CVU girls coach headed to college coaching ranks

(This story has been corrected to add Maeve Higgins to the list of Charlotte players who contributed to Champlain Valley Union High’s record-breaking win streak.)

Ute Otley had played basketball most of her childhood, but it was the summer between seventh and eighth grade when she realized this game was something special.

Otley said she had been nagging her father relentlessly. When she finally convinced him to put up a basketball goal in their yard, her father didn’t accept the task halfheartedly. Rather than just slapping up a leftover piece of plywood for a backboard, Otley’s dad “went all out,” she said.

He put a basketball court with a glass backboard and an almost full half-court. It became a big draw for kids, and they played all the time.

Photos by Scooter MacMillan This was CVU coach Ute Otley’s first outright state title since a streak of five championships in a row ended in 2017.
Photo by Scooter MacMillan.
Coach Ute Otley celebrates her team’s state basketball title in 2023.

That summer, as she was becoming a full-fledged teenager, Otley decided that basketball was the thing that she wanted to be the best at.

That decision stuck.

After coaching girls basketball at Champlain Valley High, Otley is leaving to take the job as head coach at Norwich University.

In her 13 years as the head coach of the Redhawks, she can make a pretty strong claim of achieving her goal of being the best. Her teams have played in the state championship 10 times and won the title seven times.

This year, the CVU girls repeated as state champions, beating cross-state rivals St. Johnsbury for the title for a second time.

She leaves Champlain Valley reluctantly, but realized when the offer came that it was now or never. Otley said she will continue to live in Charlotte.

“It was a really hard decision to come to grips with the idea of leaving CVU and leaving my high school team. That was the hardest part.” Otley said. “Once I separated that from the question: ‘Do you have the desire to be a college coach before you call it a career?’ And the answer was yes.

“The opportunity to jump straight from being a high school to head coach of a college team doesn’t come around very often.”

On top of that she knew and really trusted Norwich’s athletic director Ed Hockenbury, who was the athletic director at Essex High, when she first started at CVU. She respects Hockenbury as someone whose vision for athletics matches her own.

“All the pieces really felt like they just came together,” said Otley.

During her tenure, Champlain Valley had a 268-17 won-loss record, a 95-percent winning record. She has been named Vermont Coach of the Year six times.

From 2012-2016, CVU’s girls team won 96 games in a row, which is the Vermont record for a girls basketball winning streak. According to MaxPreps, it is 39th longest winning streak in the history of girls high school hoops in the United States.

After she and her family moved to Vermont she coached the Charlotte Central School middle school team. When her daughter Sadie entered third grade, she started coaching with the Charlotte Recreation Department.

She also coached her two sons all the way through youth league basketball.

By the time Sadie got to high school, Otley was CVU’s basketball coach.

She had a core group of basketball players who she had been coaching since second grade. Nurturing those girls’ hoops talent and commitment to the game paid off.

Sadie Otley, Laurel Jaunich, Annabella Pugliese, Madison Randall, Maeve Higgins and Emma Hess of Charlotte were part of the team that ran up the remarkable win streak. They never lost a game.

Ute Otley said winning their first state championship with this group was a memorable moment, but when the team won their fourth state championship, it was something else.

“When we went four straight seasons undefeated, that felt like an incredible accomplishment and an incredible sense of relief because I knew that that was my daughter’s class who was graduating that year, and I knew how important it was to them to finish what they started,” Otley said.

“None of those girls lost a single basketball game at any level. The JV teams went undefeated and the varsity teams went undefeated the whole time. It was crazy.”

Former school board member and mother of Laurel, Lynne Jaunich said the four years of undefeated seasons were a “multi-generational family affair” with parents, grand-parents and siblings supporting the team.

Otley’s players learned real-life lessons that carried beyond the basketball court like sportsmanship, effort, resilience and teamwork.

“They learned the importance of team and teammate over self,” Jaunich said. “Going undefeated was a bonus.”

In her 13 years as head coach of the Redhawks, her team only missed the final four once. That lone year of not making the semi-finals was during the COVID-shortened season when the CVU girls basketball team finished 9-0 before play was halted.

Otley followed her middle-school basketball dreams to Valparaiso High in Indiana, where she was named to the all-state first team as a senior. In 2011, she was named to the Indiana Hall of Fame’s Silver Anniversary Team.

Transitioning from a high school scoring guard, she played point guard at Dartmouth College. During her time there, the school won four Ivy League championships.

Before coming to Vermont, Otley was head coach at high schools on Long Island and north of Atlanta.

Besides coaching, she has taught social studies at Champlain Valley High, but at Norwich University her duties will be confined to coaching. Otley said after 30 years of teaching, she’s looking forward to being done with grading papers.

“I am looking forward to being able to give basketball my full-time attention,” she said.