March 25, 2016
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
Had it not been for a miracle on Nov. 29, 1985, Western Washington University would have lost one of its outstanding athletes, who later became the winningest coach in school history.
Late that cold and snowy night, Dolfo was driving back to Western after attending a banquet at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. As she rounded a curve just north of the Lynden-Aldergrove border crossing, her Volkswagen Beetle caught a patch of ice and careened out of control into a snowbank and then down an embankment. The car, which was totaled, landed upside down and Dolfo was left unconscious. No one had witnessed the accident, so no help was on the way.
"I don't know how long I was out," said Dolfo, who had suffered a concussion. "I remember crawling out the window of the car, the door was totally crushed. I lost my shoes, so I had to walk barefoot through the snow."
"I went to the nearest house, which had some really nice people, called my dad, and then they gave me a ride to Bellingham."
The next night Dolfo played in the Vikings' basketball game against Sacramento State.
"At first, I didn't tell anyone what happened," Dolfo recalled. "But when I got sick after the game, I had to. The doctor made me sit out the next game."
Western head coach Lynda Goodrich didn't learn about the accident until after the Sacramento State contest while talking with Dolfo's parents, who were concerned that she was playing.
"Carmen told me that she wasn't feeling well after the game," said Goodrich, "but it wasn't until after I talked with her parents that I found out what had happened. I was like `Oh my God!'"
Dolfo returned to help Western to one of the best women's basketball seasons in the program's illustrious history.
The Vikings reached the quarterfinals in their first national tournament appearance as a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. They won District 1 and Bi-District I titles, finishing with a 25-8 record, tying the school record for victories, following a 7-5 start.
At nationals, held in Kansas City, Missouri, Western got to the final eight with a 72-54 first-round win over Cumberland College KY. A hard-fought 83-75 quarterfinal loss to No.2-ranked Louisiana College ended its campaign.
Dolfo, a 5-foot-10 senior forward, scored 50 points and grabbed 26 rebounds in the two national tourney games. A rugged inside player and accurate perimeter shooter, she paced the team in both scoring at 16.8 points per game and rebounding with 8.4 per contest. That earned her second-team NAIA All-America recognition and District 1 co-Player of the Year honors.
The Vikings reached the national tournament by defeating Gonzaga University in a best two out of three district championship series with a dramatic 70-69 victory on a buzzer-beating 18-foot jumper by Lynda Dart in the third and deciding game. They crushed District 2 titlist University of Portland 84-55 in the Bi-District playoff.
Dolfo played two seasons and was an assistant coach for four years under Goodrich, a legendary coach at Western. Dolfo took over as head coach prior to the 1990-91 season, so that Goodrich could focus on her director of athletics responsibilities.
Dolfo, who recently completed her 25th season, has won 535 games, an average of 21.4 per year, the most victories by any coach at Western in any sport.
From Penticton B.C. to L.A. Lady and back
Dolfo was born and raised in Canada where she attended Penticton Secondary School and led the Lakers to the provincial championship as a senior. Recruited to Biola University in Los Angeles, Calif., she was named to the American Women's Sports Federation Freshmen All-America team and as a sophomore in 1982-83 received NAIA All-America honorable mention. That season, Dolfo played a key role in helping the Eagles to a 77-66 win over Western at the Bi-District playoffs held in Portland, Ore.
That spring, Goodrich got a call from Dolfo's father Larry, who had gotten his master's degree at Western.
"He said his daughter was looking to transfer. He asked me if I remembered her and I said, `Oh yes, I remember her,' and then he asked me if I would be interested, and I said, `Oh yes, I would be very interested.'"
Goodrich met with Dolfo on Easter Sunday and the gifted player made the decision to come to Western.
At that moment, Goodrich remembered thinking how hard recruiting can be, but then how sometimes things just fall into your lap.
Because of transfer rules, Dolfo was not able to compete until midway through the 1983-84 campaign. In the final 16 games, Dolfo came off the bench to average 10.9 points and 5.7 rebounds.
In her four years of collegiate basketball, Dolfo finished with career totals of 1,757 points and 896 rebounds.
After her playing career ended in 1985-86, Dolfo was a student assistant for one year while finishing her bachelor's degree and then was the Vikings' top assistant for three seasons.
"As a player, she really knew the game," Goodrich said. "Then she was my student assistant for a year and you could tell that she had a great grasp of the game. After that she was my assistant for three years."
"At the end of that third season, she was getting pretty antsy to be a head coach and I knew if we didn't make a move and hire her that we would lose her. And I was ready to go into administration full time. It was nice to have someone take over who you had sort of groomed.
"She made me look brilliant," continued Goodrich with a laugh.
Dolfo became the first person in school history and one of only two all-time to go to nationals as a player, assistant coach and head coach, being a part of 653 victories in the three roles.
Dolfo, who has a 535-201 (72.7 percent) record as head coach at Western, has coached 13 All-Americans and 55 conference all-stars, while directing the Vikings to 14 NCAA II West Regional appearances, 20 20-win seasons and 23 post-season appearances.
In 2012-13, Dolfo's Vikings posted a 29-4 record and reached the NCAA Division II national semifinals. Her 1999-2000 squad that finished 27-4 also got to the semifinal round. In 1995-96, Dolfo directed Western to the NAIA Division I National Tournament quarterfinals and in 1997-98 to a first round national appearance.
Selected to the Vikings' all-time basketball team for the school's first 100 years, Dolfo was named Women's Basketball Coaches Association NCAA II West Region Coach of the Year in 2010, 2011 and 2013; GNAC Coach of the Year in 2002, 2006, 2011and 2013; Little All-Northwest Coach of the Year in 2000 and Pacific Northwest Athletic Conference (PNWAC) Coach of the Year in 1995 and 1996.
And she has done this while raising three children, two daughters and a son, with husband John Garrison.
"First and foremost, Carmen was really competitive and I think to be a good coach you have to have that," stated Goodrich. "There's no denying that Carmen does not want to be second best and that's good. Plus, she understands that you have a responsibility to help your players grow as individuals, to make sure they graduate and are good citizens."
1985-86 WWU women's basketball team - (L-R) Lynda Dart, Donnie Wada, Donna Monette, Carmen Dolfo, Kelli Kuiken, Anne Cooper, Allison Giles, Kris Keltner, Anya Aardahl, Shelly Bruns, Mary Reifel
By Paul Madison who served 48 years as sports information director at WWU from 1966 to 2015