The road to the Centennial Conference championship for the Muhlenberg women’s basketball team in 2007-08 began and ended right there – on the road.
After stumbling at home in their first CC game of the season, the Mules emerged as a championship contender during a 32-day span in which they played nine of 11 games on the road. They went 7-2 away from Memorial Hall in that stretch, including wins against Gettysburg, Johns Hopkins, defending CC champion Ursinus and defending CC regular-season champion McDaniel.
Needing a win in the last game of the regular season to clinch homecourt for the playoffs, Muhlenberg was defeated by Ursinus. But that was just fine for the Mules, who went on the road to Franklin & Marshall and captured their fourth CC title.
Homecourt disadvantage struck again when Muhlenberg was selected to
host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. The Mules lost in the first round to local rival DeSales, which went on to reach the “Sweet 16” before falling to the eventual national champion.
Feldman recorded 83 points, 75 rebounds and 26 assists as a senior, compared to 69, 62 and 28 in her first three years combined. She scored nine points in the CC championship game.
Muhlenberg finished the season with a record of 21-7, reaching the 20-win mark for the third time in program history. And it won the conference championship with a young squad that figures to be in the title mix for the next few years to come.
The only seniors on the team were Michelle Feldman, who started 12 games at
forward, and backup point guard Abra Like. The duo graduated as the winningest class in Mule women’s basketball history, with a four-year record of 77-31.
Two juniors were among the top players on the team: Lauren Boyle maintained her status as one of the best in the CC, while Erin McSherry enjoyed a spectacular breakout season.
Boyle received All-America
honorable mention after averaging a team-leading 14.9 points per game and finishing second on the team in assists (94), steals (36) and blocked shots (14). She became just the second Muhlenberg player to earn first-team All-CC honors twice and the third to reach the 1,000-point mark as a junior. Boyle will enter her senior season third on the Mules’ all-time list with 1,084 career points.
McSherry averaged 7.5 points
and 6.6 rebounds per game but made her
biggest impact on defense. She blocked 59 shots, one short of the school
record, and twice tied the school record of six blocks in a game. McSherry earned All-CC honorable mention and needs just six swats to become Muhlenberg’s all-time leader.
Like finished her career 10th on the Mules’ all-time list with 195 assists.
The Mules’ third All-CC selection was
freshman point guard Kelly McKeon, who also received honorable mention. She made a tremendous impact in her rookie season, averaging 10.3 points and leading the team in assists (104, a school record for a freshman) and steals (50). McKeon’s steady ball-handling was a big reason Muhlenberg ranked seventh in Division III with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.05.
Another freshman, Sheila Cook, had a solid season in the post, averaging 7.5 points and shooting
a team-leading 51.4 percent from the field. Sophomores Alexis Bates (7.4 ppg), Kaitlyn O’Malley (6.2 ppg) and Maiza Mock (3.3 ppg) all showed considerable improvement, and juniors Kaitlin Strumph and Bethany Enterline were key role players.
Boyle narrowly missed a triple-double at Gettysburg, totaling 22 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds.
Muhlenberg started the season utilizing the running and pressing system that had been so successful in 2004, but after losing to Scranton in the Scotty Wood Tournament championship game and Gettysburg in the CC opener, the Mules returned to a more traditional style. The Mules broke for fall final exams with a record of 5-3 but won 14 of their next 16, including the long stretch on the road.
One of the road losses came to nemesis Dickinson, but Muhlenberg exacted revenge with a 68-62 win in
the next-to-last game of the regular season. The loss to Ursinus three days later resulted in a three-way tie for first place between the Mules, Dickinson and F&M, with the latter earning the right to host on tiebreakers.
The semifinal match against Dickinson was a typical tight, defensive affair. Trailing 47-44 with about two minutes left, Muhlenberg closed the game on a 10-0 run, with McKeon scoring seven of the points and adding two key steals. McSherry had a monster game, with 15 points, a career-high 14 rebounds and six blocked shots.
Fourth-seeded Gettysburg did the Mules a favor by ousting F&M in the other semi, and the championship game was free of dramatics. Muhlenberg ended the first half on a 14-0 run to take a 50-31 lead into the locker room and breezed to an 80-65 victory.
The NCAA first-round game was a tense battle between two teams very familiar with each other. Neither team led by more than six points until the very end, when DeSales scored the final eight points for a 56-48 win.