SARATOGA SPRINGS – Throughout the history of basketball, one of the distinctive things is that many of the stars get to be known by just their first name. Today, you have LeBron and Steph. Before that – Michael and Shaq. Before that – Larry, Magic, Kareem and Wilt. You get the idea.
On the local basketball scene, those in the know, already know that there is a new first name to know. And that name is Dolly.
Eighth grader Dolly Cairns has developed a precocious game that belies her years, and is the anchor of the Saratoga Springs Varsity Girls Basketball Squad. Leading a team that is on the rise, despite being the youngest on the floor. Heading into the playoffs, this year’s team is in a solid middle position in the Suburban Council’s strong Blue Division, with a conference record of 9-8, and 12-8 overall. They have to bang heads against powerful squads like Shaker and Shenendehowa – teams with mature stars, and sometimes, frankly, they come away on the short end. But Dolly and the Streaks don’t quit – they buy into their Coach’s goal that they play hard each game, and come away with valuable learning experiences that will serve them well as the team matures. And it says here that the best is yet to come – for both Dolly and her team. And it’s already her team.
In one sense, this is nothing new to her. Dolly has already been a third grader on the fifth grade team, and has been working on her game during pre-school recesses, or with her dad.
Dolly’s talent extends to every aspect of the game – when called upon – she’ll often lead the team in scoring. But she is most satisfied when she elevates her teammates. “Basketball is a team game first, I want to help everyone be their best,” Dolly said. And further good news for Saratoga fans is that she has been playing with some of her teammates for years as well. Like freshman guard Kerry Flaherty – a grade ahead of Dolly, they are often first and second, or vice versa, in scoring most games. Their Coach, Robin Chudy, noted “it’s nice to have two options that have already have played together, and will be together for a long time.”
Coach Chudy also observed that when the season started, “there was no doubt that Dolly would be our starting point guard. But we realized that we needed more from her - to take on more of a scoring role, which is not her first instinct. She’s by nature an unselfish player, often bypassing an open shot if it meant passing to a teammate.”
The results were evident almost immediately. Starting on January 5, Dolly has scored in double-digits in all of the Streaks’ 12 games, over 20 points in three of them (which were all victories).During that time, the team went 8-4, with a seven-game winning streak. “She’s a learner,” Coach Chudy said, “She even volunteers to learn the post-up game.” So, even though she leads the team in several stat categories (such as scoring 14.7 points per game – tied for 29th in Section 2, while averaging about 7 assists per game), there are some pieces of 5’ 7” Dolly’s game that we can look forward to even more improvement as she gains more experience and grows physically.
However, RIGHT NOW, she’s already shown superior skills – meaning as good as anyone around, in two key areas:
- Handling the ball: She brings it up, nearly every time – with fluidity and ambidextrous finesse – you are hard pressed to tell which is her dominant hand. If she doesn’t have the ball, her teammates often hold up to find her and give it to her. “One key to our big improvement over last year,” Coach Chudy said, “is due to Dolly’s ability to break the press as part of her ball handling.” Teams have a near impossible time taking the ball away from her, and she rarely turns it over. When that does happen, it’s usually the result of Dolly aggressively driving through traffic, to penetrate and dish, or create her own shot. More often than a turnover, she draws a foul. Which leads to…
- Free Throws: Coach Chudy tells the tale: “We brought her up to the Varsity halfway through last year (in the seventh grade) and brought her into things slowly. But against Guilderland, the opposing coach got a technical. There was no doubt that I was putting Dolly in to take them. She made both.” And really hasn’t looked back since. Of all the facets of a complete basketball game, free throws are a universal measure of talent and focus regardless of age or level of play. And Dolly’s got this part Down! With a capital D. For the season, she’s burying them at an 80.2% rate, which puts her fourth in all of Section 2, and compares very favorably with the greats of the game. All, we remind you, in the eighth grade. It’s no stretch to say that when you have free throw ability going for you, you don’t often wake up one day and lose it. She’s money in the bank at the line.
Perhaps there’s some correlation between Dolly’s prowess with the geometry of free throws and her favorite subject, math – but we’ll leave that for her to explore as a potential Ph.D. topic someday. She became enthusiastic when talking about her thrill of attending concerts and seeing her favorite – The Zac Brown Band – live at SPAC. Just like you would expect an eighth grader to be.
We had a nice visit with Dolly and her Coach, and it was now practice time. Before she left, I had to ask her. Her given name is Catherine. So…
“I prefer Dolly. My mom called me Dolly when I was little. She said I had the face of a doll.”
Between us, she still does. But when necessary, she’s not afraid to stick that doll-face into the lane and mix it up. Let’s face it: Dolly rocks!