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Put me in, Coach
A new era at UVM Athletics


New Athletic Director Bob Corran’s first official act was signing a contract for the men’s basketball team to play UCLA in Los Angeles. Though Corran doesn’t take credit for scheduling the ambitious game, the action seemed fitting given his desire to take UVM athletics to a higher plateau, or as he likes to put it, to bring it up to par with the University’s high academic standards.

Corran, 53, fresh from a six-year stint as athletic director at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, says the goal of putting athletics on the same pedestal as academics at UVM, typically ranked in the top 50 among public universities, is well within reach.

“It will be a challenge,” says Corran, who was born in Northern Ireland and raised in Hamilton, Ontario. “It is a process where you can see the obstacles and the end point. The table is being set here in a way that, with some hard work, those obstacles can be removed.”

By the time Corran and his wife, Libby, who have two sons, moved to Vermont for his first day of work on June 16, UVM was in need of head coaches for men’s hockey, women’s basketball, skiing, and track and field/cross-country. In many regards, who Corran hired would be an early indication of the types of individuals he felt had the qualities to take the athletic program to the next level. It would also shed light on how he defined “athletic success.”

Clearly, the wins and losses on the resumes would matter, but they didn’t seem to be the key deciding factor, as Corran and the search committees passed on candidates with more impressive records and deeper head coaching experience. Corran says that measuring athletic success is as difficult as hiring the people you think can achieve it.

“Any hiring is subjective,” Corran says. “No matter how hard you try to be objective it gets down to a feeling, who you feel most strongly about. Certainly the general public will be more black-and-white about it, measuring it more by wins and losses, and that’s a priority for us too, but we’re focusing more on the process of preparing teams to win as opposed to focusing on winning specific games. If all these things are working, wins will be one of the outcomes.”

Corran, who helped build the foundation for three consecutive Division I national championships by Minnesota-Duluth’s women’s hockey team, says all the new coaches are committed to making their athletes better people on and off the playing field.

“They have to have solid values that fit with educational sport,” Corran says. “They have to be committed to serving people. That’s what we do. We serve others. If you don’t come with that kind of value base, you may be successful short term, but you’re not going to be a good person within the department. That service has to extend beyond your own narrow focus.”

Marketing, event management, and the improvement of athletic facilities are three areas Corran says UVM must improve on to join the upper echelon of Division I sports. “There are some inherent advantages at this institution that haven’t been taken full advantage of,” he says. But with a proud tradition and history in athletics, strong academics, and committed leadership, Corran adds that UVM is in a position to seize the “opportunity to grow the program in positive ways.”

Kevin Sneddon, Men's Hockey
Next Best Thing To Playing

Kevin Sneddon would like nothing better than to have his UVM players experience what he experienced as a freshman starter for Harvard during the 1988-89 season — winning a national championship. But before the 33-year-old Burlington, Ontario native starts talking about taking the Catamounts back to the Frozen Four for the first time since 1996, he’d like to work on making Vermont an ECAC contender again.

To make that happen, Vermont’s fourth coach in 40 years plans to add as many blue chip recruits as possible and help his current players get even better.

“UVM is one of the best programs in the country, so in respect to recruiting, we should be involved with the best players in the country,” Sneddon says. “Players of that caliber want to win national championships, so before we can recruit them, we’ve got to prove to prospects that we can win.”

Sneddon had Union College, where he was an assistant coach for four years before becoming head coach in 1998, on an upward track. Union increased its win total in each of Sneddon’s five seasons heading up the program and last year he led the Dutchmen to their first-ever ECAC home-ice playoff series. That’s an especially notable achievement, given that Union does not offer athletic scholarships for hockey.

Sneddon sounds confident he can bring Catamount hockey up to a winning record and beyond. In fact, he says he expects to turn UVM into one of the truly elite programs in the nation, and he’s looking forward to the pressure that will undoubtedly come with it.

“If you don’t feel any pressure, then maybe you shouldn’t be in these shoes,” Sneddon says. “I enjoy the pressures that come with coaching. It’s the next best thing to playing.”

