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Dartmouth Grad Otley Turns CVU Girls Into Powerhouse

  • CVU head coach Ute Otley talks to the team after the game during the girls basketball game between the Rice Green Knights and the Champlain Valley Union Redhawks at CVU High School on Monday night December 14, 2015 in Hinesburg, Vt. (Burlington Free Press - Brian Jenkins)

  • CVU coach Ute Otley celebrates the Red Hawks' victory over BFA in the Division 1 high school girls basketball state championship in Burlington, Vt., on Tuesday, March 8, 2016. (Burlington Free Press - Glenn Russell)



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Ute Bowman Otley laughs about it now, thinking back on how things could have gone differently. Believe it or not, she said, her decision to go to Dartmouth College came down to pronunciation.

Now the girls basketball coach at Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinseburg, Vt., Otley remembers sitting on the couch in her Valparaiso, Ind., home as a high school senior, sorting through letters from university athletic programs across the country, each inviting the northern Indiana standout to play college basketball.

Her leg was in a cast, recovering from an ACL tear she had suffered at a statewide basketball showcase. As she examined each letter, one of them stood out to her, albeit for the wrong reason.

“Where the heck is Dart-Mouth?” Otley asked, pronouncing each syllable separately. “New Hampshire?”

From Indiana, she said, the East Coast seemed like a different planet.

“My mom went and looked it up in the college directory,” Otley said in a phone interview last week. “She said, ‘That’s an Ivy League school.’ I sort of just rolled my eyes.”

One visit to Hanover, however, and she was hooked.

Today, Otley has established herself and the CVU girls basketball program as a force with which to be reckoned , shattering Vermont high school records along the way. The Redhawks have won four straight VPA Division I state titles on the backs of four straight undefeated seasons — a combined record 95-0 dating back to 2012 and shattering Oxbow High’s previous mark of 75 straight victories from 1984-88. (The Williamstown High girls ran off 107 consecutive wins from 1947-1956 before the Vermont Principals Association began hosting state tournaments, according to the Burlington Free Press.)

CVU’s last loss occurred in the midst of the Obama-Romney presidential race.

Nearly half a decade of perfection seemed like a wild fantasy four years ago, particularly during an end-of-the-year dinner to celebrate CVU’s first undefeated season, in 2012-13. Parents sitting at Otley’s table joked about the Redhawks going undefeated for four consecutive seasons with its talented, yet inexperienced, group of freshmen. They did it once, the parents said; surely they could do it again.

“I think, looking back on it now, we can sort of fully appreciate the magnitude of an achievement like that,” said Otley, who has taught social studies at CVU for eight years and coached the Redhawks for the past five. “This group of seniors never once felt the sting of defeat.”

Otley said her talent for playing basketball was nurtured growing up in the Midwest, where basketball is treated less like a sport and more like a religion. It helped that both her mother and father were high school teachers and coaches, and her dad’s lifelong passion for basketball gave her an introduction to the sport and its strategies. But it was her time at Dartmouth that truly solidified her resolve.

Most of Otley’s coaching techniques, she admitted, are variations from former Big Green head coach Jacqueline Hullah’s arsenal.

“If you asked my college coach, she’d say there was no doubt I’d coach one day,” Otley said. “She was a master motivator. ... Knowing how to use your brains and really be smart about how you play basketball. I think that’s one of the things I took with me.”

Her decision to attend Dartmouth wouldn’t have been made had she not gone to see the school. Hanover was the first stop on her visits to the numerous universities vying for her talent.

“Dartmouth was what college was supposed to look like,” Otley said. “Every other school was ugly by comparison. The whole environment was so overwhelmingly gorgeous, so different from what I knew. When we went to visit other schools, I’d always say, ‘It’s not as pretty as Dartmouth.’ ”

But what stuck out to Otley most about Hanover was Hullah’s belief in her, that she’d fully recover from her devastating ACL tear and return to be the same player she had been in high school. Otley’s initial first choice, Notre Dame, backed off after she was injured. Hullah and the Dartmouth coaching staff were persistent.

“For them to convince my family that a Dartmouth education was worth going with all those scholarship offers was a pretty impressive sell,” Otley said. “I wouldn’t do it differently. … There’s no way to separate my college experience from my overall basketball experience. In four years, it completely shaped who I am. It changed my outlook on what was possible.”

Otley rewarded Dartmouth for its confidence, helping the Big Green earn four Ivy League championships between 1987-1990. She played 103 games and scored 811 points, ranks third all-time in assists with 399 and sixth in steals with 201. Otley earned her first coaching job at Jericho High School on Long Island, then spent five years just outside of Atlanta at Cherokee High before returning to New England and northern Vermont.

“One of the first things I did was set up reunion weekends with former players,” Otley said. “We meet pretty regularly now.”

Otley still catches at least a few Dartmouth women’s basketball games each year, keeping up with the program that solidified her love for the game. At least once a year, her CVU team travels to Hanover High to play a preseason scrimmage with Dan O’Rourke’s Marauders. Afterward, the two teams attend an early-season Dartmouth game. For Otley, it’s a crucial part of her team’s season, one she hopes helps her athletes to develop the same love for the game she developed at Dartmouth almost 30 years ago.

“I’m a big supporter of Belle (Koclanes) and what she’s doing,” Otley said of the current Dartmouth women’s basketball coach. “Watching Dartmouth go through its growing pains, it’s good to see the excitement that Belle and her staff has put into it. It’s a tough job. … I think Belle is doing a fantastic job getting Dartmouth back to the top of the Ivy League.”

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or at 603-727-3306.