Forward-thinking Gutowski leads hoops resurgence

By Kate Fratar

During the 2004–2005 season, women’s basketball took the league by storm under its new head coach Aaron Roussell. That same year, then third-year Susie Gutowski burst onto the court in full force to help spark the turnaround after giving Chicago a preview of her potential the previous season.

When Roussell took over the reigns of the squad just two weeks before the first game, Gutowski’s skills with a basketball quickly caught his eye. While her numbers were solid, her statistics from her first two years in Hyde Park didn’t match the talent that she showed on the floor during practice. The speedy and athletic six-foot power forward averaged 10.2 and 10.5 points per contest, while pulling down 3.6 and 4.4 rebounds. Roussell decided to give Gutowski a chance to develop her game and strut her stuff by giving her more minutes in the team’s new offense. Copying Wash U’s strategy of immediately sending players running down the court on a rebound, the Maroons started tearing things up in the paint and tapping into each player’s strengths.

“I felt like I was always trapped before and then I was allowed to be myself in the new offense,” Gutowski said. “We were used to listening and then doing, but Coach Roussell taught us how to think and how to play. We were able to think more like basketball players.”

The difference in mindset and statistics between Gutowski’s first two seasons with Chicago and her last two were as great as night and day. Getting comfortable with her position at the post, the veteran exploded for 14.4 and 12.0 points per game while wiping the glass for 8.0 and 5.9 averages to lead the team in both categories. Turning heads in the league and the division, Gutowski paced the UAA with her 10 double-doubles and finished the season with the ultimate honor, a spot on the All-American team.

“She probably had it the whole time, and it was just a confidence thing,” Roussell said. “I think she really realized her abilities, and now there’s probably not another player in the league like her.”

With her newfound assurance, the forward next tackled how to make her size work to her advantage in her new position. Gutowski arrived in the South Side after four years of training as a guard in high school and ready to continue moving the ball up and down the floor. Two weeks into her first season, then head coach Jennifer Kroll told Gutowski that she would see more action if she split her time in the paint and in the backcourt.

“I was a forward when I first started playing because I swear I was born 5-foot-8 and I was so tall that they had to do that,” Gutowski said. “Then I was a guard through all of high school and the first two weeks here. Pretty soon I was just a forward, which I didn’t really like because I’m greatly undersized compared to the other girls. But it started to grow on me and I wouldn’t have it any other way my second or third year.”

Going up against guards with 30 to 40 pounds on her, Gutowski took plenty of hard knocks and fouls. But that wasn’t enough to stop the light and swift forward from pushing past defenses on her way to recording 1,179 career points and leaving her mark in the Maroons’ record books. Gutowski leaves Chicago ranked third in the category after turning her potential weakness into a great strength.

“If I had to play against a guard similar to me it wouldn’t be quite so easy to drive right past them because they’re able to stay with you,” Gutowski said.

The forward provided the squad with more than just the points it needed to put up back-to-back winning seasons. Her quickness up and down the court and ability to get things done away from the hoop allowed the rest of the team to make full use of its speed, too.

A fierce competitor for opponents but a fun teammate, Gutowski helped keep the team relaxed by lightening the mood in the locker room. Her comic relief efforts ranged from slipping in smart remarks to sporting wacky socks to practice.

Although she played the clown at times, Gutowski took her role of representing the Maroons very seriously. The veteran considered it part of her responsibility of wearing a Chicago uniform to fight the stereotype on campus that athletes can’t hold their own in the classroom.

“Everyone thinks that we just get in, but there’re no scholarships. If you’re not good enough, then they won’t let you in. I felt it was really important to be a great student and be a great athlete, and I think our whole senior class has that attitude,” Gutowski said. “I found that basketball helped me to do better in school. My GPA is best in fall and winter quarters because it’s really easy to get on a schedule. If I didn’t have basketball, I probably wouldn’t have been as good a student.”

The Law, Letters, and Society major had attacked the college search with a lookout for a school where she could possibly have a starting spot on its squad. She had not heard of the University of Chicago until she opened a recruitment letter for her sport.

“If basketball hadn’t found me here, I don’t know what I would’ve done,” Gutowski said. “I’d probably be at Brandeis right now.”

Although she will leave Hyde Park with her diploma in just a few short weeks, Gutowski plans to keep an eye on the basketball program that the 2004–2005 team helped turn into one of the toughest league competitors.

“I don’t know what will happen in the next couple of years with the program,” Gutowski said. “I hope that it continues to grow, and I think that it will. It was just really exciting to be part of that class and be older and a leader on that team.”