UNIVERSITY PARK — Seven players were cut from the Penn State women's ice hockey team shortly after 13 players, including the seven who were cut, expressed issues they had with coach Josh Brandwene to the Penn State athletic department.
Four of the players spoke with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and said they were given vague reasons for their dismissal, adding that all seven are in good standing academically and behaviorally. The Penn State student newspaper The Daily Collegian first reported the cuts earlier this week.
The seven players are Cara Mendelson of Upper St. Clair, Darby Kern of Peters Township, Katie Murphy, Brooke Meyer, Madison Smiddy, Jess Desorcie and Birdie Shaw. Four were walk-ons. Smiddy, Shaw and Desorcie were on scholarships covering as much as 75 percent of their tuition this year. Though they will not play hockey, they will keep their scholarships for the rest of their time at Penn State.
Meyer, a sophomore goaltender from Illinois, said the team expected one or two players might get cut because of the anticipated roster size for next season, and that she was shocked that seven were cut. She said the coaching staff had complimented her leadership skills and disposition the past two years.
She said the decision by 13 players to meet with the athletic department about Brandwene came after two years of “built-up frustration of not getting answers and not being able to communicate with him properly.”
“I just tried to do what was right,” Meyer said. “I was part of the 13 people in the athletic director meeting, and was that the reason some of us got cut? Absolutely.”
Meyer said that when Brandwene dismissed her, he told her they were looking in the future direction of the program.
Smiddy said of her dismissal: “He said that he wasn't bringing me on and that was really the extent of it. There wasn't a reason given. He didn't say why.”
Brandwene did not respond to a voicemail or email. A Penn State spokesperson said in an email that the athletic department would not grant any interviews for Brandwene. Brandwene told The Daily Collegian that the cuts were “just about the direction the program's heading in.”
Brandwene was hired by Penn State in 2011 and has coached the team in its transition from the club level to varsity Division I. This past season, Penn State's second at the varsity level, the team had a 4-29-3 record.
The team had 28 players this season, according to the online roster. There is no limit to the number of players that can be on a hockey roster, according to NCAA rules, but a team can have only 30 players who receive financial aid and only 18 full-value scholarships can be spread among a team.
Most of the upperclassmen on the roster played on the Penn State club team before it became varsity. Brandwene chose to keep some as walk-ons and gave scholarships to others. Six of the seven cut played club hockey before Brandwene's arrival and none of the seven were regular contributors this season. The 13 players who met with the athletic department regarding Brandwene were a mix of club players retained by Brandwene and players Brandwene recruited, Murphy and Meyer said.
Murphy said they met March 3 with Charmelle Green, associate athletic director/senior woman administrator. At this meeting, Murphy said, the 13 players shared instances in which Brandwene created an environment of distrust.
“I think the biggest thing is that us as players didn't feel respected,” she said.
Murphy and Meyer said players would be afraid to talk about their role on the team with Brandwene. Murphy said the coach would break commitments to players. For instance, Brandwene would tell a player she would be dressing for a game in advance and the player would tell her parents to travel — sometimes long distances — to that game. Then he would not dress that player.
“Things would change so constantly it was hard to follow where his thoughts were,” Murphy said. “In my opinion, he was just never really completely honest.”
She continued in an email: “As I stated to the administration earlier, my comments have nothing to do with how much or little playing time I or my teammates received, it is about the person leading the program and his limited skill and poor character that do not align with what I and many of my teammates believe represent Penn State University.”
Meyer was recruited by Brandwene as a walk-on. She said Brandwene told her he wanted her on the team for four years and assured her of playing time. After she committed, Brandwene brought in a transfer goaltender, Meyer said. She said she understood that a coach would want to improve his team in any way possible, but was upset he didn't tell her a new goalie was transferring to Penn State. Meyer didn't find out until she arrived at the school in the fall of 2012.
Meyer said she thought the meeting with Green was an appropriate way to discuss the players' concerns.
“We did what we thought was professional and basically laid it out on the table,” Meyer said. “Basically we thought results were happening, but obviously it kicked back on us with the athletic department siding with him.”
Murphy characterized Green's demeanor as warm and receptive at their meeting. Three weeks after the meeting, Brandwene told the seven players they were off the team. Green did not respond to an interview request.
Brandwene graduated from Penn State in 1991 and played on the club hockey team. Before being hired by Penn State, he coached club hockey in the American Collegiate Hockey Association and high school hockey for two decades.
Meyer said she has no ill will toward the program, but will miss practicing and working out with her teammates. Murphy said she is speaking out because that is what she was taught to do and she wants what is best for the program.
“Title IX may have created the opportunity for many of us to be here, playing this sport that we love, but I find it difficult to believe that any of this would be tolerated in a men's program,” Murphy said.
“I believe the losing record, the lack of qualifications of our coach and the refusal to address the concerns of the student-athletes in any meaningful way would be addressed very differently in a men's program. But maybe I am still naive.”