Sharon Dawley, Women's Basketball
Beyond The First Round

Sharon Dawley is haunted by the memory of a dream nearly realized. Vermont’s new women’s basketball coach worked for 10 years as a Dartmouth assistant coach with the goal of getting the Ivy League squad past the first round of the NCAA tournament. On three occasions, the Big Green made it to the Big Dance, but were eliminated in their first game.

Sitting in her new office at Patrick Gym, Dawley rattles off the painful losses: “Virginia by 3, Rutgers by 12, and Purdue by 4.”

Just making the tournament is a considerable achievement, but after a few trips, coaches, players, and fans start dreaming about a little more. Dawley’s NCAA experience is one that her UVM coaching predecessors can identify with. That next step looms as a goal for the Catamounts, too.

Dawley hit the ground running this summer with recruiting, hoping to broaden the program’s geographic reach and going after some of the nation’s top players.

“No matter where you are it’s a hard sell when you’re competing against 10 other schools for a top player,” Dawley says. “We’re involved with some top 100 level players, but we’re also recruiting a lot of second tier ones. You don’t want to go after just the highest level players, then end up not getting anyone.”

Before Catamount fans start fantasizing about beating the UConns of the world, Dawley warns that UVM would be better served to work on conquering the constantly improving America East. “Becoming a top 25 team may not be a realistic goal,” Dawley says. “We’d like to win the America East title and go to the NCAA tournament. But with B.U. and Maine getting better each year, it will be challenging.”

Bill Reichelt, Skiing
Staying On Top

Following in the tracks of a legend is never easy, but Bill Reichelt has a pretty good idea how he plans to succeed Chip LaCasse, who stepped down at the end of last season after 33 years leading UVM skiing.

“Skiing has had tremendous success here,” says Reichelt. “I’d like to not only maintain it, but take it to the next level. It may take awhile but I won’t be satisfied unless we keep progressing and evolving to stay on top.”

Reichelt, a Stowe native who has served as men’s alpine coach for the past two seasons, says LaCasse built the program into a national power by staying on top of trends and training methods. He plans to do the same.

“I’m going to try some different things, especially with our training,” says Reichelt. “I’ve got a lot of new ideas that won’t always work, but I want to be innovative in our approach.”
Reichelt has his work cut out for him with three members of UVM’s NCAA runner-up team having moved on.

But Reichelt has already landed two of the top prep skiers in the nation, and hopes to bring in some additional recruits. With a number of high-quality returnees forming the foundation of the team, Reichelt is hoping to have the Catamounts primed by the time the 2005 NCAA Ski Championships roll around, which will likely be held on home snow at Mt. Mansfield and the Trapp Family Lodge Cross-Country Ski Center.

Reichelt says keeping the coaching staff intact has been crucial not only in the area of recruiting, but overall morale of the team. Allan Serrano will remain as head Nordic coach and Erica MacConnell ’01 as assistant alpine coach. In addition, longtime volunteer assistant coach Fred Fayette ’69 continues with the Catamount ski program.

Matt Belfield, Cross-Country / Women's Track And Field
Winning The Right Way

Matt Belfield represents the last of the four coaches hired by Bob Corran within the first 53 days of his tenure. Not surprisingly, the former Ithaca College coach fits the profile of the previous three to a tee: Young (35); successful as an athlete (six-time all-conference high jumper) and coach (conference coach of the year five times while leading the Bombers to three straight conference outdoor track titles); and hungry (with plans to take the program to the next level).

Belfield, whose wife Bonnie Yuen was an assistant track coach at UVM in the mid 1990s under longtime coach Ed Kusiak, who retired in June after 34 years, says he’ll work hard to convince local talent to stay close to home.

In order for Belfield and his wife, who will be one of his assistants along with current assistant Joe Gingras ’99, to take the program to perennial New England contender status, convincing the Green Mountain State’s best to remain in Vermont, as well as attracting top out-of-staters, will be imperative. Only five homegrown Vermonters have qualified for the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships — the nation’s only true high school national championship — and all of them chose schools other than UVM for varying reasons.

“It would be tough to attract kids of that level right now,” Belfield says. “You have to demonstrate to high profile recruits that they can get better here. But UVM has a lot to offer student-athletes. I’ve never wanted to be at a place that didn’t put academics first and UVM definitely does that. You always want to win and do it the right way and I think that’s going to happen at UVM with many of its athletic programs.”