Aaron Bobeck/The Record
The SUNY Buffalo State Women’s Soccer team was looking to make a big jump in 2019.
The Bengals had only graduated one player from the 2018 season and felt they were better than their 4-12-2 record showed.
“Last season was a rebuilding year and I think we got a lot of experience,” Bengals coach Nicholas DeMarsh said in The Record’s team preview story back in August. “We lost a lot of games late and controversially last year. There were many match-critical calls that changed our season. We easily could’ve finished fourth in the conference. But with that, there were also numerous games where we just didn’t have it and it was a bad day at the office.”
However, the Women’s Soccer team only improved by two wins this past season, missing the playoffs for a third consecutive year.
While there are a multitude of reasons a team doesn’t have a successful season, it appears this year’s Bengals team was plagued by a growing animosity between some of the players and DeMarsh, who has coached the team for the past 18 seasons.
The situation involving a former player leaving the team in the spring left a sour taste in their mouths and was part of a pattern of behavior by DeMarsh that exhibited a lack of sympathy for injured players.
The bad feelings worsened as the 2019 season moved forward. The group divided into two factions: those against DeMarsh and those for him.
Just days after the season ended, players from the former group sent a letter to the Buffalo State Athletic department calling for DeMarsh to be removed from his position, accusing him of bullying his players and violating school and NCAA rules.
“As an athlete, one of the most unfortunate things that can happen to you is having a coach that demoralizes you enough to ruin your passion for the game,” the letter sent to the school on Oct. 28 said. “To say Mr. DeMarsh does that is an understatement.”
Those accusations went public this past weekend in a report by The Buffalo News that outlined some of the claims made against DeMarsh.
According to the report that was published early Saturday morning, 11 players had signed the letter, nearly half of the team’s opening day roster. On Sunday, four players who had played this season were no longer listed on the team’s roster.
The players who wrote the letter say they weren’t the ones who shared it with The Buffalo News, and claim the school sent it to the media.
The school denies that accusation.
Junior co-captain Kyndal Hetzel, freshman Alexis Cummings and junior Erin Valente were aware that their teammates were going to be writing letters to the administration about DeMarsh. But were blindsided when the accusations went public.
“When I first saw the letter, I was outraged and I wanted to go back at them,” Valente said. “But you can’t fight fire with fire, so I reached out to my teammates that I know were for coach and know his character and we all agreed that we need to do something.”
The trio went to speak with Athletic Director Jerry Boyes early Monday afternoon to defend DeMarsh and tell their side of the story.
“They were almost exaggerated to the point where it was no longer the truth,” Hetzel said. “I’m not the person that is going to let something go that is not the truth. That’s affecting our current team and coach. We’re not going to give up without a fight.”
They say that most of the accusations were largely untrue and described DeMarsh as a man of high character.
“I’ve never met someone with character like him,” Valente said. “The first time I met him I was walking around campus and he stopped to pick up trashed and held onto it until he got to a garbage bin.”
However the players, who have asked to remain anonymous, that wrote the letter about DeMarsh tell a much different story.
They describe DeMarsh as a bully who played favorites, made them feel self-conscious about their weight, picked on players for their diets, encouraged players to not go to the trainer for injuries, embarrassed players in front of the team, talked about bad about players behind their back and even tried to get certain people to quit the team.
“He’s not going to talk about you to you but to your friends in order for that to come back to you,” one anonymous player calling for DeMarsh’s removal said. “It’s just like manipulation.”
The players cited 16 separate incidents where they claim DeMarsh did not follow NCAA principals and regulations.
Among those accusations are: diagnosing a player with anxiety and depression, refusing to accommodate dietary needs of players, telling a player crying in pain that she was being “unprofessional” and “needs to keep it together” and holding personal grudges against certain players, some of which had gone on for multiple seasons.
“I was upset that I was injured,” Another anonymous player told The Record. She also says she’s the one who was “diagnosed” by DeMarsh. “Anyone can speak on my behalf, I’m a decently happy human being. I never really show these things. I went to the doctor after he told me I should ask for medication and the doctor told me I was fine. But (DeMarsh) continued to bring that encounter up and tried to get me to quit from it.”
They also claim that DeMarsh “gave nearly half the team no other option than to quit with less than a week left of season.”
According to the players calling for DeMarsh’s removal, he failed to follow his own team rule about players starting the following game after scoring a goal.
They say he embarrassed one player when he was filling out the starting lineup in front of the team in the locker room by choosing not to start a player who had scored the game before. There are magnets that identify each player. DeMarsh took the magnet of one player who had scored the previous game and said “you score, you start. But sorry (player name), you’re just unlucky, I’m not starting you today,” according to the players.
They also accuse DeMarsh and assistant coach Kenneth Voght of routinely making rude and snide comments about some players’ weight.
