Former USF Women’s Basketball Players Sue Head Coach and School


HC Molly Goodenbour under fire for allegations of abuse

Head Coach Molly Goodenbour coaching the team against Santa Clara in the WCC Tournament. PHOTO BY CHRISTINA LEUNG / DONS ATHLETICS

The University of San Francisco and the Athletics Department are facing yet another lawsuit. The Foghorn has learned that former players Marta and Marija Galic sued women’s basketball head coach Molly Goodenbour  on June 1, 2021, concerning allegations of “archaic and abusive conduct.” 

The lawsuit also named the University as a second defendant, alleging that the school is “vicariously liable for the actions of its employee,” and for being “shockingly indifferent” toward the allegations made by the former players of mistreatment. 

Goodenbour’s “unrelenting abusive behavior” drove the Galic sisters, who played for USF from 2018 to 2021, to leave the program and subsequently offer their scholarships to other players since the coach “openly told [Marta and Marija Galic] that she wanted them to leave the team,” according to court documents filed in the San Francisco Superior Court. 

On May 4th, in a community-wide email addressing recent controversies involving the Athletics Department, President Paul J. Fitzgerald S.J. acknowledged the new allegations against the women’s basketball program and its head coach. 

“In our women’s basketball program, a local lawyer seeking money from the university in a lawsuit has recently put his accusations on the internet,” said Fitzgerald. “The university’s attorneys have stated that this was a highly improper tactic and that they have the facts to fully defend our coaches and student-athletes, which they are prepared to do in the courthouse this summer on the timeline set by the court.” 

In the initial 34-page lawsuit, the two former players detail in one instance, Goodenbour, who allegedly “constantly berated” the Galics, denied Marta Galic’s request to use the bathroom, which led to her urinating “all over herself in the middle of a basketball drill and then forcing Marta to complete the drill soaked in her own urine.”  

Goodenbour and her coaching staff were also accused of forcing the two former players to play through injury, leading them to further physical pain. When brought to the attention of the Athletics Department, according to the court filing, the University did not respond to them or their father. Furthermore, USF is alleged to have “withheld scholarship funds from Marta without explanation,” forcing her to pay $15,752 to cover her tuition. 

Due to the ongoing status of the lawsuit, USF declined to address specific questions from the Foghorn but said the University is “aggressively defending Coach Goodenbour and our Athletics Department against the charges,” according to Ellen Ryder, vice president of marketing communications. 

In an email statement to the Foghorn, Mike Vartain, USF’s general counsel attorney, declined to directly speak to these allegations until they are officially investigated and reported to the judge in 60 days. 

However, Vartain accused the former players’ lawyer, Randolph Gaw, of abusing the legal process. “Mr. Gaw specifically timed his press release during the time of year when high school students, including recruited student-athletes, make decisions and commitments to enroll in universities,” Vartain said. “Using the legal system in this way to publish his allegations is called ‘abuse of process’ in California law.” 

In their amended response to the Galics’ allegations, according to court documents, Goodenbour and the University denied any intent of abuse or removal of scholarships. Additionally, it said, “All of the alleged conduct of Coach Goodenbour and coaches under Coach Goodenbour is alleged to have occurred in connection with the execution of basketball coaching duties and took place in such instances as in practices, games, individual team meetings, and the like.”

Goodenbour’s Time at USF and Beyond

On April 15, Gaw filed a 334-page appendix of evidence in support of the Galics’ claims. It includes emails between Athletics Department officials, at least five former players corroborating Goodenbour’s alleged behavior, and records during Goodenbour’s tenure as head coach at California State University, Chico and University of California, Irvine. 

During her time at USF, the 50-year-old head coach is alleged to have made recurring abusive remarks to players. According to former players’ sworn testimony, Goodenbour joked about a player’s Christian faith, mocked one’s physical appearance, and called the players derogatory names, such as “stupid,” “worthless,” and “incompetent.” 

Goodenbour made derogatory comments at former player Zayn Arden Dornstauder during the 2016 season. She joked that, as Dornstauder was so bad, having her step in to play was a “last resort.” Dornstauder reported crying once a week in response to the consistent verbal abuse, a feeling that she said was also expressed by many of her teammates. In her deposition, she said she felt “embarrassed. Ashamed. No one ever wants to be regarded that way. It took away a lot of my confidence as a player, and it was ultimately what prompted me to leave the school.”

In addition, Goodenbour is facing allegations of making racially sensitive remarks. On an outing to a Six Flags theme park, a player testified that Goodenbour told her that an actor wearing a Daffy Duck costume was talking to her since she was “as black as him.”  

An international player was featured in the documents, who claimed that Goodenbour verbally abused her in front of the team. In her November 2020 written statement, she wrote that Goodenbour once yelled at her, “if you don’t get your s— together you can pack your s— and go back,” encouraging her to leave USF to return to her home country. She claimed repeated instances occurred in which Goodenbour told her to leave USF. “It was a very toxic culture for my teammates and I,” she stated. “I had a meeting with AD Joan, and she didn’t seem to care about what went on or what the coaches said to me. I never felt like I was appreciated as a player here, or even more so as a person.” 

Vartain vehemently denied the evidence put together so far. “The women’s basketball program has always been challenging and demanding and I have met some of the student-athletes who compete for this program. They are strong, hard-working and successful young women.” 

He added, “USF has asked me to defend the coaches and student-athletes of the women’s basketball program. I intend to do so, because I have reviewed the evidence and the only abuse that I can find is the abuse of the legal process by Mr. Gaw,” Vartain said. 

