Connecticut’s Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley may look and act like an odd couple, but the two seniors have provided the perfect combination of leadership to propel the Huskies back to the Women’s Final Four for a seventh consecutive year.
Dolson, a 6-5 center from Port Jervis, N.Y., is a bundle of energy on and off the floor. She is big in stature and big in personality.
“Stefanie, because of her personality and she plays center, she’s like the center of attention in everything we do as well,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “She loves to draw attention to herself and feeds off of it. She’s very comfortable in the spotlight.”Hartley, a 5-7 guard from Babylon, N.Y., is more reserved, but is a grounding force for the Huskies.
“Bria is completely opposite,” Auriemma said. “She’s very quiet and introverted. She just wants to play and doesn’t really like people making a big fuss over her. We’re pretty fortunate that we have two distinct personalities as our leaders so our team is never really high like Stefanie and we’re never really quiet like Bria … we’re somewhere in the middle.”
“Stef is the most vocal and brings all that emotion on the court,” sophomore forward Breanna Stewart said. “That makes everyone look up to her. But Bria is one of our leaders, too. She might not be as talkative as Stephanie but she definitely has the experience.”
The pair has the utmost respect for one another’s unique nature and talents.
“Stef does so much for our team,” Hartley said. “Our offense runs a lot better when she's out there on the floor for us. When we're in the offense and she's in the middle, she sees a lot of things. She's a great playmaker, and I think sometimes people always pay attention to her posting up and her presence in the post, but the way she's able to pass the ball and screen really creates offense for other players.”
“We complement each other,” Dolson said. “[Bria’s] extremely aggressive and competent on the court and I bring a lot of energy to the team.”
It’s not only their personalities and leadership skills that the Huskies rely upon, but also their consistency on the court.
Dolson has been a starter in Auriemma’s since the very beginning of her career and tops the school’s all-time list of most games started with 150. Hartley is not far behind with 138 starts for the Huskies, which ranks sixth in program history.
Hartley is the Huskies’ second-leading scorer with 16.3 points per game and has contributed 166 assists this season. In February, Hartley became just the third player in program history to amass 1,500 points, 500 assists and 500 rebounds, joining Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi in an elite group. She needs just 32 points to become the eighth Husky in history to score 2,000 career points.
Dolson, the American Athletic Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year and Sportsmanship Award winner, leads the team in rebounding with 9.2 boards per contest and contributes 12.4 points per game. She is only the fifth player on program history to rack up 1,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds.
Both were named to the WBCA Division I Coaches’ All-America Team on Saturday, along with Stewart, who also garnered Associated Press Player of the Year honors.
“To be named a WBCA All-American with Bria and Stefanie I think it just shows a lot for our team,” Stewart said. “It shows how much we have worked this season, especially for Bria and Stefanie since they are seniors and really send them out on a high note.”
Dolson and Hartley have both played key roles in UConn’s past four Women’s Final Four appearances, picking up the program’s eighth national championship last year.
The Huskies will be doing everything possible for the duo to go out on the highest possible note.
“Bria and Stefanie are fortunate enough to be here four years in a row and that's pretty special for the two of them and I want to make sure that we, as coaches and players, do everything that we can to make sure that this weekend goes the way it deserves to go for these two,” Auriemma said. “That's kind of my focus this weekend.”
“We’re fortunate that we’ve been here four years in a row,” Dolson said. “It’s something we’ve never taken for granted.”
And, the odd couple plans on making the most of their last opportunity together as they hope to lead the Huskies to a second consecutive NCAA title.
“I think any time you're able to compete for a national championship or make it to the last four teams, it's a lot of excitement,” Hartley said. “I think we've worked hard all year. And we want to get to this moment. So I think we're all excited. We're eager to go out there and play. So we're going to make sure we have lots of energy and lots of intensity when we step on that court.”
Connecticut will meet Stanford in an NCAA semifinal at 9 p.m. ET Sunday. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN.