STORRS -- Stefanie Dolson arrived at UConn blessed with dominating moves -- on the dance floor.
If choreography and swagger could get you places, Dolson would have ruled the Big East immediately. But dancing doesn't make you a star with the UConn women. And no one danced around that truth once the staff got to work on Dolson's 6-foot-5 body.
She would have to learn things -- eating productively, sleeping more, drinking water, conditioning herself in such a way to deal with the physicality of the game she plays so well.
"What do I miss eating? Well, brownies for sure," Dolson said. "And all of the home cooking I loved."
With the help of UConn's conditioning coach, Amanda Kimball, Dolson went to work last year.
"As far as her nutrition, we have kept it very simple," Kimball said. "It's a process of teaching her what she needs to refuel her body appropriately for the rigors of basketball. Basic food exchange and nutrient timing [what and when to eat] are the main focus. It is an ongoing process and she is still learning."
Dolson's transformation was not immediate. Her struggles in the early part of last season were evident, especially at Stanford when the Cardinal post players taught her a lesson on the night UConn's 90-game winning streak ended.
That night associate coach Chris Dailey sat on the bench with Dolson as the game ended and explained things needed to change.
"Stef wants to be good, she is willing to put her best effort forward," Kimball said.
The evidence is now abundant. Bolstered by another summer of playing USA Basketball for Jen Rizzotti, the insulation is now mostly muscle. And Dolson can run longer and harder than before.
"What I accomplished last season was amazing and exciting," Dolson said. "I went in having expectations for myself. I met some of them, didn't meet others, but I think that I had an overall pretty good year."
Dolson started 36 of 38 games, averaging 10.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and was tied for the team lead in blocked shots. She made the Big East all-freshman and all-tournament teams and Full Court Press' freshman All-American team.
Her hard work and strong performance were rewarded at the end of the season with several awards and honors, including being named to the Big East Conference All-Freshman and All-Tournament teams and Full Court Press' Freshman All-American team.
"Anyone who has had a year at college definitely has a different mind-set," Dolson said. "I think you're more mature. You have a mentality of going hard every time."
The regimen of diet, cardiovascular and weight training Dolson experienced is not hers alone to endure. Every player in the program is expected to invest time making their bodies stronger and more resilient.
"She does what the rest of the team does, with addition to a couple extra workouts with me during the week," Kimball said. "Our sessions are generally short in length, but we address areas of weakness for her. We touch upon her cardiovascular endurance as well as her core/postural strengthening."
For Dolson, the task is more pronounced because she simply has a bigger body to transport up and down the floor.
"Even at the end of last year, I wasn't able to run the floor very hard," Dolson said. "I think that has improved immensely. I know how hard to work now. I have the instinct now to know how I have to work."
Last season, she really had no backup on the condensed roster. This season, junior Heather Buck, sophomore Michala Johnson and freshmen Kiah Stokes are competing for the minutes coach Geno Auriemma may use to spell Dolson.
"And how much more of a burden can Stefanie possibly shoulder than she did last year?" Dailey said. "We're hopeful, although none of them give us what Stefanie gives us.
"We'd like to play them with her, and give her a break or breather when she needs one. But right now, it's hard to say. We're a totally different team when she is not on the floor.
"But you can really see the improvement in Stefanie. We always said that if you are staying the same you are getting worse because someone else is getting better. That's not happening with her."
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