Goodenbour, a former Stanford women’s basketball star, who won two national championships and set individual player records during her time there, is heading into her sixth season as USF’s women’s basketball head coach next fall. In five seasons, Goodenbour has compiled a coaching record of 69-82 overall, including the Dons women’s best conference play record in her first season and a Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) appearance last season.  

However, Goodenbour has a reputation for being a tough coach. This is not Goodenbour’s first accusation of player abuse. 

Her first season as head coach at Chico State included an investigation into Goodenbour’s use of “inappropriate language persistently used during practices and games,” and “even more personal and offensive remarks directed at individuals,” which led to some players’ departure. Still, the school concluded that there was “no substance whatsoever to the allegations of abuse.”

In her stint coaching at UC Irvine from 2008 to 2012, she reportedly made derogatory comments about a player’s disability and continually made abusive remarks to players. This abuse, in addition to NCAA pick-up game violations, resulted in her being placed on administrative leave and suspended from her employment contract. 

In the court’s published documents, an email was sent from Paula Smith, deputy athletic director at UC Irvine, to Michael Izzy, director of athletics, regarding Goodenbour’s performance. “Her first instinct is to do what she wants and beg for forgiveness when confronted,” Smith wrote. “Molly and her team have kind of a hate vs hate kind of relationship from what I can see. She hates them and they hate her. Maybe she just has no other place to go,” said in the email excerpt obtained by Gaw and his team. Goodenbour was let go in 2012.

She coached her first season at the University of San Francisco four years later. 

“Tough” vs. Abusive Coaching? 

The Foghorn spoke with Gaw and Marija Galic prior to the University and Vartain’s statements. Gaw said that being a tough coach is different from Goodenbour’s overall coaching style. “These are players who have played basketball at the highest levels, for much of their young lives. They don’t claim to have those kinds of experiences at the places where they’ve played basketball prior to coming to USF, but they’ve described having these traumatic experiences with Molly Goodenbour,” Gaw said. 

Gaw argued, “And then many of these players have transferred out to other institutions. And guess what? These players don’t claim to have experienced that kind of behavior at their new schools.” 

One of the former players who submitted their own statement in the lawsuit, Anna Pierce, also spoke with the Foghorn. Pierce played for the Dons from 2016 to 2018. She disagreed with the notion that Goodenbour’s conduct was just a hard-nosed approach to coaching. “She attacked everyone that was on the team. Regardless, it was and she would think it would be funny. There is a tough-mindedness and then there’s also verbal abuse at the same time.” 

Pierce added, “I don’t think you would call having someone being called a slut or anything tough-minded, or making fun of someone’s body shape. Oh, you’re so fat, like you’re not going to get anywhere.”

Marija Galic was recruited by Goodenbour in Croatia and recalled having a positive attitude when she decided to go to USF. However, having already recovered from an injury before playing her first year, her experience from the start was not what she expected. “I personally was abused to the point where I started experiencing anxiety attacks. I became suicidal. I never had issues like that before, and they were all overlooked,” she said.

Galic said she and some of her teammates complained to the Title IX office, as well as Athletics Director Joan McDermott. However, she alleges to not have received any immediate response, and said McDermott would not believe that Goodenbour or any of the coaches would commit such abuse. 

The Foghorn could not confirm any of these allegations. 

Marija Galic did find some support from her teammates. “I talked to my teammates and I talked to one of my friends about it and they were also struggling. We were all struggling, but we’re just sharing our struggles with each other,” she said. 

The University and its legal counsel deny the allegations. “Under oath, Mr. Gaw’s own client was unable and unwilling to support the accounts of abuse in his allegations,” said Vartain about one of the Galic sisters. “Mr. Gaw’s client testified for five hours and contradicted much of what was written in his press release, and then answered more than 20 times, ‘I can’t remember,’ to the rest of what he wrote.”

What’s Next

The lawsuit is set for a trial date on Aug. 1, 2022. Both sides are currently taking depositions and sworn testimonies. Unlike the ongoing civil lawsuit against the baseball program and its coaches, this case will be decided before a jury, unless both sides could reach some form of settlement. 

For the third time this year, USF and its Athletics Department face another crisis with allegations of enabling a culture of abuse and mistrust. 

In October, Sports Illustrated investigated a “predatory culture” in the men’s soccer program, which led to University reforms within the Title IX office. Two months ago, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on a lawsuit against the baseball program for tolerating an “alleged sexualized environment,” which led to the firings of its head coach of 20 years, and its top assistant.

In Fitzgerald’s May 4th email, he described allegations of “misconduct, assault, and physiological harm” to USF’s student-athletes as “disturbing” and, when found to be true, “in opposition to our values and university policies and merits.” He further stated that any alleged, “unacceptable behavior” that is found to be true receives “thorough investigation.” He maintained, however, that reports of USF ignoring and silencing the allegations as “inaccurate,” “harmful,” and contends that the reports “are and have been acted upon.” 

Additionally, he announced that the University, alongside “external higher education experts,” will now conduct a program review of the Athletics Department’s operations, culture, and policies. Martha Peugh-Wade, associate vice president for compliance, has been appointed to work with Athletics for “proper oversight and support.”  

Although this past year included celebrating the men’s basketball program and its historical achievements, USF Dons Athletics closes out the year once again vowing to defend another coach, its administrators, and another program from controversy.


Miguel Arcayena is a senior politics major and the Foghorn’s news editor. He covers campus breaking news and administrative issues. He can be reached at marcayena@sffoghorn.com.

Megan Robertson, a sophomore media studies and performing arts & social justice double major, is the Foghorn’s deputy news editor and general assignment reporter. She can be reached at mrrobertson2@dons.usfca.edu.

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