Former Cal women’s soccer players accuse head coach of abuse

Hollis Belger

On Nov. 24, KTVU Fox 2 released a story about several former members of the University of California Berkeley (Cal) women’s soccer team accusing head coach Neil McGuire of creating a toxic and abusive atmosphere on and off the field. McGuire, who has held his position since 2007, is now facing serious allegations of verbal and emotional abuse, including bullying, fat-shaming and risking physical harm by pushing players too hard during training.

Cal’s women’s soccer program is one of the most competitive in the country, currently ranked 33rd by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). According to the team website, the recruiting class of 2020 is ranked first in the country for the first time in the program’s history. McGuire has led the team to multiple NCAA tournament appearances, but despite these accomplishments, his coaching ethics are now in question.

In interviews with KTVU, four former players described McGuire displaying patterns of mistreatment: aggressively blaming players for losing games, demeaning players he called overweight and criticizing players as being weak and inferior for having close relationships with parents. Former player, Hannah Koski, went to Cal on a scholarship in 2013. She stated that the verbal and emotional abuse she endured while playing for McGuire was devastating. 

“I’m mentally tough and this was the first time I had been broken down…He would say things like, ‘What happened at half time does not leave this locker room,’ and he knew he had just crossed the line too far,” Koski said.

Caroline Clark, a former Cal player on scholarship, ended up quitting because of McGuire’s behavior, even though it meant losing her funding. Eventually, Koski followed. She expresses that all of the players were hesitant to report McGuire or speak up. 

“I don’t think anyone’s ever felt safe enough or comfortable enough to stand up and say something to him,” Clark told KTVU. 

Toni Sanders, a former social worker and now head coach of SoccerKids, a youth program in Marin, discusses the importance of positive coaching and emotional attunement to players, especially at such a competitive level.

“Hopefully every coach has a good understanding of where the lines are… You might say something that is not objectively abusive, but it could crush somebody… I’ve heard from many people, particularly women, ‘I quit playing because of ‘this’ coach,’” Sanders said. 

Mia Hamant, a goalie for the Redwood girls varsity soccer team who is committed to play at the University of Washington for the class of 2026, was saddened by the reported behaviors of McGuire. She recognizes the importance of the coach-player relationship in her own career and feels it is essential for coaches to understand individual players’ needs. 

Photo of Junior at Redwood girls varsity soccer goalie Mia Hamant. (Photo courtesy of Mia Hamant)

“You have to know your players. If you see that your player obviously can’t take the heat that you’re throwing at them, then you need to stop. And once they start potentially breaking down…that’s when you have to back up,” Hamant said.

Sanders similarly recognizes that coaches play a pivotal role for players of all ages, and has made an effort to be a positive influence in all of her player’s lives.

“I feel strongly that I’m an advocate and champion of all children. Children need to be protected…They need to be advocated for, because often in our society, a child’s voice is not the loudest,” Sanders said. 

High school sports programs have implemented procedures that help to combat abusive coaching as seen in the McGuire case. According to Redwood’s athletic director, Jessica Peisch, these are the following procedures for athletes wanting to communicate issues with a coach: First have the athlete speak to the coach at an appropriate time. Coaches should respond as quickly as possible. If the parent or the coach is not satisfied with the meeting, write/call the Athletic Director and follow the Chain of Command. 

“No athlete should have consequences in practice, amount of playing time or other treatment due to expression of a concern about his/her athletic experience by either the athlete or a parent.” Peisch said. 

The Cal players all said it took time and courage to come forward. They are disappointed in the previous unsatisfactory responses from Cal, which, they say, perpetuate the cycle of inhibition around standing up to abuse. Former Cal goalie Olivia Sakeny was one of those initially reluctant to speak up. 

“There’s this sort of stigma in women’s sports…that as girls and women we just have to tough it out. If we complain, we’re seen as weak and soft,” Sekany said.


One of the players has filed a lawsuit against Cal. In an official statement provided by Herb Beneson, Associate Athletics Director of Communications, Cal declined to comment. 

“Cal Athletics is regrettably unable to respond to allegations that involve personnel issues, privacy rights, student conduct issues, and/or pending litigation, regardless of whether or not the allegations are accurate…Our women’s soccer program is a regular participant in the NCAA Tournament, has

Mia Hamant, in her goalie gear, saving a soccer ball for her team. (Photo courtesy of Mia Hamant).

consistently produced team GPAs above 3.2 for the past 10 years and recently won the Newmark Award for having the highest GPA in the department among teams of their size.”

Sekany and others say they are committed to seeing this issue through. 

“We’re just not going to go away,” Sekany said. “We’re not going to let them keep hurting people the way that they hurt us.”