At least six players, including most of the starters, have quit the volleyball team following allegation of verbal and emotional abuse that have been levied at new head coach Josh Davis.
Davis has been quoted by players describing them and the team as “an embarrassment,” “pathetic” and “stupid.”
“He was never in our corner,” senior education major Taylor Petersen said about Davis.
Petersen was in her third season playing as a middle blocker for Linfield volleyball when she chose to walk away from the team due to the behavior of Davis.
Petersen had a strong relationship with the previous coach, Shane Kimura, who she knew on and off the court. Kimura had been involved with Linfield volleyball for 40 years when he retired last year.
Petersen did not get a chance to meet with Davis during the selection process or when he initially met with the team last year due to her being at the funeral of a family member.
Petersen said she reached out to Davis this summer because she wanted to meet with him and eventually did before tryouts occured. She said that she was really excited for Davis to take charge and believed he would lead the team in a positive direction.
At first everything was normal—then the conference rankings came out.
This led to a distinct shift in Davis’ behavior.
Davis began doing what Petersen described as verbal and emotional abuse and bullying. Davis started telling the players that he did not expect them to do well this season and that he was planning on recruiting 15-20 new players that were better than the current team to replace them. He told the current team not to get comfortable with being able to play during games.
Volleyball is a mental game. It is all about momentum. Petersen said that the negativity and lack of respect coming from Davis messed with the team’s ability to play well together.
Then came the outbursts.
Petersen described incidents where Davis would aggressively yell at players from across the court. His screams were so loud, parents in the stands could make out his derogatory and demeaning comments.
In one instance earlier this season during a scrimmage against Lewis & Clark, a few players had a hard time running a drill. Davis yelled at them while they were on the court.
Most of these outbursts were limited to just in front of the team, but some occurred in front of the assistant coaches.
“None of us could walk out with our heads held high because we felt like we played like s**t and then we would look at the stats and we had played fine,” Petersen said about the incidents. “You would leave and you would just be sweating and you felt so terrible about yourself.”
Petersen clarified that a coach punishing poor playing by having them run laps is fine, but Davis went beyond that. She said Davis’ actions negatively impacted the overall team demeanor. There was general trash talking and little, pessimistic side comments were made by the coach aimed at the team.
Davis implemented something he called cauldron points to encourage the team to play better during practice. These points determined who would start a game. During practice, players would break into groups and run a drill that would be scored. Overall points were distributed to the entire group, which the team saw as unfair. When members of the team respectfully voiced their concerns to Davis about this particular issue, he called the conversations as “hissy fits.”
When Petersen realized that she needed to do something about the situation, she first contacted the assistant director of athletics and NCAA compliance officer Amy Dames Smith. Petersen said Smith implemented some of the things they talked about to improve the situation.
However, following other players reporting Davis, Petersen said that no one from the Linfield administration appeared to monitor practices or games.
Davis and Petersen got in an altercation following a Saturday match against Pacific. After the game, Petersen tried to enter the team room and was kicked out by Davis in front of the entire team. She was forced to wait in the hall, confused as to why she was being punished. Petersen said that Davis had done things like this before in an effort she describes as intention to humiliate a player.
Following the team meeting, Petersen approached Davis to get an explanation for the shunning. That is when the screaming began. It escalated to the point where Davis was shoving his finger in Petersen’s face and screaming at her.
When Petersen finally was able to enter the team room she saw that Davis had yelled at and intimidated the rest of the team so much that many other players had been crying as well.
Petersen said that at that point she realized she had to do what was right, even if it meant she would face retaliation.
Parents of the Linfield volleyball team emailed their concerns to director of athletics Garry Killgore and Susan Hopp, the vice president of student affairs and athletics as well as the title IX coordinator.
Killgore then initiated a series of meetings with the volleyball players to give them a chance for their voice to be heard. He met with individual girls and groups. Some of these meetings were informally held on the soccer field and other times they met in his office.
Killgore reportedly apologized to the players he met with for what they had to deal with.
Petersen said she appreciated the time Killgore was taking to try and amend the situation but said that the appropriate things were simply not being done. Petersen said she believe the school is lacking when it comes to protecting student athletes by the fact that Davis is still a Linfield coach. She said that she does not agree with Killgore’s mission to turn this negative situation into a positive one. Petersen said that Killgore’s plan to rectify the situation never actually came into play.
Earlier this month Davis took a break from coaching the team and Shane Kimura returned to his former position as interim. Several players described this as Davis’ suspension, directly related to his actions. However, Linfield claims it was a medical leave for a personal issue.
Upon his return, Davis held a meeting with the team where he apologized on two separate occasions for how the team interpreted his actions. Petersen said he did not apologize for his actions, and the statement came off as something akin to victim blaming.
Petersen made it clear that her decision to leave the team had nothing to do with her teammates. She walked away because she could not play for someone she did not respect.
“It was hard. One of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make,” Petersen said about leaving the team.
Linfield’s statement was made by director of communications and marketing Scott Nelson and is as follows:
“We were made aware of concerns by some players in mid-September, and have been actively working with our student-athletes ever since. Because of privacy restrictions of both employees and students, we’re limited in the details we can share. But the coaching staff and the administration have met multiple times with our student-athletes, both individually and as a group. We have invited open communication and will continue to be proactive in addressing any concerns.”
“Changing coaches and coaching style, in any sport, often involves a growth process for both players and the coach. Linfield will continue to communicate openly with everyone involved in this transition, and is confident the result will be a successful on-court team and a positive and supportive learning environment for student-athletes.”
Volleyball has four more weeks left of their 2018 season.
Both Coach Davis and Susan Hopp were contacted for a response, Davis denied to comment and Hopp has not yet responded.