BY MATTHEW VANTRYON | Asst. Sports Editor
Previous Butler athletes speak out against coach as four women transfer
Nine student-athletes have transferred from Butler University’s women’s basketball program over the past four academic years.
Additionally, four coaches have left the program and five players have chosen not to return over the last five seasons.
Four of those student-athletes— juniors Taylor Schippers and Liz Stratman, sophomore Haley Howard and freshman Ashton Feldhaus—announced their intention to transfer from the program within the last month.
Some players are now alleging verbal abuse, a lack of team control by the coaching staff, and players being required to participate in practices and games while injured or sick.
The allegations come from former players who were with the program as far back as 2007.
Jenny Ostrom, a member of the basketball program from 2007 to 2009, said a culture of fear dominated head coach Beth Couture’s program while she was part of it. Couture has been at Butler for 11 seasons as the team’s head coach.
“There was a lot of fear,” Ostrom said. “They were trying to make us fear so we would perform better. I can quote things from when I was there, like, ‘You guys sure don’t respect me, but you’re sure as hell going to fear me.’
“That’s not a good environment to grow in.”
Ostrom also mentioned a situation where she was verbally abused by the coaching staff.
“Another player on the team went to the coaches and told them something about me that wasn’t true,” she said. “Instead of talking to me about it, the coaching staff brought it up in a team meeting in front of everybody. They didn’t bother to check any other facts.”
The situation did not end there, according to Ostrom.
“That affected how (Couture) treated me from then on out,” Ostrom said. “The situation got thrown back in my face over and over and over again.”
Couture was unavailable to comment, according to an email from Kit Stetzel, assistant sports information director.
Ostrom tore the labrum in one of her shoulders during her junior season, but she said she was forced to practice in spite of the injury to earn playing time.
“I practiced for a month with this dislocated shoulder,” Ostrom said. “My hands were numb and I could barely do homework. I was afraid to ask to not practice, and it eventually got to the point where I couldn’t do it anymore.”
She addressed the situation with Couture, who Ostrom said downplayed the significance of the injury.
“(Couture) said, ‘I think (doctors) are just telling you surgery. It’s not that serious,’” Ostrom said.
Ostrom said other players with injuries did not practice but still appeared in games. When asked for a reason as to why she was not playing, Ostrom said the coaching staff told her she was “more hurt.”
Ostrom said she was given the choice whether or not to practice. When she chose not to, she said she was reprimanded.
“I did request to not practice one day, and there was a whole to-do about injuries. They basically said I wasn’t injured,” Ostrom said.
A former player who wished to remain anonymous said she was also forced to practice in spite of illness, or she would run the risk of facing repercussions.
“I was sick and we had early morning practice. I went straight to the trainer, and had a 103 (degree) temperature,” she said. “The coach told me either I practice or I wasn’t going to start the next game.”
She said she then realized that the program had priorities that conflicted with her own.
“It was apparent to me that personal well being was not a priority,” she said. “As a person, I think that is more important than playing a basketball game. I had to choose between going to the hospital or losing my starting spot.”
Olivia Wrencher, who transferred from the women’s program after fall break this school year, said she experienced abuse from coaches as well.
Wrencher said she was forced to go above and beyond to stay in shape.
“It became disconcerting to me because I had to keep food diaries, I had to run extra, and I had to do extra work on top of what we were doing as a team,” Wrencher said, “because they told me I was too fat, that I was too big.”
Wrencher said she ran with Couture every morning during her freshman year but never felt like she had met the coach’s expectations.
A second former member of the program who wished to remain anonymous said the extreme physical expectations are not always limited to individuals.
“We had practices at the end of the year with eight people that were three hours long, and we just got absolutely murdered,” she said. “(This was) stuff that we should have been doing at the beginning of the year, not at the end of the year, and definitely not with eight players. (Couture) wanted us to run for whatever reason.”
Multiple former Butler players cited a lack of connection between the coaches and players as a leading force for problems in the program.
Another former player, who wished to remain anonymous, said a fight broke out between two players in the locker room at one point during a season.
“We had a player sitting in the locker room waiting to fight another player, and when the other player walked in the locker room, one of the players pushed and shoved her and started throwing punches, and we had to hold her back,” she said.
