*Editor’s Note: This article contains explicit language.
Head Volleyball Coach Gwen Egbert was accused of verbally abusing players and forcing them to practice while injured.
Athletic Director Matt Franzen said the accusations were investigated earlier this semester and Egbert was cleared.
The accusations come from an anonymously written letter addressed to President Jacque Carter and dated Feb. 26. The writer of the letter did not give any identifying information or claim to have first-hand knowledge of any of the statements or events the letter references.
KDNE received the letter on April 24, and gave it to Doaneline.com on May 2.
According to the letter, Egbert made comments to players such as:
“You fucking suck.”
“You’re playing like fucking pussies. We are Tigers, not pussies.”
“You look like you want it up the ass the way you pass.”
“We lost because you play like shit.”
The letter also accused Egbert of forcing players to practice while injured or sick, despite recommendations from the athletes’ trainers and physicians.
“Athletes have been made to practice and play while having influenza, strep throat, mononucleosis, and serious physical injuries, like torn ACLs,” the letter stated.
Egbert denied having said any of the above statements.
“I will tell you that I’ve never said any of those things,” said Egbert.
Egbert also denied ever having players practice while sick or injured.
“If they’re sick or they’re hurt they can’t practice,” Egbert said.
However, several former volleyball players and a former assistant coach have said that some of the accusations are true.
Tiarra Kruml graduated in 2018. She played volleyball under Egbert her freshman year. Kruml came in with an injury from high school, she said.
“It was super hard to get healthy because she (Egbert) had me diving for balls in my walking boot,” Kruml said. “She had me doing a ton of practice drills in my walking boot against my doctor’s orders. It was not okay to sit out when Coach Egbert is your coach.”
An anonymous former volleyball player said she had heard Egbert say many of the comments listed in the letter and that they affected her morale.
“I was honestly kind of depressed the whole season,” she said. “Being told you suck everyday was kind of shitty. I know current players who feel this way.”
Ryan Gray, Egbert’s former assistant coach, said that during his time with Egbert, he saw her make injured or sick students practice.
“I have specifically seen her, during practice, take (an injured or sick player) who is not cleared from a trainer’s point of view and make them do some things on the side,” Gray said. “Whether the trainer would approve of something like that or not. She definitely would never let them just sit and watch.”
When Gray was told that Egbert denied making students practice when they were sick or injured, he was surprised.
“That surprises me that she wouldn’t admit that she has a difficult time dealing with people who can’t practice or can’t weight lift or can’t do something,” Gray said. “That surprises me that she wouldn’t agree (that she has difficulties dealing with injuries).”
In fact, Egbert said she was not good at dealing with injuries in a Doaneline.com article from 2015.
“I would say I’m not good with injuries,” Egbert said in the 2015 article. “I’m not good with that because I don’t like to see them hurt, and it’s hard because then they are separating themselves from our team.”
Gray served as Egbert’s assistant coach from 2015-17 and left by choice for a better position elsewhere, he said.
Gray remembers hearing some of the comments, but not others. He doesn’t remember hearing Egbert use any swear words, but he does recall hearing some of the other vulgar statements from Egbert, though they were said in humor, he said.
“I would say that she definitely has a unique way of saying things and it probably, depending on what age of players, would be inappropriate,” he said. “There’s a tone to what she would say that if you don’t have the tone or context it sounds really bad.”
Another anonymous former player said that she quit playing solely because of Egbert. She confirmed that she heard Egbert call players stupid and say, “You look like you want it up the ass the way you pass.”
The anonymous player also said that she had witnessed Egbert force players to practice while injured or sick, recalling a specific instance where a player was made to participate in practice drills in a boot, despite their doctor’s recommendation to sit out.
The player added that Egbert also discouraged players from visiting the campus nurse when they felt sick because there was a chance the players would be sent home and thus, not be able to participate in practice.
Another anonymous former player said she had heard all of the listed quotes and more.
“I understand that it’s a college sport and it’s supposed to be serious and we’re here to win,” said the source, “but some of the stuff is not okay to say to any human being.”
She said Egbert ignores trainers recommendations that injured athletes should not practice. She was once made to practice with a serious illness herself. She also knew a girl who had back problems who had to practice.
“Injuries aren’t a thing to her,” she said. “They don’t exist, injuries or illnesses.”
The source also said that Egbert had made it clear that she did not trust the Doane trainers and sent her to a physical therapist in Lincoln.
Her reason for quitting was Coach Egbert, she said.
She said after quitting she experienced mental health problems, including self-doubt, no confidence and anxiety.
Sophomore volleyball player Madison VanHousen said she has only heard one of those comments, “We are Tigers, not pussies,” during practice. It was said as a joke she said, and VanHousen is not sure if she ever heard Egbert say it.
VanHousen was sick recently and Egbert did not ask her to play or practice. In fact, Egbert insisted VanHousen wait to practice again despite the all-clear from her doctor. Egbert wanted to make sure she recovered, VanHousen said.
Former volleyball player sophomore Allison Skala agrees with VanHousen, she said.
“I have the utmost respect for the program. Though some cannot handle the intensity of the coaching, it does not mean there is ‘misconduct’ occurring,” Skala said. “Those who have enough grit and want to be good bad enough - will be turned into amazing athletes. The coaches know what it takes to develop good volleyball players and the Owl and the rest of the school needs to butt out of their business because unless you’re in the program you don’t know what the team is about and will never understand it.”
Franzen provided an official statement to Doane Student Media regarding this matter:
“Earlier this year, Doane University received an anonymous letter that contained very concerning allegations against our Head Volleyball Coach, Gwen Egbert,” he said. “The university took these allegations seriously and conducted a thorough investigation. This matter has been resolved. Coach Egbert has a decorated past as a player and coach and we are grateful to have her on staff at Doane. Coach Egbert has my support leading our volleyball program moving forward.”
This is not the first time that Egbert’s coaching has been called into question. The 2015 article highlighted players’ complaints against Egbert at the time.
The letter can be read below in its entirety.
One of the anonymous sources said she is still afraid of Egbert, even though she no longer plays volleyball.
“I’m terrified of her,” the source said. “I know what she has already done to me and I don’t want to find out what else she can do to me. I’ve never felt that way about any one of my higher ups, ever.”