WCSU women’s basketball guard ‘pays it forward’ as camp instructor
Stolle shares her love of the game with Canadian youth in heart of hockey country
DANBURY, CONN. — Western Connecticut State University junior Kerri Stolle understands how to run an offensive set with her Colonials teammates from her guard position on the basketball court – but her experience this summer as a basketball camp instructor in the heart of hockey country has ignited a new passion for coaching and sharing her love of the game.
Stolle and three other U.S. college basketball players traveled to Saint Andrews, New Brunswick, to serve as instructors in the weeklong “Basketball by the Sea” camp organized for middle and high school students in the small Canadian Maritimes community and coordinated by Connecticut Starters, a member club of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). While Saint Andrews lies just an hour’s drive from the Maine border, Stolle and her fellow instructors found on the first day of camp that many of the approximately 60 middle and high school student participants had little or no prior experience playing basketball and were eager to learn the game from their American visitors.
Recalling the enthusiastic participation of the campers and the warm reception from parents and townspeople, she described the experience as “one of the best basketball camps I have ever worked. The whole atmosphere up there was so welcoming: The kids and the parents were all on board, and parents told us their children would go home after camp and shoot baskets in the driveway.”
Recognizing potential in one strong youth, she challenged him to use his power to post up and position himself for a better shot. Another youth, 16 years old and 6 foot 10 inches in height, had been playing basketball in team sports for less than two years while also competing in hockey. Seeing he could dunk the ball with ease, “we told him, ‘You really need to keep playing basketball!’” At the close of each day, the American instructors would stay on to scrimmage with the older Canadian boys in a pickup game: “It reminded me why I love this game so much!” she said.
Stolle’s ability to share her passion and experience with the Canadian youth of Saint Andrews came as no surprise to Kim Rybczyk, head coach of the Western women’s basketball team. The Colonials coach observed that Stolle has been immersed in basketball and athletics from an early age as part of her family heritage: Her mother serves as athletic administrator at New Fairfield High School, her three sisters all played college sports, and her father and two of her sisters have been basketball coaches.
“She comes from a family background where everyone shows so much support for each other,” Rybczyk said. “That’s why she can give so much support to her teammates — she’s a pay-it-forward kind of person.”
Joe Ticotsky, director of Connecticut Starters, wrote Rybczyk upon their return from Canada to describe Stolle as “the ultimate professional as a coach and ambassador for the game and her school. The campers loved her. Through AAU basketball, I’ve known Kerri for many years, and you’re lucky to have her as a member of your program!”
It is Stolle’s versatility on the court and natural leadership skills that have given the former Berkshire League standout a central role in Rybczyk’s plans for the Colonials entering the 2014-15 season. After “recruiting her until the lights went out in the gym” during her senior year at Wamogo High School, the Western coach endured the disappointment of Stolle’s initial decision to play her freshman year at Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania before reaping the rewards of that recruitment effort when the Warren, Connecticut, native returned to Western to pursue a degree in education.
“Coach recruited me really hard and she was one of the biggest reasons I looked at Western from the start. So when I decided to change my major to education and realized I wanted to come back closer to my home and family, I knew this was where I wanted to go,” Stolle said. With her parents and siblings again able to attend her games and her academic studies thriving in Western’s education program with a 3.76 overall grade point average, she added, “I am 10 times happier — I know I made the right decision.”
Her decision to transfer to Western in fall 2013 also proved a fortuitous development for the women’s basketball program. She hit the court running in her sophomore year as a starting guard averaging more than 31 minutes, 8.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, making an important contribution to the Colonials’ solid 16-11 campaign in 2013-14 and strong run to the semifinals of the Little East Conference Championship tournament. Her coach now expects Stolle to step smoothly into the point guard position as a leader on the youthful but talented women’s team this season.
“She’s not your typical point guard, and yet I think she’ll be one of the best point guards in the league this year,” Rybczyk said. “Stolle just has this ability to lead: She’s vocal, she’s confident, and when she’s in the game, you know that everything is going to run OK. She has the ability to tell everyone on the floor where they need to be, and the whole team feels more comfortable when they know someone is in charge.”
“The important thing when you play as a team is that you are all in sync, all on the same page – and when you achieve that, the sky is the limit,” Rybczyk said. “You may be up against a team with stronger individual players but, when you play together as a team, you have a chance to win every game you’re in.”
While Rybczyk occasionally has to remind Stolle to take her shot when the opportunity presents itself, she values her point guard’s readiness to make the timely pass and direct the offensive set to help out her teammates. “Stolle puts us in the best position to win,” her coach said. “She knows the game: Her basketball IQ is as good as anyone I’ve ever coached. She thinks like a coach, she acts like a coach — in many ways, she’s really an extension of me on the court.”
Stolle already has told the organizers of the Canadian Maritimes basketball camp that she would be happy to return as an instructor next summer, and she has been inspired by her experience to consider following in the family tradition by pursuing a career in coaching. “I like explaining things, being able to draw up a play and see them get what you’re saying and use what you’ve told them,” she said. “It’s so rewarding!”
“What I love most about this game is being part of the team,” she added. “You work so hard in practice and then you get into the season, and all the pieces come together. You understand why Coach was teaching and drilling us in all these things.” Inspired by the example of her parents and Rybczyk, she said, “I know that I could be happy coaching for the rest of my life.”
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