By JOHN ALTAVILLA, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hartford Courant
8:21 PM EST, February 28, 2014
STORRS — Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley arrived at UConn four years ago with three other freshmen who all initially aspired to do their part to grow the program's legacy.
On Saturday, senior day at Gampel Pavilion before No. 1 UConn plays Rutgers in the final home game of the season, only Dolson and Hartley remain.
And they have done more than could have been expected, developing into All-Americans and record-setters, helping lead UConn to three Final Fours and the 2013 national championship.
"It's hard to verbalize at times what people represent, what they bring, what they have that is unique and special," coach Geno Auriemma said. "I hear that word on television all the time; this player is special, that's a special person. It's like anyone who gets 20 points and 10 rebounds a night is a special player."
"You prove who you are and what you are over the period of time. Bria and Stefanie have proven over four years there is something special about them, in how they carry themselves, what they bring to practice and our games, how much they've done since Day One."
And largely because of all that, they will watch their numbers unveiled among the Huskies of Honor.
Here are their stories, told by their mothers, Simone Hartley and Kristal Dolson.
Bria Hartley: Three-Sport Star
"You look at [Hartley's] entire career and she is like Derek Jeter. She came in as a young kid. You can count on her every game. She shows up, she plays as hard as she can. She is my wife's favorite player." – Auriemma
"You know, I don't remember going over any of the recruiting letters Bria received, although I believe we still have boxes and boxes of them. There were just too many," Nicole Hartley said.
"Her father [Dennis] did most of the [visits] with her, but I do remember taking the Stanford and North Carolina trips. The interesting thing was, we went [to UNC] on a lacrosse visit because she was being heavily recruited by their coach.
"Bria played soccer, lacrosse and basketball in her senior year and had played lacrosse since seventh grade. So when we were there on the lacrosse visit, we were taken to see [basketball coach] Sylvia Hatchell on an unofficial visit.
"The only two [basketball] programs that ever visited our home were North Carolina and Connecticut. I don't think Bria actually knew right away what sport she was going to play in college. She was being recruited in all three sports and she was simply trying to figure out what she wanted to do. She finally made the determination to play basketball because she thought she could go further with it than any of the other sports. And I think she made the right decision.
"When Geno came to visit our house, the first thing he said to Bria was, 'I am not promising you any playing time.' My husband and I looked at each other at the same time and immediately realized UConn was the right school for her because we already knew she would work hard for anything that she wanted. It didn't bother us at all that he said it. In fact, it's what convinced us that's where she belonged.
"Bria has two older brothers who were already out of the house when she was in high school. She essentially fit the only-child syndrome and was very independent, so we knew she would do well in college. She was mature and capable enough to make her own decisions about things. In fact, when she left for school, she said, 'Mom, don't expect me to call you every week.' I said, 'That's OK, Bria, I don't expect you to.' And she said, 'Ok, I just wanted to let you know.'
"And what's happened to her over the last four years has offered us no surprises. She has always worked hard, especially academically. We always expected her to excel. … In terms of basketball, all I can say is that we sensed there was something different about her from the time she was 4. And it wasn't always about her scoring a lot, although I remember she did score a lot of goals playing youth soccer. I remember one day, she was about 10, and she'd scored a few and the coaches sat her and she spent the rest of the game running up and down the sidelines cheering her teammates on. So from early on I knew it wasn't just about her, it was about the team. She had no selfishness inside of her.
"But now Bria has a bigger dream still remaining: Olympic gold. If that's really the case, well, I know she is going to work hard for it and we'll just see what will happen next."
Stefanie Dolson: Fun-Loving Kid
"Stefanie acts like, looks like, carries herself as if there is no other place she would rather be in the world than spending those two hours she is in the gym every day. … You don't find much of that anymore." – Auriemma
"Stefanie narrowed her college list very quickly. She went to camp at Maryland when she was either a freshman or a sophomore in high school. [Maryland coach] Brenda Frese [was the one who gave her the first opportunity. We fell in love with her. I bonded with her; she was pregnant with her twins [Kristal has been a delivery and postnatal nurse for 25 years]. In fact, her husband was taking notes about what to do when the babies were being born. It was very nice.
"We visited Rutgers and Penn State, Duke and North Carolina. UNC was out quickly, she didn't like Rutgers, Penn State was just OK. So it came down to Duke, Maryland and UConn. Stefanie, her sister Ashley and my son Jake, literally drove down the East Coast with her to visit Duke and UNC.
"But we never had 'the discussion [about which school].' If anything, it was mostly conversations in the car, particularly with my husband, Steve, who drove to St. John's [from Port Jervis, N.Y.) with Stefanie twice a week for AAU practices.
"Then one night, and I will never forget this, we are in the kitchen during her junior year and she suddenly blurts out, 'Uh, I made a decision, I'm going to UConn.' She was just standing there in front of the sink. It happened just like that.
"I'm thinking, 'What, have you thought about this?' … I was sure she would backpedal. … Nope, she never did.
"I knew in my heart when we visited UConn it was the place for her. I remember sitting on one of the stone benches outside Gampel, looking around and thinking, 'This is it. This is so much like home, so much like her.' But I kept the feeling to myself.
"She finally decided Christmas Day  would be the day to tell [Geno Auriemma]. She made a gingerbread cookie of a girl with a UConn outfit on, set it up on the dining room table, took a picture of it and sent it to him.
"Many of the schools [we visited] were great schmoozers, I will give them that. UConn doesn't schmooze very well. But, you know, it's not what our family is about and it's likely why she ended up where she did.
"But I was so nervous for her when she left. I knew there would be so much pressure. Geno can be intimidating; Stef can be sensitive; I wasn't sure how all that would go. So I worried. I knew she had it in her. But at that time in her life she wasn't super-motivated; things seemed to come easy for her. I used to tell her, Stefanie, you are tall, but eventually … She just had to find it inside herself.
"But it's been phenomenal. It couldn't have turned out any better for her."
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