The Muhlenberg women’s basketball team couldn’t follow up the first 18-0 season in Centennial Conference history with the first 20-0 season. But a 17-3 mark, a national ranking for most of the season and a third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament was a more than impressive encore.
The Mules followed their perfect season with another great one, finishing 21-6 overall and receiving the program’s first-ever at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Muhlenberg was ranked as high as No. 9 during the regular season, tied for the CC regular-season title and became the first team in program history to win 20 games in three consecutive seasons.
The Mules cruised to a 43-point victory in the season opener, also the first round of the Scotty Wood Tournament. But they faced a much tougher test in the final and fell to No. 5 Scranton, failing to win the Scotty Wood championship for just the second time in seven years.
The senior class of Mock, Bates, O’Malley and Ferster (left to right) won two Centennial Conference championships and reached the NCAA Tournament three consecutive years.
But Muhlenberg recovered from that disappointment by winning seven straight, beginning with a six-point victory at eventual CC champion McDaniel. The Mules took down two other CC playoff participants over that stretch, Dickinson and Johns Hopkins, and beat No. 23 Moravian handily, 84-71.
McDaniel finally snapped Muhlenberg’s CC winning streak at 28 games with a one-point overtime victory at Memorial Hall. But the Mules rebounded in a big way in an equally important game two nights later, handing previously undefeated and 21st-ranked Gettysburg its first loss of the season, 60-59, on a layup by freshman Alita Zabrecky with 5.4 seconds left. Gettysburg would go on to reach the “Sweet Sixteen” in the NCAA Tournament.
Bates helped the Mules clinch home court in the playoffs by scoring a season-high 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the regular season finale.
The big victory against the Bullets sparked another long winning streak, this time a six-game stretch during which Muhlenberg beat its opponents by an average of 15.3 points and knocked off another NCAA-bound squad in DeSales.
Despite 32 points from junior do-it-all Kelly McKeon, Johns Hopkins finally brought that streak to an end. But the Mules closed out the regular season with wins in six out of seven games and earned the right to host the CC playoffs for the second straight year.
Stifling defense gave Muhlenberg a 12-point victory over Dickinson in the second round of the playoffs, but McDaniel once again played spoiler, this time ruining the Mules’ bid for the first-ever three-peat in the history of the CC in the championship game.
Despite the loss, Muhlenberg still received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, where it drew Tufts in the first round. The Jumbos, like the Mules, were ranked most of the season, and an 18-3 run to start the game was the difference for them in knocking out Muhlenberg, 71-59.
There were plenty of accolades for the Mules following the season. McKeon took home player of the year honors three times, as she was named CC player of the year, Lehigh Valley Small College co-player of the year and D3hoops.com Mid-Atlantic Region player of the year.
O’Malley ended her career ninth all-time at Muhlenberg in three-pointers with 71.
She led the team with averages of 7.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.3 steals per game and scored 13.1 points per game, second on the Mules. The point guard led the CC and ranked 11th in Division III in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.02). She finished in the top 10 in the conference in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals.
McKeon’s backcourt mate, sophomore Alexandra Chili, joined her on the All-CC first team and on the all-region team, as a second teamer. Chili led the Mules and was third in the CC in scoring at 17.4 points per game. She led the conference and finished 13th in Division III in three-pointers per game (2.85) and was sixth in the league in free-throw percentage (.773) and ninth in assists per game (3.07).
Junior Sheila Cook was Muhlenberg’s third major scoring option, as she averaged 11.2 points per game and 4.2 rebounds and finished in the top 20 in the CC in scoring, field-goal percentage (.445) and blocked shots per game (0.70).
The Mules’ four seniors were all key contributors as role players. Alexis Bates (3.1 points, 4.5 rebounds), Kaitlyn O’Malley (3.3 points), Maiza Mock (3.7 rebounds) and Brenna Ferster served as the team’s captains and finished their careers with a remarkable record of 87-24 (.784), the second-most wins by a class at Muhlenberg.
In her first year with the Mules, junior Alexandra Berlin (4.9 points) moved into the starting lineup late in the season. Zabrecky (5.4 points, 4.9 rebounds) and fellow freshman Kate Clawson (5.0 points) were also major contributors off the bench.
Sophomores Kathleen Naddaff, Kimberly Mui and Katy Rossino and freshman Julie Kelly also saw significant time as reserves.