Corvallis, Ore. -- Several former Oregon State volleyball players are publicly disputing the details of a July 30 report from the Associated Press alleging a culture of abuse fostered by head coach Mark Barnard.
KEZI 9 News spoke with five former Beaver players, two of whom played last fall for OSU, as well as several others with close ties to the program. They believe that certain events within the report were either mischaracterized, missed important context or were outright false. Others, including four Oregon State players on the active 2020 roster along with multiple former players, including two that transferred out of the program, have taken to social media to voice their support for Barnard specifically.
"I felt betrayed by the comments against him, confused by the accusations leveled at him, and compelled to speak up - not just for him, but for the rest of us who see things differently and can't even relate to the person he's been made to be," said rising senior Maddie Goings in a statement on Instagram.
Some former student-athletes that spoke to KEZI disagreed with a particular insinuation within the article that an athlete who told her teammates she had a plan to hang herself in the locker room had anything to do with the actions of Barnard, the coaching staff, or Oregon State volleyball.
"With that situation, when that player talked to us and the team about that, she made it very clear that she had these issues since she was a young girl, " said one source who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity and who was on the team at the time of the event. "The fact that someone, other than her especially, would ever try to pin it on Mark is completely inaccuracte."
Oregon State University spokesman Steve Clark, in the inital AP report, disputed that assertion that a toxic environment drove players to contemplate suicide.
"We dispute the accuracy of the allegation and so the University is not in a position of interest to say this is good reporting or bad reporting," Clark told KEZI on Friday. "We are just saying there are false statements that are being reported."
Others, who did say that practices were hard, or even had misgivings about other members on staff, said that they never felt like Barnard had deliberately put them in physical danger.
"I never saw anything that was to demean a player, to bully a player, or anything like that," explained Kayla Ellis, who played for the team between 2015 and 2018. "I think Mark actually did a really good job of pushing us to a boundary but not going over that boundary. As an athlete, you need to get pushed outside of that comfort zone but it's not going over that edge. I never felt my health was at risk in any of our practices, any of our workouts or anything like that."
Barnard has been a part of Oregon State volleyball for over 15 years and was promoted to head coach in 2016 after Terry Liskevych retired. Prior to his hiring, he had spent 11 years as an assistant coach and associate head coach in Corvallis. From 1997-2000, Barnard was an assistant coach for the Australian Olympic Team and spent the 2015 and 2016 offseasons as the head coach of the Australian Women's National Team.
Some aspects of the report, however, were confirmed by some former student-athletes that were present for certain events. A preseason team meeting involving Marianne Vydra, Oregon State Deputy Athletics Director for Administration, was reported extensively within the AP report but some student-athletes who were a part of the meeting dispute the context. Some sources say the complaints being directed toward Vydra had less to do with allegations of misconduct and more with misgivings over playing time and personnel decisions.
Two sources confirmed that Barnard did indeed say "there should be no communication with Marianne about anything going on with this team unless I am physically assaulting someone," but say that it was mentioned within the context of urging people to not go to Vydra with issues that didn't have to do with misconduct concerns.
"Mark was trying exaggerate the point that we should not be going to Marianne about playing time concerns or conflicts among teammates," said Kory Cheshire, who was a team captain during the 2018 and 2019 seasons and was voted by her teammates the squad Weight Room Warrior award in 2019. "Mark was very straight to the point and we went on with the meeting and discussed how we would be moving forward with the week in practice and with scouting etc."
"As a captain, it comes to taking things to Marianne and protecting my teammates when I was there. If I had heard anything that was related to Mark being abusive, I would be responsible for going to Marianne myself and telling her that. Most of the things that were being brought to Marianne, it seemed as though there was a vendetta against Mark and it had to do with playing time."
Several student-athletes also discussed in great detail the allegations of coaches pushing players past the thresholds of what they could physically do, specifically as it pertained to players 'jump counts' and the trackers that athletes wore.
"We had this black clip - we still do - that clips to the back of our spandex," explained Katelyn Driscoll, who played under both Terry Liskevych and Barnard. "It's a little monitor that's *this* big and you put it on and it just is able to trace how many jumps we do in a practice or a game, how our vertical is affected by the amount of times we jump in a practice or a game. And as a player myself who suffered two knee injuries, I was pretty much always monitored on jumps whether it was through this little clip or whether it was through my athletic trainers."
Driscoll graduated from Oregon State in 2016 but did intermittently train with the team in the offseason of 2017, and returned every summer as a guest coach at Beaver summer camps. During her time at OSU, she dealt with a litany of injuries but says she never felt pressured by the coaching staff to rush her recovery.
"I've spent countless amount of hours in rehab and in extra practices and in working on getting better and not one time where I've voiced my concern where 'hey Mark, my knee is bothering me a little, it's getting inflamed', not once would he ever make me push past what I could and it was heavily monitored by the athletic trainers too."
Other sources also said that while players would actively push themselves as competitors through injuries to get back into the games, they said that it was never mandated or even inferred by the coaching staff. Cheshire was another player who dealt with injuries during her career as well and said she never felt pressured by the staff to rush to return.