The former player said teammates immediately went to Couture, but she added nothing was ultimately done about the fight.
“We called coach right after it happened, she said she’d take care of it, and nothing came of it,” the former Butler player said. “Basically, she didn’t address it, there was no punishment.”
Despite good intentions, Ostrom said, the staff did not have a handle on the team when she was there.
“They tried to control it as best as they could, but there were people breaking rules that the coaches overlooked, so other people would (break rules too),” she said.
Ostrom said the tension created by this lack of control carried over from the coaches to the players.
“For me, there was a lot of pitting teammates against each other,” Ostrom said. “They called it accountability, but it wasn’t accountability for everyone. It was accountability for some.”
A fourth former player, who wished to remain anonymous, said she feels there is still no control exhibited by the coaching staff.
“The head coach doesn’t have any team control at all,” she said. “We basically have some players running our coaches.”
Wrencher said she went to Couture numerous times about her concerns while she was with the program, but added she saw no change.
“I had plenty of conversations with coach Couture about how I felt,” Wrencher said. “I told her time and time again that I wish I could have more than 12 seconds a game, (but) I’m not concerned with playing time.
“I was concerned with what was happening off the court, that people are yelling and screaming at each other in the locker room about a simple game.”
The reportedly negative team atmosphere lent itself to a lack of passion in games, Wrencher said.
“We weren’t excited to play basketball,” she said. “You want to be excited because you are playing for your friends and you are representing your team, but who you’re representing is also the coaches and each other.
“I played for my team, but it was hard because I couldn’t play for myself. I never enjoyed myself.”
One anonymous source said she and other teammates dreaded the game they once loved.
“Going to the gym was dreadful,” she said. “When all of us are Division I athletes and we worked our butts off to get to this point, the gym used to be an escape from everything. The coaches ruined it for us.”
Wrencher compared the program to imprisonment.
“When I first came in and my parents left, it felt like I was in a jail,” she said. “If I stayed here, I would be beside myself.”
Former team members say they approached Athletic Director Barry Collier at various times to address the issue.
“My senior year, the team decided to take it to the administration,” an anonymous source said. “We wrote down some things that we thought needed to be talked about. Afterwards, he talked to the coaches about it, but nothing was done.”
Collier released the following statement through Sports Information Director Jim McGrath regarding allegations of misconduct and lack of reaction to them.
“We appreciate the efforts of the student-athletes and wish them well. We do receive feedback from all of our athletes and we follow-up appropriately. We will not comment on any personnel matter.”
One player who left the program before one of the times the team reportedly went to Collier expressed concern that the issues have not been handled in an apt manner.
“I was pretty shocked nothing was done about it,” she said.
Despite the reported turmoil occurring inside the locker room, one former student-athlete said the players were forced to maintain a positive image.
“It was our job to sell the program and really pump it up,” she said. “Some of us really struggled to do that.”
Couture once told her players that, if they could convince a recruit to join the team, they would get practice off the next day, according to an anonymous source.
Wrencher said she felt forced to comply with the coach’s request despite not wanting to promote the program.
“I had to kneel down to the queens of basketball,” she said.
Wrencher said that, as a recruit, she would ask players what their favorite aspect of the program was. She recalled finding it strange that no one mentioned basketball itself.
“They always said academics,” she said. “They always said they liked the academics and the student life as opposed to the team that they were on, that they practiced with for three hours a day.”
Wrencher eventually found herself on the other side of the fence. Despite having to promote the program, she couldn’t tell the whole truth.
“I couldn’t tell them how bad it is to be athlete for Butler women’s basketball,” she said.
Now that she is on the outside looking in, she said she continues to see the lack of transparency being relayed to recruits and players.
“Looking in, I feel like it’s a lie,” Wrencher said. “I feel like what they’re projecting to other people is a lie.”
One anonymous source said she hopes something can be done in order to improve the situation for future program members.
“The program is a complete mess,” she said. “I just hope that there’s a change in the future, so that no one else has to go through it. Everything happens for a reason, but I just hope there’s a change made that stops all of this.”
Four former Butler women’s basketball players who transferred from the program—Howard, Feldhaus, Katie Brewer and Hannah Douglas—declined to comment.