Former players question women’s basketball coach

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Athletes lose more than just games when non-sports related issues result in miscommunication between players and coaches.

The Dixie State University women’s basketball team started the 2013-2014 season with 21 players, but only six women plan to return next season. Some of the current and former team members have reached out with concerns about head coach Catherria Turner. Some claim that Turner unfairly disciplined and singled out members of the team based on extreme favoritism, and, in some cases, sexual discrimination.

“A lot of things just didn’t feel right to me with her,” said Vika Havili, a junior integrated studies major from Salt Lake City, who quit the team in December. “As time went on, I realized she was kind of manipulative in a way.”

Tia Matthews, a junior communication major from Las Vegas, quit the team before spring semester started because she said the environment was causing too much stress.

“I felt like I was kind of — I don’t know if bullied is the word — but bullied I guess,” Matthews said. “I got put in [the] locker room for stuff I wasn’t doing right. She’d degrade me a lot [in front of] the team, so after a while, I just left because it wasn’t worth it.”

Some players were released from the team after the season, while a number of them quit throughout the season.

“When [Turner] gave us our reasons why [we were released from the team], it was a list of all the team rules that she claimed we had broken, which she never discussed with us during the season and didn’t tell us that we were breaking these rules,” said Austen Harris, a junior integrated studies major from Phoenix, Ariz., and one of the three players released at the end of the season. “You would think the coach would help you get better, but she never approached us.”

Neither athletic director Jason Boothe nor Turner could talk about specifics as to why players were not asked to return.

“It’s our policy not to say why players aren’t on the team anymore,” Boothe said. “We don’t want to put them into a situation where they might not have a chance to go somewhere else … There’s actually an NCAA rule that you’re not supposed to say that. [The players] can say whatever they want, but we’re kind of limited as to what we can say.”

Turner said there were multiple rule violations, but Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prevented her from discussing it further.

“I think that within a program you have several different personalities, [and] I think the best thing that we did was we tried to talk about it and get through it,” Turner said. “Other than that, I can’t really specify anything else … Ultimately, I’m very proud of everybody that was a part of this team and what we were able to do, and I wish them the very best. I hope that they are able to get whatever it is that they want and be extremely successful at it.”

All of the players on the team signed a contract at the beginning of the season in which team rules were laid out.

“You have to buy into her system, and if you don’t, you’re not going to get as much opportunity as the others who are buying in,” said Kaylah Miller, a junior communication major from San Diego, Calif., and one of the players who is returning in the fall. “There were a lot of rules that came up in the year that sucked for a lot of us.”

Even with the established rules, different people who broke the same rules were not disciplined in the same ways, and punishment seemed to be harsher for some than for others, both Matthews and Havili said. 

“I feel like if they’re going to release those few [team members], they might as well release the whole team,” Matthews said.

Nanea Woods, a senior communication major from Portland, Ore., was the only player to be released from the team before the season ended because she was told she broke a rule by disrespecting a teammate.

Before she got released from the team, Woods spoke to coach Turner about singling out players in front of the entire team. 

“It was very uncomfortable, especially for us not involved and not knowing what’s going on,” Havili said.

Woods said some meetings got emotional and people were in tears.

“She accused me of not being a good teammate [and] totally bashed me in front of the whole team,” Woods said. “I get left with being shamed in front of my teammates for something I have not done. I am embarrassed. I am disrespected. And this is not the first time.”

Harris started to record meetings as proof of what was said.

“I made sure I recorded everything because after a while, you had to,” Harris said.

Despite some of the players’ efforts to improve methods of communication with the coach, the situation didn’t improve.

“I feel like it got worse [as the season went on], but it was just because we started realizing things about her,” Havili said. “She was very unfair. Punishments were different for each person.”

Favoritism took a toll on team relationships, but some team members saw it reach the court. Some said the favoritism was obvious and the starting lineup reflected it.

“Toward the end of the year, it really did get sloppy, and we just weren’t a team,” Miller said. “That was definitely hard. I know there are girls [who] don’t believe the starting five was the right starting five, which took a toll on us, but I think it just goes back to how hard you work and if you respect the coach or not.”

Boothe said there are always going to be some issues when a new coach is brought on with a new roster of players in any sport.

“There were issues throughout the year of just typical team stuff,” Boothe said. “[A New] coach (often results in) disagreements in rules and different styles. It just doesn’t work. It happens.”

Although a new style of coaching was introduced, some players on the team were opposed to it.

“I feel like playing time was predicted before the season even started,” said a former player who wished to remain anonymous. 

Havili said Turner tore down her newfound love for the game. 

“I still love playing basketball … but it’s not the same,” she said. “It was really hard. I love it, [but] I just don’t love it playing for her.”