Local Volleyball Star Derek Otte
Locally produced volleyball talent Derek Otte, 22, may not have accomplished all he hoped for while playing multiple positions for Santa Monica College during the Corsairs' recent conference championship indoor volleyball season, but that won't stop his aspirations for far greater achievements on the court.
With an interest launched in the sport over a decade ago when Otte fetched balls while watching his sister Luzanne play in volleyball tournaments, Derek began team play of his own at 11 years of age, in Pacific Palisades where he has been a lifelong resident. "He followed me around like a little puppy dog," said a clearly proud Luzanne. "I taught him everything he knows."
His first couple years in the sport, Otte played as a setter on the small Pacific Palisades club, where he developed setting skills that would pay off in his development as an all-around player. Following a growth spurt in the eighth grade when he reached six foot one inches tall, Otte became more of a hitter. "I got to stop setting after that," he said.
To pursue his dream of excellence, Otte enrolled at the private, all-boys Jesuit-run Loyola High School near downtown Los Angeles. "Some of the other guys from Pacific Palisades went to Loyola where it's known for volleyball as well as being a really good school," said Otte.
Playing for both Loyola and in the off-season for the Los Angeles Athletic Club, Otte had high ambitions to improve his game. At 14 years of age, he moved up from the "14 & unders" to the "17 & unders" in order to compete against a higher caliber of player. "I wanted to make the varsity team as a freshman, which is what I did at Loyola," he said.
Along with excelling in his high school volleyball program, Otte continued club play throughout that time. He was selected to be part of the USA High Performance team in 1999, when the squad trained at Colorado Springs, Colo. As a sophomore and junior, he moved up to train in Lake Placid, N.Y., with the USA Youth National Team where he was one of the "kill" leaders on the team. 2001 also marked his initial selection to the all-CIF first team in 2001 as a junior.
Additionally, in the years 1999, 2000 and 2002, Otte competed in the Junior Olympics where he was awarded All-Tournament honors all three years.
As a six-foot-four senior at Loyola, Otte dominated play for his team as he garnered Mission League MVP honors and another selection to the all-CIF first team. After his senior year, even though selected to the Junior National Team, Otte decided to sit out club play that summer as he attended to some personal matters and joined his family on a trip to Europe.
Adding to his concern was the fact that his sister had suffered serious injuries to both shoulders that effectively ended her own career in the sport. Derek decided a little time off would not hurt.
That fall, Otte's journey through the sport hit a bump as he found the coach with whom he had signed a "letter of intent," at the University of Southern California, had been fired and replaced by an assistant. Unfortunately, feeling no chemistry with the replacement coach and sensing little team cohesiveness, Otte found himself quickly losing interest in the college experience.
Though he finally started the last five games at his preferred right-side hitter position and was offered a full-ride for his following sophomore year (after receiving a 50 percent scholarship as a freshman), Otte found his heart was just not into playing for USC and he stopped attending in the fall of 2003. Meanwhile, Otte had not lost interest in volleyball and heard some good things about SMC and its head coach Mark Lee.
After a favorable impression of the Corsairs' program, Otte decided to red-shirt at SMC and began to practice with the team last spring and summer as he worked to re-establish his eligibility by raising a G.P.A. that had suffered during his time at USC.
Coming into this past season, co-captain Otte and the squad had high hopes of securing a long-elusive state championship. Otte was the squad's dominant performer during the season and was often identified by opposing teams as the go-to guy.
With only seven to eight players available at times and a shuffling of the squad throughout the season, the Corsairs came up short as they were eliminated from the playoffs in a complicated tie-breaking formula, even though they shared conference championship honors.
As the semester ends, Otte looks to the future and the possibility of transferring to Malibu's Pepperdine University, which recently won its fifth NCAA men's volleyball championship by beating UCLA, on May 7, at Pauley Pavilion.
Referring to Pepperdine Head Coach Mark Dunphy, Otte said, "I think he's one of the best coaches in all of volleyball. That's his reputation and general consensus in the volleyball community."
With a single-mindedness that keeps him constantly raising his own level of play, Otte dreams of NCAA titles, a future spot on the U.S. Olympic Volleyball Team and a professional career in the sport.