They say they know of two letters getting sent to the administration from other teams complaining about the Bengals’ lack of sportsmanship and claim DeMarsh has done nothing to curb the behavior.
“Crying in pain is told to be inappropriate but acting out in front of all these people isn’t,” one player said.
“He’s created a division in the team,” another player said of DeMarsh. “That’s so obvious by the players speaking on his behalf. They just don’t see what we have experienced because they didn’t experience it the way that we did.”
Hetzel, Cummings and Valente believe their teammates’ accusations of DeMarsh stem from a lack of playing time.
“They were upset with their playing time, the lack of playing time they received,” Cummings said.
They feel only a few players truly had issues with DeMarsh and convinced other players to take their side and turn against him.
The trio takes major issue with some of the purported events that The News’ report brought up and felt as if the other players were trying to speak on their behalf.
Hetzel says she was a part of the alleged “fight” that broke out in the middle of the game between two teammates, which the players against DeMarsh said he allowed to happen. She claims the interaction was not physical and that DeMarsh quickly stopped the situation before he threatened to kick them both out of the game.
The players defending DeMarsh agree that he flew off the handle a bit and said the accusation about singling players out during halftime of the Alfred game was true but don’t recall if he “told us all at halftime of a game that he will get rid of every last one of us before he ever loses his job” as the letter claims.
However, they say DeMarsh later apologized for he outburst.
“Coach apologized for that game actually,” Cummings says. “He said ‘I knew I blew it way of proportion, I watched it and you guys actually played good’. The practice after he apologized to us. That is who Coach Nick is.”
The players calling for DeMarsh’s removal deny any apology occurred.
Players began to really take sides after a players-only meeting on Oct. 18 where all players aired their grievances about DeMarsh and with one another.
Valente says she and other players called out some of their teammates after finding out they had gone out and partied the night before a game, a violation of team rules.
According to Valente, it was many of the players who are now calling for DeMarsh’s removal.
“You do not go out the night before a game,” Valente said. “Not to mention it was Geneseo, the number one team in the team in the league. They were drinking and partying and showing it on Snapchat. I decided to speak up at the meeting when they turned this against coach in saying it was his fault that they didn’t know, when our coach sat down preseason and went through the handbook.”
The players who are against DeMarsh say the situation was greatly exaggerated, claiming that it was only one girl who had a drink and she was home alone.
According to those same players, many of them shared their concerns about DeMarsh with the team during the players-only meeting and received backlash from their teammates.
However, they say both Hetzel and co-captain Emma Boccolucci acknowledged that certain players weren’t being treated fairly by DeMarsh.
“It’s not about playing time. It’s not about us being emotional. It’s not about us not being able to take criticism,” one of the former players said. “It’s about the unnecessary mistreatment that needs to be taken care of.”
The Bengals lost their final three games of the season after the meeting, giving them a 6-11-1 overall record.
After the meeting, Valente, who had transferred to Buffalo State this year from Cortland, says she lost some friendships.
“I was really close with some girls who were on the other side and they completely alienated me because I wanted to be on coach’s side,” Valente said. “They completely dropped me as a friend.”
The reason why the players calling for DeMarsh’s removal want to keep their identities a secret is to protect those who are still on the team, whether they are on their side or neutral on the issue, they say.
“There are other girls on the roster still,” said an anonymous player. “We are doing this for their sake. Because if you put our names out there you can narrow it down to whoever is left and can figure which ones are on our side.”
The players who filed the complaint weren’t happy last week when they were notified by Boyes that the investigation was completed and DeMarsh was going to stay on as coach. That’s when they shared their concerns with Dr. Timothy Gordon, Vice President of Student Affairs.
Gordon said late Monday the school was going to open another investigation into the matter that was going to be handled by an outside group:
“I am announcing today (Monday, November 25) that the college will be commissioning an independent review of the women’s soccer program, its leadership, and the complaints outlined by some current and former members of the women’s soccer team. The complaints shared are indeed troubling and describe an environment that is not aligned with our institution’s values. We continue to take these concerns seriously. The welfare of our students and student-athletes is my top priority.
We are actively working to secure the services of a skilled and knowledgeable outside investigator to look into the complaints and evidence, and report back findings by the end of the calendar year (pending developments that may delay the review).
I would like to acknowledge and thank the parents, current student-athletes, and former student-athletes who have contacted myself and our athletic department over the past month to offer both information and messages of support. I would like to assure you that your statements will be shared with the independent reviewer.
Men’s soccer head coach Francesco Cardillo will oversee day-to-day operations of the women’s program while the independent review is conducted. Nicholas DeMarsh remains an employee of the college and the athletic department.
I will have no additional comment until the review is complete.”
The Record reached out to DeMarsh and Cardillo, neither of which would comment on the situation. The Record also reached out to Boyes who directed all questions to Dr. Gordon.
The Record will continue to follow this story as it develops.