Pat Stoffey and her husband, Joe, weren't planning on having any more children. They already had two sons and a daughter, the youngest of whom was eight years old. It was exhausting even to think about going through the baby routine again. The Stoffeys were on to the next phase of their lives.
Yet when Pat became pregnant again and delivered a fourth child, a girl named Patty, everyone in the family was delighted.
"We fought over Patty," Pat recalled the other day. "We all wanted to feed her and change her. Patty was a present. We viewed her as a gift in our family. We pampered her. You would think she'd be more spoiled than she is today."
Twenty-one years later, Patty Stoffey is anything but spoiled. Anyone who watches her play basketball -- or knows her at all -- understands that.
Stoffey, a senior at Loyola, has scored 2,290 points, more than any other player in the history of women's college basketball in Maryland, and she has done so despite being a relatively small, lanky post player who doesn't shoot three-pointers. She has set the state scoring record and 15 school records operating in the lane and around the basket against double teams and triple teams composed of defenders who are seldom smaller and often bigger.
That, friends, is not the way a spoiled brat scores points.
"We're not talking about anything cheap here; this girl isn't sitting out there piling up the threes," Loyola coach Pat Coyle said. "She's blue collar all the way."
Yes, the pampered baby of the Stoffey family has grown into a strong-willed, highly driven college athlete and student, every bit as accomplished off the court as she is on it.
"At one point when she was in high school, I said to her father, 'Joe, if we had been smart, we'd have had all four kids at once and they'd have all turned out like Patty,' " Pat said.
Yet as much as she has strayed from her silver-spoon early years, she is still very much a product of her background. She was raised in Pottsville, an old mining town in eastern Pennsylvania of some 20,000, a working-class community in which little is handed out and it is common for both parents to work to make ends meet. Her father worked as a pipefitter when she was little and today manages the office of his son's window business in Allentown. Her mother is a bookkeeper.
When she was young, her older brothers were basketball stars at Pottsville High School and then at a small college. Their house fairly reeked of competitiveness and success. It was not unthinkable that their baby sister would develop some of the same qualities and intentions, particularly living in a hometown in which little is achieved without basic hard work.
"I like to be the best at what I do, whether it is schoolwork or basketball, and, not to sound conceited, but I'm willing to put in the work," said Stoffey, an honors student on the verge of a degree in elementary education. "I have worked hard to get better on the court. I play in the summer in leagues back home. But it's not work for me. I just love to play."
Off the court, she has an easy smile, an upbeat manner and the same purposefulness that marks her on the court. Ten minutes after a road game is over, she plops on the bus and opens her books. "A 2.8 average just isn't good enough for me," she said.
Her mother says she "is sometimes a little timid about things, as can be the case with some girls that age." But there is nothing timid about her on the court.
"I guess I've got a little mean streak in me out there," Stoffey said, smiling. "It's like a different feeling takes over. I guess it's just the confidence that comes from having had success. Sometimes I just tell everyone, 'Get me the ball and get out of my way, I'm unstoppable, let me go.' "
Said Coyle: "You can see it come over her. Her eyes get this narrow look. It's an amazing thing. And the more physical opponents are with her, the better she plays."
She has been a star since she first picked up a ball in the fourth grade. ("She was smaller than her friends, but still the go-to player," her mother said.) She excelled in volleyball, swimming, baseball and track, but settled on basketball in high school, where she scored 2,275 points.
Even though big-time college recruiters thought she was too small, she received hundreds of recruiting letters. She settled on Loyola because it offered the best blend of what she wanted: the chance to play immediately in Division I, a high-quality education and proximity to Pottsville.
The latter was important because she is still extremely close to her parents, who have seen all but four of her 107 college games in person, driving 2 1/2 hours each way for home games.
"She's worth making the drive for," Coyle said. "I have been around a number of top players [in her prior jobs as an assistant at Rutgers and St. Joseph's], but they all had extra baggage. Patty is as good as those players, but she has no baggage. She works hard, studies hard, doesn't let success affect her. She's our best practice player. She's the whole package. Just a great kid."
In high school, she was a one-dimensional scorer who played with her back to the basket, but four years later, she can beat you a dozen different ways. She can shoot from 15 feet, pivot off both feet in the lane, score off a dribble, fill a fast-break lane. And she is a complete player, with almost 1,000 career rebounds and close to a school-record total of steals.
Said Coyle: "As a coach, what you love about her is that she has worked on her weaknesses, not her strengths. She has added something new every year. At this point, she can just abuse people. We scrimmage guys who were good high school players, and one of them came in one day and said he'd had a nightmare about Patty. She was wearing him out.
"A coach hopes to have at least one special player in her career, and I've gotten mine early. I'm not sure we'll ever see another one like her here."
Her competitiveness was never more apparent than after an opponent was named the Most Valuable Player in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference last year. Stoffey proceeded to score 99 points in three games in the conference postseason tournament, leading Loyola to three wins and a first-ever berth in the NCAA tournament.
This year, she is averaging 23.6 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists a game. Not bad considering the constant battering she takes.
"But the physical stuff is just part of the game," she said. "I get hit every time I go up. I spend a lot of time on the floor. My back aches. But I'm not complaining."
She doesn't complain because the end of her career is near and she can't stand the thought. There are European women's pro leagues that use Americans, but they usually want post players taller than Stoffey.
"I'd love the chance, and I hate the idea that I have to stop when I know I can keep getting better, but if that's the case I'll be OK," she said. "I'm going on to graduate school either way. And I'll play in summer leagues. I used to look at the older women playing in them and wonder what they were doing. Now I understand the mentality. That's going to be me."
And, of course, there are always going to be the games at family picnics. Not that her brothers, the former stars, want any part of their baby sister on the court.
"She gets out there and starts whipping the ball around and her brothers kind of go, 'Oh, no, I don't think we'll play,' " Stoffey's mother said. "They'd rather play with their friends, you know. It's a lot safer."