"I play every game like it was my last," says Kris Kirchner, 19, sighting cool gray eyes down a long, finely pointed nose. "If you play with an attitude like that, it's going to show."
Yes it is. Especially if you're 6 feet 4 inches tall and weigh 157 pounds. That's why Kirchner has a reputation as the most aggressive women's college basketball center in the country, is a pre-season All-America choice in Street and Smith's Official 1978-79 Report-the bible of American basketball-and is the key to the University of Maryland's chances of winning the women's Atlantic Coast Conference title two years in a row.
"If we can box her in and stop her, it will definitely have a bad mental effect on the whole team," says archrival Genia Beasley, forward center on last year's second-place North Carolina State. "But she can be real intimidating because of her size, there's no question about it. Of all the people I've ever played against, she's certainly the most aggressive." And All-American center Jill Rankin of Wayland Baptist laments, "Once she has a post defensive player pinned, she's so strong you have to let her have the ball."
Kirchner was a baby-fat 187-pound freshman when she led the team in rebounding last year, and was second in scoring. "My aggressiveness showed more than it might have because last year 2 just wasn't a very sound player, and I had to rely almost on total power." Observers nicknamed her "The Enforcer" and compared her to Wes Unseld, the 260-pound center of the Washington Bullets. But this year, shedding 30 pounds and spending a second summer with the United States women's team in Europe, she hopes to be able to "use more finesse."
Still Kirchner is a formidable sight, striding toward you across the Cole Fieldhouse floor with her cool no-nonsense look, a pack on her back and a tennis ball squeezed tightly in her right hand. She is trying to strengthen the hand to the point where she will be among the first women in the country to be able to grip the basketball tightly enough to "dunk" it through the basket. The sight of a woman "dunking," she figures, will be enough to put the opposing team off its stride for good.
Kirchner chose Maryland rather than 29 other colleges (including Stanford, Purdue, Army and Rutgers) that offered her full scholarships after a brilliant senior year at high school. Maryland, she figured, not only had a top athletic program, but also was close enough to New Jersey for her mother to drive to games. When Kirchner comes out on the floor, the hundreds of cheering students (whose calls jam her dormitory phone lines after games) disappear, and all she sees is her mother, whichever of her five brothers and sister could make it, and her 6-foot-4-inch boyfriend-an ACC champion wrestler. Then it narrows down to the team, the ball and the basket. "I say to myself: Go ahead. Blow it. If you want to walk off the court a loser, if you want to know in your heart that you didn't put everything you have into it, okay . . ."
So far, that hasn't happened. Kris Kirchner hopes it never will and that the ultimate court will be front and centre at the 1980 Olympics. CAPTION: Picture, no caption, By Bill Snead