Tortolani '98 stars on hardwood and diamond

by Marjorie Thurlow | 7/19/96 5:00am

Bess Tortolani '98 is very offensive when it comes to sports.

This spring, she led the Big Green women's softball team with four triples, three home runs, 23 runs batted in, a slugging percentage of .505, and a batting average of .297. It's no wonder that she was named honorable mention All-Ivy last May. But Tortolani's skills don't end with the crack of a bat.

Tortolani can shoot hoops with the best of them as well. The versatile Big Green shooting guard and occasional post player was named second team All Ivy last year, averaging 8.4 points and 3.1 boards per game. In one of her best games last season, she scored 22 points, drained four three-pointers and snatched six rebounds versus Brown.

Of course, this two-sport star did not become a sports goddess overnight. At the tender age of five, Tortolani gave boys a run for their money, slugging it out in Little League baseball. And in the fifth grade, she began to pick up her fancy net work when the parish youth basketball team needed a few extra players.

Since then, practice and persistence has paid off. Tortolani, a four-year starter at Ursiline High School in Harrison, New York, led her team an undefeated 25-0 mark her senior year.

Her team won both the federation and state titles that year, and she took home the Most Valuable Player Award for each of those tournaments. Along with being named to the Daily News all-star softball team her sophomore year in high school, the New York State Championships during her senior year still ranks as her greatest sports accomplishment.

But Tortolani maintains a modest view despite her accolades, and she has always been a team player. According to Tortolani, she may have been practically born playing softball, but basketball is her first love simply because it "is more of a team sport."

"I guess I like to be the leader, and my leadership qualities are very helpful, but I do need to learn how to talk to each of my teammates differently because each one responds differently to the way I speak," she said.

The camaraderie and friendships within teams are what Tortolani treasures most at Dartmouth.

"With both teams, road trips are always a blast unless it involves the bus breaking down or having to stop at some random spot because of a snow storm. Road trips are always my favorite part it's a good time for team bonding," she said.

All fun aside, Tortolani contends that this past year was particularly rough for both sports. In basketball, "we lost [captain] Jen Stamp [to injury]. That was a huge disappointment, and we lost a couple of close games that would have been nice to grab."

Tortolani expects brighter things on the court in the future. "We overcame a lot this past year we had a young team that did a great job. Our biggest challenge will be putting everything together so that we can win Ivies this year."

Tortolani is also upbeat about women's softball, which this year underwent some growing pains in their first-ever season with full varsity status, compiling a less-than-stellar 6-34 record.

"Each team offers something completely different," Tortolani said. "Softball was very different because everything was new. I think the biggest challenge was trying to keep everyone's head up after we'd lose... again. [It] left a lot of room for improvement, so that is a good thing... I learned a lot."

Tortolani, a shortstop and outfielder by trade, drew high marks from her skipper, women's softball Head Coach Steffany Bender.

"The competitive experience she brought from the basketball court was invaluable," Bender said. "It's never easy to compete in two sports at the division one level, and it's even more difficult to participate in a winter-spring sport combination."

"Bess handled this challenge very well. She has the potential to be an outstanding softball player within the Ivy League," Bender said.

Balancing sports with academics is another challenge Tortolani tackles head on.

"My schedule is hectic, but I guess I like it that way. If I didn't have softball to keep me busy in the spring I'd miss it. I would never give up basketball because it is by far my favorite sport," Tortolani said.

Surprisingly, dedicating all this time to sports has actually helped Tortolani, a psychology major, concentrate more on her studies. "Each term my grades have improved, so I guess I've learned how to deal with my schedule so that I can fit everything in and still enjoy myself."

"In high school I needed the sports for my academics because it forced me to do my work during my free time because I didn't have a lot of free time. In college it is a lot harder to balance everything out, but my coaches in both sports are very understanding, and they make sure that academics come before athletics."

Perhaps it's a good thing that Tortolani has a little time this summer to kick back and relax, if you can call it that. She is playing on the Empire State basketball team just for the fun of it. She is also passing on her love for basketball to three through twelve year-old's in an instructional camp this summer.

Meanwhile, the Big Green faithful eagerly await her return to the hardwood floors and manicured diamonds of Dartmouth College. Tortolani's friend and fellow athlete, Sarah Wilkinson '98 said, "Along with everything else, she's an excellent athlete whom everyone should watch play at some point in her time at Dartmouth."

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