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Muhlenberg College

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

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Women’s lacrosse, softball

NCAA Preview
women’s basketball to host first regional

Muhlenberg has seen a lot of epic battles on all sports fronts throughout the years, but this weekend it will witness the first national women’s basketball playoff games played in Memorial Hall.

The Mule women’s basketball team (21-6) will face the No. 19 DeSales Bulldogs (24-3) in the first round of the NCAA Division III Tournament on Friday, following a first-round contest between Salem State of Massachusetts and Marymount of Virginia. For Muhlenberg, this will NCAA basketball be the fourth trip to the national playoffs but for first time in school’s history it will host a regional portion of the bracket.

“Playing DeSales at home, who are ranked above us, is definitely a surprise,” said junior Lauren Boyle. “We are excited to play on our home court again.”

Head coach Ron Rohn relies on several players who have already gained national playoff experience. One of them is Boyle, who was a starter for the Mules in both games
Sheila Cook
Freshman Sheila Cook leads the Mules in field-goal percentage (.514) and is third in both points (7.6) and rebounds (4.6) per game.
during the 2006 NCAA Tournament.

“My freshman year we had a better record (25-2) and we were forced to go down to University of Mary Washington,” said Boyle, who scored 18 points in a 57-50 win against Wesleyan in the first round in 2006. “Being part of that tournament was really great.”

Seniors Michelle Feldman and Abra Like and juniors Bethany Enterline and Kaitlin Strumph also saw playing action in the national tournament games. The sixth holdover from that team, junior Erin McSherry, was sick and unable to play, but her healthy contribution will be vital to this year’s squad.

“Our post play has improved a lot,” Boyle said. “I think Erin McSherry has been phenomenal the last few games for us. We wouldn’t have been here without her.”

During the past two seasons, McSherry has developed into a key team member with her intimidating presence under the basket. In the last six encounters, McSherry has averaged 10.1 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks, contributing significantly to the Centennial Conference title.

Making defensive stops and executing will be the winning formula, according to Boyle.

“They (DeSales) will be coming here for revenge as we beat them once,” she said. “But we have to play our game and execute. Hopefully, things will fall our way.”

The Mules will have the strenuous task of bringing DeSales’ 13-game winning streak to an end. The Bulldogs have dropped only one contest in 2008, falling in double-overtime to FDU-Florham, 68-67. The Bulldogs avenged the loss, downing the Devils, 75-60, in the Freedom Conference championship final game last week.

Friday night’s matchup will be a remake of the Nov. 29 game, in which Muhlenberg took the upper hand, 67-63. Boyle notched 22 points, six rebounds and five assists for the victors, while sophomore Kaitlyn O’Malley added 14, including four 3-pointers.

“It was a very tough game,” Boyle said. “Winning against them felt good because they’re a great team.”

DeSales holds a 24-11 advantage in the all-time series, which dates back to 1975. The two opponents have already met in national playoff contest as the Mules defeated the Bulldogs, 53-45, then known as Allentown, in the first round of the 1998 NCAA Tournament.

Muhlenberg has a 2-3 record in NCAA games as the squad reached the second round in its last two national trips in 1998 and 2006.

The Mules figure in the top 35 in NCAA in turnovers per game (10th), blocks per game (33rd) and assists per game (35th). Muhlenberg averages the eighth-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the country with 1.07.

The Bulldogs, who will make their eighth appearance in the NCAA Tournament, rank high in multiple statistical categories on the national level. Their prolific offense is 18th in the nation, averaging 74.9 points per game.

Additionally, DeSales is the most consistent women’s basketball D-III team from the foul line with 78.7 percent successful free throws. Junior Kim Rarick is the top free thrower in the nation, converting 93.6 percent of her charity shots.
Click here for the tournament Web site.

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