"It's monitored by our athletic trainer. She medically evaulates us before practice, we discuss with her how we're feeling. She sets the number of jumps, it's tracked on our iPad. Mark is able to see the iPad, I personally was able to see the iPad, all players had access to the iPad and could track their own jumps. And once we reached a number, our athletic trainer would inform Mark and the other coaches and move to a position in which they didn't jump or would just be done practicing."
Several former student-athletes did detail difficult practices but said they never rose to the level of abuse or over the top. A drill outlined within the AP report referenced what one player colloquialy called "coach on ones". Sources described it to KEZI as drills in which the coaches would individually work with one player in full view of teammates to correct a specific aspect of the game. Every player KEZI talked to said they had experienced a "coach-on-one" at some point during their career and never categorized it as a berating or isolating experience.
"I can remember one instance that I was put in. It was when I had to hit a certain zone and I personally kept messing up and so we kept going and I had the whole support of my team," said Driscoll. "Like 'you got this' 'you got this'. Of course my legs are tired from jumping and trying to hit this zone. But it was my own personal thing. If I got to a point, which I didn't in that drill because I ended up completing it, but if I got to a point where I could no longer jump or I could no longer do that, I have full confidence that the coaches would have stopped the drill, pulled me, let me rest, redone it, or helped me figure out how to hit that shot in a different scenario."
Team captains would often meet with Barnard and the staff to discuss matters of team play but Cheshire and Driscoll, who were both captains during their time at Oregon State, said they never felt like the conversations were tilted towards singling out certain players and both said it had never been brought to their attention that the threat of scholarship revocation had occured.
In 2014, the Pac-12 passed landmark legislation that guaranteed four year scholarships, which could "neither be reduced nor canceled provided the student-athlete remains in good standing and meets his/her terms of the agreement." The rule does not apply to athletes who are not receiving an athletic scholarship in their first year of enrollment. Cancellation of a scholarship is also possible if a player is either ruled ineligible for competition, engages in serious misconduct, voluntarily quits their team, or violates a university policy or rule that isn't related to athletic conditions of ability (such as class attendance, for instance).
Oregon State has had more transfers over the last three years relative to the average Pac-12 program, but on Thursday night two former student-athletes that had left the program stated on social media that Barnard did not play a factor in their decision to leave the team.
In fact, many sources told KEZI that much of what is alleged in the initial report, from personal verbal attacks in practice to racial insensitivity, was actually being perpetrated by a now-departed assistant coach. An allegation within the article about a racist comment from said coach was confirmed by two sources that were present in practices.
"I think that most of what's in that article would be more directed towards [the assistant coach] than Mark," one source told KEZI.
"Unfortunately, that was not the first time an incident like that happened," Cheshire said. "In terms, you could say, we were used to incidents like that and this person not taking the appropriate action to make amends or correct their behavior and most of the time I don't know that Mark was even aware that that was happening."
Cheshire referenced another instance with this assistant coach in which they berated a player by making a comment characterized as "a very unprofessional comment that made reference to [the player's] family" but in this instance, the player went to Barnard, who told the coach they needed to apologize. Cheshire said she was unsure if the racist comment that occured towards the end of the 2019 season had been brought up to Barnard in the same way.
The school's Equal Opportunity and Access office did authorize an investigation which was conducted by Lisa Greenfield, who according to her LinkedIn page has served as "Investigative Consultant to clients including Oregon State University, University of Oregon, and Nike." Both assistant coaches left the program before the investigation concluded.
"We fully feel that the matter has been fully addressed by the appropriate administrators," said Clark. The OSU spokesman also pushed back on the insinuation that Greenfield's prior contract work influenced her ability to perform an independent investigation.
"It's a statement without factual basis and without professional regard for anyone working in their field of employment," Clark followed up. "Our investigator is a trained and respected professional and the work that she does, regardless of her compensation, is done with impartiality and with completeness. It is an unfair castigation of an individual without merit."
Clark said concerns were also brought forth by former Oregon State basketball player Rickey Lee regarding the volleyball program, but to Clark's understanding Lee did not provide specific complaints. Clark also said that prior to this point, no concerns that he was aware of had been brought forward about Mark Barnard dating back to his days as an OSU assistant. According to Clark, Athletic Director Scott Barnes "took appropriate action" but did not provide specifics. It is unlikely a public version of the final investigative report will be made available due to privacy restrictions under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), according to Clark.
While many student-athletes, from those that talked to KEZI to those expressing support on social media, did say that their time at Oregon State wasn't perfect, every athlete outright rejected the notion that Barnard was abusive and that he fostered a toxic culture within the halls of Gill Coliseum. Those that talked to KEZI also expressed that they do not want to negate or downplay the experiences of those who had a difficult time in Corvallis, but felt compelled to defend a head coach that they felt was unfairly characterized in the report.
"Mark never got in anyone's face, never yelled, swore at someone directly or singling them out in that sense," said Cheshire. "The word bully is a strong word to use and it's not the word I would ever use to describe those situations where people felt that they were being singled out [by Barnard]."
"I was able to experience all sides of Mark and the OSU coaching staff," said Tayla Moore (née Woods), who played under Barnard when he was an associate head coach at Oregon State. "And I can easily say that of all the coaches who were apart of my time at OSU, Mark was the one who cared the most, while pushing me to be the best athlete I could be."