Aug 21, 2013
STORRS, Conn. - Breaking into the record books at a program that has captured eight national championships, boasted four number one draft picks, won 37 conference crowns, and reached the Final Four a staggering 14 times, is far from an easy task. But for University of Connecticut senior center Stefanie Dolson, the 2012-13 was about more than individual numbers; it was about her emergence onto the national stage as one of the premier centers in the game.
Individual accomplishments came in droves last season for the Port Jervis, N.Y. native, as she posted career-highs of 516 points, 269 rebounds and 58 blocks en route to a WBCA/State Farm All-America Team selection. Dolson became the 36th member of the 1,000 point club at UConn on Jan. 19th, scoring a career-high 25 points against Syracuse.
Over the course of a 39 game season, it's rare that a NCAA Division I basketball player can emerge unscathed by mid-April. Injuries are an inherent and harsh reality of the game as the season stretches over a six month period in the winter and early spring. Dolson knows this reality all too well as the center battled through leg issues near the end of last season, including a stress fracture in her right leg and plantar fasciitis in her left foot. Despite the obvious physical limitations stemming from her injuries, Dolson was able to play effectively; scoring 12 points on 4-7 shooting and grabbing six boards in the national championship came against Louisville on April, 9th.
"Injury wise I'm definitely at 100 percent now," Dolson said. "Both injuries healed up pretty well. It's like night and day compared to the postseason last spring. I had the boot on for a while. Coming back into conditioning, I've got a little work to do. I've never come back from being injured like that and not being able to do a lot physically for a few months takes a toll on your body."
Even with the lower body injuries, Dolson's junior campaign is one of the most impressive in UConn history. Her 58 blocks rank fifth in Connecticut history for a third-year player while her 269 rebounds place her seventh in program history. The nation certainly noticed the 6-5 veteran, as she finished second in the NCAA with a .593 shooting percentage.
"I think coming into UConn as a freshman, if you were to tell me that, I wouldn't have believed you," she said of her numbers. "This is the best coaching staff in the country for a reason. They have turned me into who I am. It just shows the hard work that I've put into everything for the last three seasons."
"I realize that people's expectations will be high after last year, especially being a senior, I want to go out there and win," she said. "I'm going to do everything and more to make myself better and make the team better. Scoring points, or setting screens for other people, it doesn't matter. I'm not worried about being an All-American, I just want to win another national championship."
Dolson is one of just two seniors on the 2013-14 squad, joining Bria Hartley. The challenge of being a senior at UConn is at an all-time high, with the team coming off a national championship win and transitioning to a new conference.
"I think I stepped up a little bit last year but I need to do even more this year. With Bria and I being the only seniors, we know it's up to us to be there for the younger guys to look to for advice. We want to set the tone for how the season goes. We know things are going to be different with conference realignment but we want to try to stay comfortable out there."
While Dolson may not have gotten the appreciation her play deserved before the start of the 2012-13 season, her teammates aren't surprised that she has elevated her play to an elite level. In fact, they believe she will have even more to offer starting in November.
"She's extremely important to our team," said junior guard Brianna Banks. "Now that Kelly has left, Stef is the person that you can look to to give 100 percent all the time. She's got such a great spirit. Without her it would be hard to do half of the things we do on the court. She opens up opportunities for us and when she needs to score, she's one of the best in the business. I think she can get even better next year."
Currently at 30th in UConn history with 1,299 points, Dolson has a legitimate chance to crack the top-10 all-time scoring list at Connecticut, trailing Tiffany Hayes by 502 points. She already ranks sixth in Husky history with 162 blocks and is just 19 blocks away from Kelly Schumacher, who sits in fifth place. Even after winning a national title, Dolson said that life hasn't changed much for her off the court.
"It's actually pretty similar," she said. "There have been a lot of camps here at school and the little kids really are excited to take pictures with us. A lot of people will stop me and say congrats and get pictures around here. I think it's nice to be part of this community."
While Dolson can be amusing, and at times, even downright silly, on and off the court, she is one of the fiercest competitors the Huskies have had in recent years. 2013-14 will be a final chapter on what has been a fantastic career for Dolson.
"I want to leave on a high note. I don't want to leave on a loss. I think when you get the feeling of what it's like to win a national championship, you don't want anything less."
With four of the five Husky starters returning in 2012-13, Dolson and her teammates have a real shot to make sure she walks off the court victorious this spring.