The Criminally Underrated Stefanie Dolson

Stefanie Dolson hasn’t gotten enough love after her electric WNBA Finals performance. That changes now.

By Alexandra Cadet

Stefanie Dolson scored some of the most important points of her career on the Sunday of the 2021 WNBA Championship. First, she nailed a two-pointer while the Sky was down 68–60. Then, she gave Chicago the lead in the fourth quarter and sent the home crowd into a tizzy. For good measure, she did it again and again and again, allowing her team to settle the match and clinch the Championship. Her performance was absolutely clutch, and incredibly deserving of media praise.

So why isn’t everyone talking about her?

Search up “WNBA Playoffs Final” on Google and no headlines including Dolson’s name appear on the first page. Her Wikipedia bio stops in 2019 (save for Olympic exploits), and has no substantial information on her Championship win. Worst of all, most written recaps of Sunday’s match in particular either fail to analyze her impact on the game or omit her name completely. It’s a real shame, since the Sky’s title win is one of many highlights in Dolson’s illustrious career.

Stefanie Dolson after winning the 2021 WNBA Championship.
(Courtesy of WNBA)

It was apparent that Dolson was talented from the very start, notching a total of 1,951 points for the Minisink Valley High School basketball team. She later attended the University of Connecticut and earned a starting spot on their team—the legendary UConn Huskies––in her first year. From there, the hardware rolled in. She and the Huskies won back-to-back Championships in ‘13 and ‘14, going undefeated in the latter year. Her individual achievements are nothing to sneeze at, either; she led her team in rebounds during her sophomore year, notched four double-doubles as a junior, and was dubbed Defensive Player of the Year as a senior. At the start of her final year at UConn, she placed 29th on their all-time scoring list, and was inducted into the Huskies of Honor.

In 2014, Dolson was drafted sixth overall by the Washington Mystics. Her transfer, off the back of an incredible All-American senior season, was met with excitement and intrigue. “You might look at her and you might go, ‘She doesn’t really look like she would be a great player,’” said Geno Auriemma, her coach at UConn. “But when you look again, [here is] another player who has transformed her body, she has great speed, tremendous conditioning for her size. I love the court vision she has. […] I think she’d be a tremendous asset to any team.” Along with her UConn-turned-Mystics teammate Bria Hartley, she had an admirable debut WNBA season, scoring an average of 6.0 points per game. 

Her 2015 season was even better; she started all but one match and averaged 13.4 points and 7.3 rebounds (per Bullets Forever), which led to her selection for the 2015 WNBA All-Stars team. In 2016, she scored a career-high 23 points against the New York Liberty to help her team reach the playoffs. Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be, as the Mystics slumped to a seasonal record of 13–21 and were eliminated from contention. Overall, Dolson’s stint at the Mystics was productive for her as an individual, but bore little fruit in terms of team success.

Stefanie Dolson on Team USA’s 3v3 team. (Courtesy of SB Nation)

Dolson’s life in Washington would be upended as she was traded (along with Kahleah Copper) to the Chicago Sky for Elena Delle Donne. At the time, Delle Donne was arguably the league’s biggest star, so it was her name that dominated the headlines once the swap occurred. In fact, the deal was considered to be a “steal” for the Mystics, since they were able to land a player of Delle Donne’s caliber for two players so “irrelevant” that most news outlets didn’t even bother putting anything about them in their articles. 

However, Dolson didn’t let that stop her. She started every game in her first season at Chicago, ranking No. 3 in the league in 3-point percentage with 43.7%. 2018 saw her re-sign with the Sky and average 9.7 points per game, but the team missed out on the Playoffs with a 13–21 record that echoed a previous dark time in Dolson’s career. Nevertheless, she had faith that Skytown would pull it together in 2019: “We all just need to get on the same page. I think that last year we all doubted things. I want us all to trust each other.” And trust each other they did. The Sky managed to book their ticket to the playoffs that year, making it to the Second Round before falling to the Aces. Dolson, for her part, improved her playmaking skills and perfected her outlet pass

Unfortunately, everything fell apart for Dolson in the 2020 Wubble. She had a career-low per-game average of 6.4, she was only able to play 15 games due to injury, and she and her entire family caught COVID-19. Despite her team qualifying for the playoffs, it was setback after setback for Dolson, who vowed to improve the following season. “I know [what] I can do. I’ve been an All-Star two times in my career for a reason, and I want to be back to that Stef.” 

Dolson’s career surged back to life in 2021, but for contrasting reasons. Her role on the Sky became that of a utility player, building on her playmaking efforts in 2019. “For me with the Chicago Sky it’s like, you know I may not always score, but I’m a big facilitator. I screen a lot for our players to score. So it’s really just growing into that role of what type of player they need me to be.” This selflessness might be part of the reason why her playoff Final performance was so underrated, but it was also necessary for the team’s stability.

Stefanie Dolson at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. (Image courtesy of SBNation)

Conversely, her gold medal-winning performance at the 2020 Olympics screamed “superstar.” She fully adopted the (frankly awesome) moniker “Big Mama Stef” and absolutely ran the show, making key interceptions and scoring 7 points in the final. The physical and mental transformation required for a player to switch from 5×5 to 3×3 is staggering, but Dolson made it look easy. Her fantastic Olympic and WNBA campaigns remind us once again that no matter what is asked of her, coaches and fellow players can count on Dolson to play her role perfectly. Isn’t that something to be celebrated rather than brushed under the rug?

Throughout her time in the public eye, Dolson has shown that she’s a legend off the court as well. During the 2014 Draft, she impressed spectators with her sick dance moves; she also dyes her hair in all sorts of colors on the regular. More importantly, she frequently campaigns for LGBTQ+ and women’s rights, coming out as a member of the queer community in 2016. “Not everyone in the WNBA needs to be out, but I feel called to lead an authentic life in the open. I know who I am and I don’t care if people judge me. I am 6-5, and I dye my hair purple and experiment a lot with fashion. My motto is: If they’re going to stare, they might as well stare at something fun.” 

One thing is clear: if her illustrious career and fun personality are anything to go by, we should all be paying more attention to Stefanie Dolson. 

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