Texas Tech Women's Basketball Players Allege Abuse by Marlene Stollings, Coaches

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistAugust 5, 2020

Texas Tech head coach Marlene Stollings shouts instructions to her players during an NCAA college basketball game against TCU, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019, in Fort Worth, Texas. TCU won 78-70. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
Brandon Wade/Associated Press

A report by USA Today's Jori Epstein and Daniel Libit published Wednesday revealed what Texas Tech players called "a culture of abuse" within the Red Raiders women's basketball program.

Marlene Stollings took over as head coach in April 2018 after leaving her post at Minnesota. Since her arrival, 12 players have transferred out, and Stollings had personally recruited seven of the players, per Epstein and Libit:

"In the correspondence of five players to the NCAA regarding transfer waivers for [Emma] Merriweather and [Marcella] LaMark, they described the Texas Tech program as an 'extremely unhealthy' and 'toxic environment' in which players were 'mistreated” and 'degraded,' according to copies obtained by USA TODAY Sports. And in the exit interviews, which were anonymous, players addressed the exodus bluntly.

"'That's not a lack of talent or a lack of playing,' one player wrote. 'That's having respect for themselves that they recognize a toxic environment when they see one.'"

Epstein and Libit shared a statement from athletics director Kirby Hocutt, who said one staff member had resigned because of allegations brought forth by players and that the school conducted an investigation:

"Additionally, based on information received we conducted an in-depth program review of our women’s basketball program.  ... I have thoroughly discussed this review with coach Stollings and am confident that we are taking appropriate steps to improve the relationship and communication between coaches and student-athletes so that we can continue to grow the success of our program both on and off the court."

Stollings was quoted in the piece as well:

"Our administration and my staff believe in the way we are building and turning this program around here. Our student athletes are developing a disciplined approach both on and off the court. 

"I want our students, fans and alumni to know we are committed to winning championships at Texas Tech and doing it the right way through hard work, accountability and fierce determination."

The portrayal by the players differed significantly, with Merriweather calling Stollings "evil and manipulative and vindictive in a quiet watered-down manner."

The former Texas Tech center was diagnosed with depression and experienced panic attacks due to her anxiety. She expressed the lack of support she felt from the Texas Tech coaching staff, telling Epstein and Libit she was "scolded for displaying symptoms of depression."

Merriweather also alleged that Stollings took away her dog, calling him a "distraction" and asking boosters if they wanted to take the dog. "She just tore him away from me," Merriweather said.

The allegations weren't limited to Stollings.

Some players said that former strength and conditioning coach Ralph Petrella spoke negatively about their weight and "applied pressure near their chest and groin" while demonstrating reflexive performance reset techniques. One player alleged he made inappropriate comments to the point she wondered whether he was "grooming" her.

The school's Title IX administrator, Stollings and then Hocutt were contacted by one player in March after a one-on-one meeting with Petrella. She said he "applied pressure to her pubic bone, went under her sports bra to reach a chest pressure point and went under her spandex shorts to reach an area near her groin." 

After being informed of the allegations, Hocutt said Petrella had resigned from his role a day earlier. Through legal representation, Petrella denied "any inappropriate conduct while employed by the Texas Tech University women's basketball program" and said he resigned voluntarily after the 2020 season.

Red Raiders assistant coach Nikita Lowry Dawkins previously coached at New Mexico State, where she was the subject of an investigation into physical and mental abuse within that program. Merriweather alleged that Lowry Dawkins instructed her to snap her wrist with a rubber band "each time she had a negative thought."