to being named to the All-CC first team for the second straight year. She was also a second-team all-region selection, the Mules' first all-region player since 2005. Hacker ended her career ranked ninth in school history with 56 career points and eighth in goals (21) and assists (14).
Hacker is joined on those lists by fellow senior Christina O'Grady, who was named to the All-CC second team for the fourth straight year. O'Grady scored three goals and four assists at forward and finished her career sixth in Muhlenberg history in career assists (15) and 10th in points (49).
Three other Mules were named second-team All-CC. Sophomore Meghan O'Grady received the honor after leading Muhlenberg with eight goals and 18 points and finishing fifth in the CC in goals per game and seventh in points per game as a forward.
Kasey Hacker is one of just five Mules to be named first-team All-CC in consecutive seasons.
Sophomore Nicolette Miler also was a second teamer after tallying four goals and three assists at forward. Freshman Maggie Neary earned the honor after filling in for senior Samantha Hoffman, who suffered a season-ending injury just two games into the year, at center back.
Senior Kimberly Hacker netted four goals and three assists from the outside midfield, and freshman Alyssa Meola stepped into a starting role at center midfield midway through the season, where she notched two goals and an assist.
Seniors Jennifer Lynch and Ashley O'Grady joined Neary in the back, helping the Mules to eight shutouts on the season. Sophomore Michele Toher started 17 games in net, posting a 1.35 goals-against average and .755 save percentage, recording six shutouts and earning All-CC honorable mention.
Juniors Lauren Petri (four goals, five assists) and Valerie Patriarca (two goals, one assist) and sophomores Renee Dessimone and Jamie Weiss were all key contributors, mostly as reserves.