Rookies Return to Connecticut
As soon as she stepped foot off the elevator, Stefanie Dolson was swarmed. Over a dozen of her biggest fans from UConn were waiting in the Mohegan Sun lobby to get their first professional autograph from the ex-Huskie center.
And it didn’t end there. Not even close.
The walk from the lobby to the arena, which was all done inside the casino, was filled with spectators trying to stop her for pictures and autographs.
Her teammate and fellow rookie from UConn, Bria Hartley, went through the same ordeal.
They hadn’t even stepped foot in the arena and there was already a buzz brewing.
Then they ran out for warmups.
More applause, more hollering, more love from the Connecticut faithful.
Then Hartley, who made just her second career start on Thursday night, was introduced to a rousing ovation when her name was called during starting lineups.
Dolson, who checked in near the end of the first quarter, received a similar ovation when it was her name called by the Connecticut PA announcer.
And, just as they did so often in college, when the final buzzer sounded they were on the winning side, as the Mystics took down the Sun, 74-66.
Hartley, despite going 0-4 from the field, finished with six points on a perfect 6-6 from the free-throw line, while Dolson put in six points, grabbed four boards, and had two blocks in 16 minutes of action.
It was a special night for the former Huskies, and it had little to do with their stats.
Just two months ago, they helped win the ninth national championship for one of women’s college basketball’s most storied programs.
“It was weird being back, it feels good to play for this crowd again, because we had a great four years for them, so it was nice to get that cheer and it kind of felt like home,” said Dolson after the Mystics win.
They don’t have to remember too far back to when they were amateur college athletes and playing on an undefeated team during their senior season.
“I always love Connecticut fans, even if I’m playing for a DC team. It’s fun playing here, it’s fun to come back and have everyone come to the game,” said Hartley.
But, now they are professionals and big pieces to the youth movement in Washington, who are off to a 4-2 start and are in second place in the Eastern Conference.
After they visited campus on Wednesday and had dinner with some of their former UConn teammates, some members of the team came out to the game on Thursday night, along with their former head coach Geno Auriemma.
Coach Auriemma coached them for four years at UConn and talked about watching them in person for the first time as professionals.
“Obviously, everything is different. The game has changed, their teammates have changed, but I watch them and they still do some of the great things they did at UConn and they love the game. They play hard and compete, they are on a really young team which is good for them and they are getting a chance to play and learn, so it was really good for me to see them play tonight.”
“They are going to get a lot better, they will get better and better, I’m excited for them.”
On what they can do for DC community: “I think if the community goes and seeks them out and finds out a little about them, they will be shocked at how open they are and I know that whatever Mike [Thibault] and the team ask them to do they will go out and do it. They will put themselves out there because that’s who they are they are both outgoing kids with great personalities and they want to have fun so they’ll find it.”
On monitoring Dolson when the team visits the White House next week: “She’s on wraps. We’ll monitor her pretty closely and we’ll have secret service on her and take measures we didn’t take last time.”
Dolson played a prank the last time they visited with President Obama and put bunny ears over his head in a group picture.
She also wanted to have a dance-off with the President, which probably will only happen now if he encourages it when the team visits the White House.
In just knowing her for a little over a month, we’ve seen her joyful personality and she has no problem being herself in any situation.
Dolson and Hartley will join their UConn team in DC on Monday to visit the White House.
Their new DC fans hope they will be doing so again in the near future. But not as college champs, but WNBA champions.