The conversations between the members of the UConn women’s basketball coaching staff and Stefanie Dolson had taken place many times in the past. They were not solely centered on ways that she could improve her game, but first improving her conditioning.
Conditioning is one area that plagued Dolson throughout her first two seasons with the Huskies. She had previously attempted to better herself. Each time, though, she stopped pushing as immaturity prevailed. And, ultimately, this led to inconsistency in practice and in games.
Right now Dolson, a 6-foot-5 center with a perimeter touch, has seemingly shed this immaturity. The realization of being a junior has ignited a dogged determination to improve her body and her conditioning. She wants to be a leader, and in order to do so she must prove by example that she has such ability.
“It’s something that just happens I feel like,’’ Dolson said. “It’s just a timing thing. I really felt like it was time to do it and any later I wouldn’t be effective for the team. So it had to happen. I started it. I did it back home. I’m doing it here now. And it feels great. I think it’s such a different feeling of when you’re doing it correctly and when you think you’re doing it.’’
Dolson began plotting her current course of action last season when she informed UConn Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach Amanda Kimball that her intention was to utilize this summer to get into shape and lose weight. Kimball’s message to Dolson was that she had to remain focused on her charge.
The main difference for Dolson at this point is her diet. She is eating as clean as she can, dining on salad, chicken and meats and limiting her intake of carbohydrates.
Along with her teammates, Dolson is also weight training and participating in either conditioning or agility drills Monday through Thursday and playing pick-up games Sunday through Thursday.
“I think she’s making a really big commitment to her physical conditioning and changing the look of her body,’’ UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey said. “Not the size as much as being a lean, mean fighting machine. It’s very much like she did the year before when we talk and then she makes that decision because you can’t make kids do that. That’s a decision they have to make.’’
Dolson is hopeful that a byproduct of getting in better shape this off-season will allow her to continue the momentum she created over the final nine games of last season. She averaged 13.0 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.6 blocks in 32.1 minutes during this span.
It was a span that was triggered after she was benched by UConn coach Geno Auriemma after seeing just six minutes of action at Marquette Feb. 25. Dolson said that that game in Milwaukee was her “extreme low’’ point.
“From that point on I was like I’m not going to let my team down and I knew that they needed me to go as far as we did in the (NCAA) tournament,’’ Dolson said. “I turned it around in that time. So I’m really focusing on bringing that playing pick-up every day and the fall workouts and then practices. I’m definitely putting a lot of expectations (on myself).’’
Dolson, who was an All-Big East honorable mention selection as a sophomore, averaged a career-high 10.4 points on 58.6 percent shooting, a team-high 6.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.5 blocks in 23.9 minutes last season. She finished by generating 20 points, nine rebounds and four blocks in 34 minutes in UConn’s 83-75 loss to Notre Dame in overtime in the national semifinals in Denver April 1.
Dailey would like to see her continue to be a dominant presence in the lowpost, a player with go-to moves regularly resulting in points. Aside from her attention to getting fit, Dolson will look to add to her array of inside moves, work on 15- and 17-foot jump shots en route to extending her range beyond the 3-point line.
Auriemma said early last season that Dolson was one of the best centers in the nation behind Baylor All-American Brittney Griner. Her inconsistency robbed her of a chance to back-up Auriemma’s praise. But being in better condition heading into next season will provide her with an opportunity to fully establish herself as one of the nation’s best.
“I don’t worry about that,’’ Dailey said. “I worry about how hard kids work and if they improve and if we work with them to improve on their skills every day. And if it turns out at the end of this year that we can say that then we say that. And if we can then we just keep working at it. But I don’t get caught up in it. I just want her to work. I want her to have fun, step up and be more of a leader. She’s a junior now so those are the expectations. Now that she’s been here two years those are the expectations.’’