Of the dozens of game-changers who have passed through the Geno Auriemma era, few have possessed Dolson's affinity for laughter, adventure and fun.
She dances with dexterity and abandon. She smiles and laughs. She even played, with great ease, Auriemma's faux spouse in the makeshift "Newlywed Game" staged on First Night. This summer, she even jumped out of an airplane.
Her effervescence conveys what friends and family have come to cherish about her: Stefanie Dolson seems to enjoy every aspect of life.
"You can see how much joy she brings to our lives, which is why I miss her so much when she's away," said her mother, Kristal. "Though I miss like crazy, I couldn't be happier about where she is and how well she is doing. But [watching] 'Glee' is not the same without her."
Still, last season was very difficult for Dolson, the 6-foot-5 center. Despite leading the Huskies in rebounding (6.0) and blocked shots (57) and shooting 58.6 percent from the field, she found herself overwhelmed at times.
Truth is, Dolson was regularly targeted by opponents, and the Huskies had little reinforcement in the paint.
"It was a change from my freshman year when I played with Maya [Moore]," Dolson said.
Despite the effort to improve her conditioning between her freshman and sophomore seasons, Dolson found herself fatigued by the constant physicality.
When UConn's 2011-12 season ended in the national semifinals against Notre Dame — a game where she had 20 points (10 of 16), nine rebounds and four blocks — Dolson resolved to change things in the most radical way she could imagine.
"I wanted to be an All-American, help my team win a national championship, and none of that happened," Dolson said. "No goal was reached.
"And it wasn't even that I was so sick of people telling me that I needed to change, but I knew it myself. I made the decision that I needed to change my body and my mind-set because of the lulls I experienced before being able to end the year so well.
"I wanted to keep it going and I knew the only way that would happen was by getting into 10 times better shape. A switch went off in my brain."
Dolson set upon a path to do just that.
"I had no carbohydrates at all in the summer," Dolson said. "Now I eat one wheat-based carbohydrate a day. I haven't eaten a bagel in a while and I really, really miss pasta and pizza. But my mother and I made a pizza with a cauliflower crust that was delicious.
"As a result, I've actually become a better cook. I cook every day for myself because some of the food we have available might not always be the best for me. And I think I've changed the mind-set of a lot of the girls on the team. We usually have pizza after games, but now we're thinking or changing that up to salads or sandwiches."
In concert with her new diet, Dolson began to supplement her basketball conditioning with the popular "Insanity" workout program, which emphasizes maximizing heart rates though intense exercise and using one's own body for resistance.
"Ah yes, 'Insanity.' It was horrible," Dolson laughed. "I had my date with [Shaun T, the video program's drill instructor] every night, for about 45 minutes, in my living room. I cleared everything out of the room. I did it all summer.
"I've worked harder and harder to get myself into better shape every year," Dolson said. "This is the best shape I've been in ever. It's not a diet anymore for me, it's more of a lifestyle. I lost 12 pounds, not a lot, but enough for now."
UConn assistant coach Shea Ralph, also a big-time workout advocate, said Dolson's new body was one of the most impressive aspects of the preseason.
"What's really been clear to [the staff] is how much Stefanie has changed her body," Ralph said. "She has made a real commitment to fitness. Her stamina is greater. She looks like such a different player to me. She already had great footwork, but now she can get up and down the floor more. She's becoming a great leader. There is something different about her, and it's really special."
Auriemma said he noticed the difference in Dolson after the first week of practice.
"Stefanie was saying that it had been a hard week, but I still feel great and I don't know why," Auriemma said. "I know why. It's because she is in great shape, way better than she's ever been."
And with a stronger, tougher Dolson in the low post, UConn's offense will benefit, especially now that freshmen Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck have arrived to help sophomore Kiah Stokes and senior Heather Buck down low.
"My biggest downfall has always been that when I get tired, I don't do as much as I possibly can," Dolson said. "The fact that it now takes longer to get me tired helps me feel more efficient. It helps me make the cuts I need to make and it helps me finish around the basket. It is definitely nice."