At some point this week, the preseason basketball preview section my buddy, Dom Amore, the UConn men’s beatwriter for the Courant, and I largely collaborated on will be published by the longest continually published newspaper in the United States.
There will be enough information, on both programs, get you through an entire pot of coffee, not to mention a nice bagel (or two).
Just like one of those movie previews you are asked to sit through, I offer you this promotional piece (that will also appear in the section).
This is my profile story on senior Stefanie Dolson, the most helpful kindergarten student in Minisink Elementary School history…..
By JOHN ALTAVILLA
Even in kindergarten at Minisink Elementary School, Stefanie Dolson was the one Mrs. DeSimone depended on to help the classroom run.
“I always had fun jobs in school,” Dolson said. “I was the one who got to turn the lights on in the classroom every morning because I was the tallest in kindergarten. And I was also the only one able to open the milk cartons during lunch.”
Word is, she would do it with the perpetual smile that still accompanies her. Understand that this is a young woman who has always sensed life is too short to pout, even on those days when the ball rolls off her rim.
“She really is a very insightful person and being the baby [the youngest of three girls in a family of four] you might think she’d be a tag-along personality,” said Dolson’s mother, Kristal. “But it’s not the case. She exhibits everything she’s observed from her sisters growing up. She says what’s on her mind, but is remarkably even-tempered about it. She’s funny to be around, so funny to be around. And she is very enjoyable to talk to.”
Of course, she is also an All-American basketball player now, one of the greatest centers UConn has ever had. She has already scored 1,299 points for the Huskies and played on multiple USA Basketball teams.
And as she approaches her senior season, at the helm of a defending national champion, that personality, polished by her college experience, is ready to bubble over the edge onto the world’s dance floor.
“I can tell you that I don’t want this season to end,” Kristal Dolson said. “I am already dreading Senior Night. But am I happy for her. I am also somewhat nervous for her. But she always lands on her feet. I’m glad she realizes she has the capability to be very successful.”
From the small town of Slate, N.Y., Dolson grew, literally and figuratively (she was 9 pounds, 11 ounces at birth) in the inseparable clench of older sisters, Ashley and Courtney, and the youngest, brother Jake.
“We’d come home from school and all play together, jump in the leaves during the autumn, bounce on a trampoline,” Stefanie said. “And even to this day, on Christmas Eve, we all spend the night together in the same room, all four of us.”
When the girls were little, they were usually dressed similarly by their mother as they toddled and teetered around town.
“It was so much fun. When we were young, my mom dressed us like we were triplets. If you see any old pictures of us, you’d notice we’d often have the same dress on,” Stefanie said. “We are so close. But we always competed with each other. If a song came on the radio that I especially liked, I would be the only one who could sing it because I considered it my song, not theirs. And they taught me a lot about a lot of things; hair, makeup, life.”
Stefanie ultimately grew to six-foot by sixth grade. But she also was struggling mightily with weight, despite taking tap lessons.
“I was a chubby little thing and we’d dance to a song called, “Peanut Butter and Jelly.” It was terrible, awful,” Dolson said.
“I was just always the tall one. I was also really fat when I was young. So my parents put me right into sports.”
And when she started to play basketball, people began to notice that she was as gifted as she was tall. Once she debuted on the varsity at Minisink Valley High, that talent began to attract visitors to the small town.
“She was a great player from the day she started,” said Yale junior Kyle Cazzetta, the kicker and punter on the Bulldogs football team and a childhood friend of the Dolson girls. “Watching her play in high school you would notice all the big-time coaches come to town. Pat Summitt was there [Tennessee] and, of course, we’d always see Geno [Auriemma]. We’d think to ourselves, ‘Wow, this is very impressive.
“And as a college athlete, I understand coaches often recruit based on potential. You could see how dominating Stef was in high school and how much potential she had to grow. You knew once a coach like Geno got a hold of her that the potential would be immediately realized.”
But there was much more for her to do. The young girl, externally extroverted, seemed inherently shy and uncertain. When she would visit UConn as a recruit, her outfit was always the same; basketball shorts, a sweat shirt or tee-shirt and brown Ugg boots. Even in the depth of winter’s chill.
“You wouldn’t have been able to tell back then, but I do love clothes. I watch every fashion television show I can. But if you looked at pictures of me in high school, you would have never guessed,” Stefanie said. “I didn’t care. I wore the same things every day when I was high school.
“I don’t know what was wrong with me. I guess I felt like I just had no one to impress. I was friends with everyone, boys and girls. But once I came to college, I felt like I had the freedom to express myself, buy whatever I wanted, be who I wanted, re-invent myself. And I realized how much I enjoyed it. It’s fun for me.”
Between her sophomore and junior seasons, Dolson really did re-invent herself.
“There has been a huge change in Stefanie,” UConn junior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. “I played with her when we were 16. She was Big Stef. She’s Littler Stef now. She has turned into the best post in the country. She has set a higher standard for herself. And she has put our team on her back.”
Dolson did that by devoting that summer to a health and fitness regime that reshaped her body, her career – and her attitude.
“Stef is very hard working and very determined on the court, and because of that she is very successful,” Cazzetta said. “But off the court she is one of the nicest, happiest people I have ever met. There is not a person on the bad side of her.
“She has always been the fun and happy girl, the one always dancing and in a good mood. Everyone was always happy to be around her.”
The conservative attire is gone, replaced by a flamboyant, eclectic ensemble that stresses color, style, individualism and make-up.
“I love make-up,” Stefanie said.
On American Athletic Conference media day in October, those Uggs were replaced by leopard skin pumps. Yes, Stefanie Dolson is now a virtual fashion show.
“Even as a child she was always accessorizing, but as far as where her fashion sense has come from, I really couldn’t tell you. None of my girls was a fashionista,” Kristal Dolson said. “Stefanie was always more of an artist and always comfortable in front of a camera. But I think for Stefanie it started when she started to feel better about her body before her junior season. That’s when she realized how good she looks, it took off from there.”
Now as she approaches the end of her college career, and a future that will include the WNBA, playing overseas and a likely career in television [she interned this summer with SNY], Stefanie Dolson is a package just awaiting its bow.
She still laughs and sings and dances, often spontaneously, but now this is an expression of her personality, not an attempt to disarm the critical thoughts and glares tall and overweight young girls often must bear.
“Everyone thinks that I am always happy and always extroverted, and I usually am, but I do have my ups and downs, just like everyone else in the world,” Dolson said. “I can be set off very quickly. If someone says something or does something I find irritating, I will still be happy, but I just won’t deal with you that day. And I am actually somewhat of a loner when I am not with the team, at my apartment, watching television – Food Network, Glee, Project Runway – or I’m the computer, listening to music.”
As a result of who she has become, on such a public stage, she has become somewhat of an inspiration to little girls that know her.
“When my daughter, Maggie, was in sixth grade she was already 5-foot-6,” said Vin Cazzetta, father of Kyle and Maggie. “Her middle school was conducting Spirit Week and during one of the days they were asked to dress like their favorite celebrity.
“She dressed up like Stefanie.”
These are the things that make Kristal Dolson smile.
“I don’t want to say that I didn’t think it could happen, but I never even considered what the possibilities might be for her,” Kristal said.
Yes, the years have certainly flown by. But just like she did in kindergarten, Stefanie Dolson still manages to light up a room. And she likely always will.
‘I’ve tried to leave my mark, in the best way I thought to approach it,” Stefanie said.