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Stella Dolan, Bemidji State's reliable ace, looks back on impactful career on and off the field

Apr. 27—BEMIDJI — In her final softball game, Stella Dolan found herself in unfamiliar territory.

The Bemidji State senior pitcher relieved Danica Sarff with two outs in the top of the second inning. She got the first Northern State batter she faced to ground out.

Then she picked up a bat.

Dolan had six plate appearances this season before Saturday. But in her last game with the Beavers, she stood in the batter's box three times and drew a pair of full-count walks.

"The ump today had a tight strike zone, which is good because every pitch (Abby Rux) threw me was a strike," Dolan quipped. "You don't get to hit a lot as a pitcher, so that was pretty fun to do in my last game."

As Dolan jogged to first base, a contingent of Beavers fans behind the left field fence cheered. Dolan was one of two soon-to-be BSU graduates honored on Saturday for their contributions to the softball program.

For Dolan, the Senior Day festivities were a first.

"I was part of the class in high school that didn't get a Senior Day because of Covid," the St. Paul native said. "So it was an emotional day, but really triple the emotions because I didn't get to do this before. I loved playing softball here. Obviously, this weekend didn't really go how we wanted, but the people cheering us in left field were loud like always, and we played hard."

Bemidji State's 13-10 and 8-0 losses against Minnesota State Moorhead on Friday doomed any hope for the Beavers to make it to the NSIC Tournament for a second consecutive season.

Friday's defeats put Saturday's focus on Dolan and Stephanie Ferguson, who were honored by the program between 10-3 and 13-4 losses against NSU.

Dolan pitched her last games for the Beavers this weekend, but she has at least another year with the program. While she doesn't have a fifth year available to keep pitching, she will stay with the team as a pitching coach while she earns an MBA.

"I don't think I would have the career I did if it weren't for my pitching coach when I first got here," Dolan said. "I wanted to get us back to the (NSIC Tournament). Obviously, that didn't happen, but the girls are in good hands. We'll get back there next year right where we belong."

Saturday was the end of a memorable week for Dolan. On Tuesday, she was honored with the BSU Community Impact Award.

Dolan has served on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, which has organized numerous events to help people within the community. She has volunteered her time with the United Way of Bemidji, the Mount Zion Church Soup Kitchen and has helped teach multiple youth softball programs throughout the Bemidji and St. Paul communities.

"She's constantly looking to make herself a better person," Bemidji State head coach Jordan Petersen said. "She has such a big heart. It's just so fun to see her accomplish all of these great things. That's who Stella is."

Dolan's efforts to create better situations for those around her will immediately impact her athletic peers. Britt Lauritson, Bemidji State's director of athletics, chose Dolan to advocate for student-athletes.

"In a small-town community like this, there are a lot of chances to get involved and volunteer," Dolan said. "The one that sticks out was actually this year. Britt asked if I would speak in front of the school senate to get a referendum on the ballot to get funding for athletics. She warned me that I was trying to get them to change their minds about something they didn't want to pass."

Dolan's pleas to the student senate were fruitful.

"To be chosen for that meant a lot to me," she continued. "I have so much respect and appreciation for Britt, and it meant a lot to me to have her ask me to bring that (cause) to the student senate, and it worked. I guess I got them to put the referendum up (for) a vote, and the vote passed. Now we have $100,000 coming to help BSU Athletics."

Since Petersen arrived on campus in June 2021, she and Dolan have developed a bond. The three-year head coach challenged the then-rising sophomore to become not only a starter but also the team's workhorse in the circle.

Dolan's name is now littered all over the Beavers' record book.

"When she got here, she sat me down and asked if I saw myself as a starter," Dolan said. "I said, 'No, of course not. That's crazy.' She goes, 'Well, I have you as my ace." She had confidence in me from the start. There are a lot of great names that hold records here, like Jessica Yost, Andrea Block, Stephi Dullum. I'm not up there if it weren't for the confidence my coaches have in me."

Dolan holds the BSU record for pitching appearances (126). She's also fourth all-time in strikeouts (366), wins (26) and innings pitched (542.1).

But what's more valuable than her rubber left arm is her leadership. Her ability to guide her peers made her the ultimate teammate and will make her a valued coach.

"Her freshman year, she threw two pitches," Peterson said. "Now, she's throwing four or five (different) pitches. She's developed so much, and she's self-taught. She has the drive to win, and she knew she needed to add more to her arsenal to keep getting better. She doesn't want to be taken out of games. She was such a great player to coach. She's been a huge leader on this team since the day I stepped in. We are all lucky to have Stella on this team."