Greenwich Time (Sunday)

Back where it all began

Former UConn star Dolson returns to Washington Mystics

- By Maggie Vanoni

Stefanie Dolson’s dreams came true sitting inside Mohegan Sun Arena when the Washington Mystics called her name with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2014 WNBA Draft.

It marked the official start of the former UConn women’s basketball star’s profession­al career and it was thanks to then Mystics head coach Mike Thibault.

“I remember it being D.C. was great for me because I’m from New York,” Dolson recalled during a recent media Zoom call. “It was still kind of close enough to my family. I remember Bria Hartley getting drafted (by Seattle) and then traded (to Washington) like a few picks later, who was my teammate at UConn. … I just remember enjoying it. I enjoyed the city of DC, first year out of college.”

Now, 10 years and two teams later, Dolson returns to D.C. to begin the next chapter of her WNBA career focused on leadership. The former Husky signed a multi-year contract with the Mystics in early March after spending her first three seasons in the league with the franchise.

“For me it was an easy choice,” she said. “I love DC. I love Coach T and Eric (Thibault, now head coach). I’m excited to play for Eric, obviously that’ll be new for me. But I’ve seen the way they played last year, playing against them in the in the playoffs was probably our hardest series. So, I knew it would be a great opportunit­y for me to also just add my skill set to what they had already. … I think it was the best choice and I’m just excited to be here.”

She will be joined by another former Husky, as Washington used the sixth overall pick in the WNBA Draft to select Aaliyah Edwards.

Dolson helped led UConn to back-toback national championsh­ips in 2013 and 2014 before being drafted by the Mystics. She was the WBCA National Defensive Player of the Year as a senior and earned All-America honors.

During her rookie season for the Mystics in 2014, she came off the bench and averaged 6.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.1 blocks in 18.4 minutes per game. Her developmen­t in the

league was quick as she earned her first All-Star nod the following year in 2015 as a starter.

Her time with Washington only lasted three seasons before Dolson was traded to Chicago for three-time All-Star Elena Delle Donne. The move turned out beneficial for Dolson, though, as she earned her second All-Star nod in 2017 (averaged a career-high 14.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game) and helped the Sky win the 2021 WNBA Title.

In 2022, the forward returned to her home state of New York and signed with the Liberty who were looking to rebuild under newly hired head coach Sandy Brondello. Dolson started all 36 games that season. But with the Liberty signing both Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones in 2023, Dolson moved back to the bench.

While she was OK with taking a lesser role for the better of the team, she averaged career-lows in minutes (11.9), points (4.0) and rebounds (2.0). The Liberty in turn reached the WNBA Finals for the first time in 11 years before falling to Las Vegas.

A free agent this offseason, Dolson wanted to get back to growing her game and becoming a better leader as she enters her 10th year in the league.

“I think she’s evolved a little bit offensivel­y because she’s been willing to add just little nuances to her game,” Mike Thibault said. “They’re not things that show up big. But maybe when you’re setting the screen, how to roll to get open a little bit quicker or how to guard the bigger post players in the league when you have to bang night in and night out with a Brittney Griner or at one point Sylvia Fowles and all those kinds of players.

“And then understand­ing what a team needs. As you go through the league and you’ve played for a couple of different teams who have contended for championsh­ips, or been a part of a championsh­ip, you learn sometimes what’s most important for a team day-to-day and you can kind of convey that to your teammates. Just the life experience of going through different systems can help you have a better perspectiv­e, and sometimes maybe a coach’s perspectiv­e, on what’s needed for a team.”

With Delle Donne sitting out the 2024 season and not signing Washington’s supermax core offer, the Mystics needed another big to step in and play alongside Shakira

Austin in the post. Enter Dolson.

“We were thrilled when we drafted her the first time,” Thibault, now general manager of the Mystics, said. “Stef knows that one of the toughest days I’ve had as the GM was having to tell her that we were trading her in the Elena Delle Donne trade because we really didn’t want to do it. And so, it’s kind of come full circle and she’s back to where we think she belongs and will be a major contributo­r.”

Dolson will be the oldest player (32) on the Mystics’ roster this season. Her experience will help Washington as it looks to rebuild its core without Delle Donne and longtime guard Natasha Cloud (signed with Phoenix). Edwards, 22, is a big part of that rebuild.

Dolson said she remembers learning from former Mystics forwardnow Duke head coach Kara Lawson about how to be a good veteran in the WNBA.

“I’ve been on multiple teams where I’ve been kind of one of the vets, but this will be the first time where I am the vet,” Dolson said. “So, I think it’ll give me a better opportunit­y to just be the loudest vet and hopefully the most prominent and just a leader and just expanding my role with being able to teach the young girls.”

The Mystics also signed former Husky Katie Lou Samuelson’s sister Karlie Samuelson in the offseason.

“They both have a huge prominent role coming up this season for our team,” Thibault said of Dolson and Samuelson. “I know our coaching staff is excited to get them and we’re looking forward to what they’re going to do on the court. And off the court they are terrific leaders in the locker room. They have set high standards for how things are supposed to be done in this league.”

Dolson is excited to return to the city, team and general manager that launched her pro career.

Washington kicks off the 2024 WNBA season on May 14 by hosting New York before playing the Connecticu­t Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena on May 17.

“It’s definitely full circle,” Dolson said. “Coming back to the place that you get drafted, I think is a dream for anyone. … Karlie and I picked this this team for a reason. And they chose us for a reason. Because we knew that the system that they already have built, although it’s new pieces, I feel like Coach T and Eric have done a great job of just kind of building that foundation from even when I was drafted here.”

 ?? Mitchell Leff/Getty Images ?? Stefanie Dolson, who helped lead UConn to back-to-back national championsh­ips in 2013 and 2014 before being drafted by Washington, is back with the Mystics after playing for the Liberty last season.
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images Stefanie Dolson, who helped lead UConn to back-to-back national championsh­ips in 2013 and 2014 before being drafted by Washington, is back with the Mystics after playing for the Liberty last season.
 ?? Bruce Bennett/Getty Images ?? Stefanie Dolson, who helped lead UConn to back-to-back national championsh­ips in 2013 and 2014 before being drafted by Washington, is back with the Mystics after playing for the Liberty last season.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images Stefanie Dolson, who helped lead UConn to back-to-back national championsh­ips in 2013 and 2014 before being drafted by Washington, is back with the Mystics after playing for the Liberty last season.

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