Tracy Stolle: Hall of Famer

When I was asked by Tracy Stolle to present her as part of her induction into the Connecticut Woman’s Basketball Hall of Fame (April 28) it was one of the most flattering moments of my career. I had covered Stolle extensively during her brilliant career at Wamogo High School (1991-1995) and then the University of Hartford. Along the journey were coaches, teammates and mentors who had influenced and shared part of her journey. As a writer to be selected out of a group of so many worthy people was indeed an honor.

Not being familiar with the role of `Presenter’ I was of the belief that I would be expected to say a few words. So I had prepared a few remarks. I later found out that wasn’t part of the duties. However, Tracy was unique; you get few opportunities to see her kind of brilliance. It was a privilege to witness what she offered up. Her kind of special is rarely seen.  So here is a version of what I had planned to say.

A three-year starter and three-time second team All-Big East player for legendary coach Nancy Stevens and the UConn field hockey team. Do you know how good you had to be to play for Stevens and UConn, a three-time national champion?

Okay I know you are all looking at me like I just fell off my chair and taken a major knock on the old melon. Who the heck is he talking about? Tracy Stolle is here for basketball not UConn field hockey. Is he lost in more ways than one?

Rest assured I’m fine. It is Tracy’s sister, Kelly, I was referring to to make a point about Tracy and her family. In the Stolle family Tracy is one of many stars. Kelly is the only one that didn’t play basketball. She once told me she couldn’t shoot worth a darn. But boy could she play field hockey. Kristi is a 1,000 point scorer, Kerri is a three-sport All-Stater, 1,000-point scorer and done a terrific job holding the Wamogo girls basketball program together and rebuilding it. Hopefully she will be the new coach of the Lakeview High team, a result of the Wamogo and Litchfield High Schools regionalization, which opens up in September.

Mom Mary is a much coveted athletic director, currently finishing up her second tour of duty at Wamogo with a stint at New Fairfield in between. Father John has coached at Nonnewaug and Wamogo and done any other job that was needed.

This is an accomplished family folks.

Now on to Tracy. This day is Tracy’s day. But she has had so many days and nights that belonged to her. On the basketball court she was always the star of stars, the queen of the court.

“She kicked our ass.” – Those are not my words, those were the immortal words of St. Thomas Aquinas coach Jack Zenobi. And maybe in the elegance of the sentiment is what Stolle was all about. A supremely talented cold-blooded basketball assassin who never took no for an answer.

Zenobi and his team experienced Stolle in all her relentless and raging glory on March 11, 1995 day in the Class S state finals. Truth be known Stolle kicked a lot of behinds in her career. St. Thomas was just the best one and the last one. One final testament to greatness.  In the pain of defeat Zenobi found appreciation for brilliance.

It went something like this. Stolle had a pedestrian 11-point first half and the Warriors trailed, 27-19. In the final 16 minutes all hell or more appropriately All-Stolle broke lose. She exploded for 15 points in the third quarter and Wamogo took the lead, 40-33.

There were seven more points in the fourth quarter and this – As Aquinas rallied she hit two driving baskets for a 49-45 lead that sealed the game. Wamogo hung on for a 49-47 win, the Class S title and a perfect season (27-0).

Stolle scored 22 of Wamogo’s 30 second half points and finished with 33 points, seven rebounds and four assists, earning MVP honors. Aquinas also learned another painful lesson about Stolle – don’t tick her off. The Wamogo players had noticed the St. Thomas bus had “state champions” plastered all over it before the game.  Not a good idea.

“They thought they were going to win, it was predetermined,” Stolle said. “We were just little cow-pie Wamogo. “

Game, set and match to Stolle and her teammates.

There were many Stolle highlights to hang your basketball hat on. She was a human highlight film. Two that stick out were against Thomaston and her frenemy (friend and court enemy) Amy Matthews. To add some spice to it all Stolle was dating Matthews’ brother Jon at that time.

Matthews is also a Connecticut Woman’s basketball Hall of Famer, state champion, Little East All-25th Anniversary team, Western Connecticut State University Hall of Famer.  They were the Magic and Bird of the Berkshire League.

During Stolle’s junior year their games were legendary. The first time around Stolle scored 36 points and Matthews 30 in a 62-52 Thomaston win. It got even better the second time around.

In double overtime Thomaston won, 55-53. Stolle scored 35 points and went over the 1,000 point mark. Matthews scored 34 points and grabbed 11 rebounds while scoring Thomaston’s last 23 points. Stolle hit a three-point banker with two defenders on her at the buzzer to force a second overtime.

The two stars scored every point for their teams in the two overtimes. It was magnificent theatre.

Stolle is the greatest shooter and scorer in BL history finishing with 1,924 points. She drilled three-pointers, drove to the basket and victimized. There was nobody better and few even close. An unstoppable dazzling presence.

Listen to the state’s all-time winningest girls basketball coach Northwestern Regional’s Fred Williams – “I never like coaching against here. Whatever we did, she always had an answer. She shot the ball the way it should be shot. She was money.”

Stolle’s high school coach Gladding called her the best he’s ever seen. The list goes on.

In 2002, seven years after her stunning state title game performance Stolle started her teaching career in New Britain. The Dean of Students walked up her on the first day and asked, “Do you remember me?” She said no. He replied, “I’m Jack Zenobi. You were my worst nightmare, no matter who I put on you, nobody could guard you. You broke my heart.” Stolle just smiled.

How good was Tracy Stolle? She has been selected as one of the top 25 players in the history of Connecticut girls high school basketball. Top 25 of all time. Roll that one around.

Along the way Stolle broke a lot of hearts and filled a lot more. Through it all she was simply the best. Better than all the rest.  Congratulations.

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