Leader of the Pack

February 2, 1999

EAST LANSING, Mich. - If actions speak louder than words, then Kristen Rasmussen is deafening. If the opposite is true, the 6-foot-4 junior forward is virtually inaudible.

Rasmussens voice squeaks out commands to her teammates on the floor.

The co-captain slides to fill the lane and blocks a shot after a teammate gets beaten on defense. That night she puts up a career-high 29 points in a one-point overtime loss to rival Michigan.

"Maybe she's soft spoken off the court," head coach Karen Langeland said. "But on it, she always tries to get the younger players in the right position. Not too many work harder." Rasmussen is often credited with instilling that same effort and work ethic into the team's younger players.

"From a coaching standpoint, around (fellow post players) Becky Cummings and Erin Skelly she's been positive and encouraging and when they make mistakes, she tells them it is OK," Langeland said. "She is always covering for them - even on the court."

But the two centers have given just as much back to Rasmussen, who is making a smooth transition to her new position at power forward.

After playing two seasons at center, she now regularly camps out in the high post waiting to prey on her next blocked shot victim. She is already MSU's all-time leader in that category, surpassing 100 in her career.

"I think (the position switch) helped her a lot," Langeland said. "We're running a different offense than the last couple years which purposely gives Kristen much more flexibility. And we've been able to help her in that position this year with Becky's and Erin's play."

Rasmussen, who is averaging 15.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, didn't realize her full potential until this season when the pressures of being a captain began adding to her focus, rather than acting as a distraction.

"Last year I felt I had a ton of weight on my shoulders because you still have the juniors and seniors ahead of you and you don't want to say too much and you don't want to say too little, so I was kind of caught," Rasmussen said.

"This year it's a lot better. We're not to the point where we'd like to be but we're working hard at it."

This season is a much different scenario than a year ago. MSU is on the way back up, and behind Rasmussen's leadership, the team is gunning for a first-round bye in the Big Ten tourney.

To her, though, winning is the bottom line. Rasmussen carries her 1997 Big Ten championship keychain wherever she goes. From being a Big Ten champion in her freshman season to co-captaining a ninth-place team a year later was a tough transition to make after being accustomed to winning under coach Ron Mott at Okemos High School. Despite being a team leader at MSU, she couldn't do much about the team's quick downfall.

"It was quite frustrating," Rasmussen said. "Basically what I take from it is a learning experience - something I would not like to do again. But if we get into that situation we know how to get out of it with our heads up."

Rasmussen is not done yet. She is committed to achieving her goals this year, next year and beyond. She said she'd jump on the chance at a pro career in the WNBA if the opportunity presented itself after college.

If not, she said she'd gladly begin her coaching career or take a roster spot in Europe. "It's been a goal of mine ever since I was a little kid," Rasmussen said. "After my senior year, I don't think I'd be quite done with basketball. I think I'll be in the game for a long time."

In the time remaining at MSU, she said she'd like to use the oportunity to bring unseen success to the Breslin Center. She didn't rule out racking up another Big Ten championship - or maybe even more.

But that isn't possible, Rasmussen said, without deflecting much of the credit for her success to her teammates.

"It's my teammates who make me who I am," Rasmussen said. "I don't think there's any room to be arrogant about yourself. It just brings an intensity to the game when everyone is going for the same thing."

Rasmussen is incredibly modest. She wouldn't tell you she often volunteers to read at elementary schools, runs a summer clinic through her church, or that she corresponds as a pen pal with a third grade class in Lansing.

But, according to Langeland, what she doesn't have to tell you is that her stats and winning attitude have helped immeasurably.

"I don't get hyped up about all this publicity," Rasmussen said. "I just go out and play to have fun. That's what I'm here for."

written by Joe Block for MSU Sports Information