One deep breath, three dribbles, spin ball in left hand, bounce a bit from the knees, and shoot.
For Maureen Hirt ’14, that is the formula for success at the free throw line, a place where pressure and uncertainty combine into a test regularly graded by hundreds of critical basketball fans. It’s also a place where Hirt, a 5’8” shooting guard, comes closest to perfection.
Entering her senior season, she already reigned over all other NCAA Division III players by converting 92.3 percent (84 of 91) of her free throw attempts— a Kenyon single-season record. In her last game as a Lady, she took her nearly prefect career a step further by scoring 1,819 points, a total that cleared the previous record of 1,794 points set by Kim Graf ’97.
Away from competition, Hirt, a psychology and economics double major from Bloomington, Indiana, wanted to look at perfection in a different light. As a Kenyon Summer Science Scholar, she worked with Sarah Murnen, professor of psychology, to examine the strength of the relationship between perfectionism and anxiety in a range of athletes. What they found, to Hirt’s surprise, was that amateur athletes who scored high in perfectionism also scored high in anxiety. The relationship did not apply to the professional athletes they studied.
“The reason I was interested in this project was because I definitely describe myself as a perfectionist, especially when it comes to basketball,” Hirt said. “I think Kenyon attracts the sort of athlete who really wants to be successful at everything. While it’s good to be determined and to have a goal of striving toward perfection, you also have to be able to let go of mistakes and not let subsequent anxiety consume you.”
While Hirt admits that a certain level of anxiety can be beneficial to an athlete, she says that too much in a high-pressure situation can have a negative effect. “You need to realize you’ve put in the time to work on your game and that you’re going to be just fine,” she said.
Hirt recently was voted “Player of the Year” by the North Coast Athletic Conference. She also is a top-ten finalist for the Jostens Trophy, a national award that takes into account basketball ability, academic prowess and community service.