Kris Kirchner would like to forget January. A simple case of selective amnesia would do fine.
"It's disappointing to lose anytime," said the Maryland women's basketball all-America. "Once or twice, okay, but we did a lot of losing in January and I wasn't used to that from the two years before that."
Now it is mid-March and Kirchner wears a silver medallion around her neck. Everyone on the team is wearing one. They earned the medallions Saturday night for winning the EAIAW regional tournament -- the first Maryland women's athletic team ever to win a regional tournament.
This young Terp team is now waiting for its second-round game of the AIAW tournament at the University of Maryland-Baltimore campus gym Saturday night against the winner of Texas versus Mercer. Maryland, which earned a first-round bye, is playing at UMBC because of previous commitments at Cole Field House.
"The team has a very good self-image right now," Terp Coach Chris Weller said this week. "They're not cocky. They're just in a good state of mind. They've gotten a lot of criticism this year. They were a little worried that, because they were so young, they wouldn't fit into the winning tradition of Maryland basketball. Now they've won the first regional we've ever won and they're thinking, 'Hey, we're okay.This Weller's been telling us we're okay all year . . . maybe she's right.'"
After two days off to consider just how okay they are, the Terps returned to practice Tuesday. They are virtually the only students on campus as the university is on its spring vacation. "It's a little boring around here," said Kirchner, "but we're playing well and I'm excited. I'd love to be in Fort Lauderdale on the beach, but I want to go far in this tournament."
Weller gave her team the rest to "get away from basketball. It's like beating a dead horse to play every day. So now we'll come back fully enthused to play."
The main indicator of Maryland's down-and-up season has been the play of point guard Debbie Lytle. The freshman never had played point guard before this year. She has had games where she has been thoroughly out of control, where she was moving five speeds faster than her teammates. She also has had games where she has been a precision machine spear-heading fast breaks of breathtaking beauty.
"I've been trying to break into the position all year," said Lytle. "A lot of times, the position has been breaking me in. When she (Weller) told me I could be a point guard, I thought, 'Me?' But now I like the position. When I make mistakes I can adjust. I want this position."
There were times this season where Lytle doubted she wanted the position. "In January, when we were losing, I thought to myself, 'I could have gone somewhere else and been 15-0 now.' But I realized the record doesn't matter that much."
Looking around Cole Field House, Lytle added, "I'm kind of glad I came here now. I like this school."
"I'm very happy with Debbie," said Weller. "She played very well in the regionals. She's right where I hoped she'd be at this point. She's lost confidence at times this year but she's gotten it back. And now, she has a more intelligent confidence."
The losses, the drops in confidence and the down months were all part of the plan set by Weller this year. The Terps have lost to only the best. They have matured as a team tremendously and Weller seems as happy with this team as any of her past power-houses.
"Last year was a disappointing year," said Weller. "We had some internal problems. It's hard to detect when that's happening but it will never happen again. Now I have nine people left on this team. Nine people who want to be there and nine people who want to maintain the Maryland winning tradition."
"This is a really close team," said Kirchner, who considered transferring before this season due to last year's internal problems. "We're all so different individually but we all love playing basketball. Last year we had individuals who thought they could win the games on their own.This year we know it has to be a team thing."
Former Maryland all-American Tara Heiss, who now practices with the team, said, "I thought they were the best team in the Eastern Regional. They're young and getting stronger. Over the summer, Kris wasn't as optimistic about this year. She was so used to playing on winning teams, well, they may not win it all, but they're a winning team."
Lytle is as confident about the team as anyone. "We've matured a lot. We used to blame our losses on being a young team. We can't do that anymore. We've aged a lot this year. I don't know too much about . . . the other teams we may play but I like it like that. They don't know about us. But they'll find out."