There has been a mass exodus from Texas Tech’s women’s basketball program. Twelve of 21 women have left the team and school, all since coach Marlene Stollings took over the program in 2018.
An investigation by USA Today and the Intercollegiate found that players felt abused by Stollings and her coaches. Players say they were ridiculed and isolated, and symptoms of depression were ignored and admonished. Others say they were berated or sexually harassed by the strength and conditioning coach.
Despite these allegations, Stollings has kept her job.
Toxic atmosphere and alleged abuse
Stollings came to Texas Tech when the program was in need of a turnaround, and they got it. After gong 7-23 during the 2017-18 season, the Lady Raiders went 14-17 the next season under Stollings. They went 18-11 in 2019-20 before COVID-19 ended the season.
The improvement came at a cost, at least for the players. Here are some quotes from exit interviews obtained by USA Today and the Intercollegiate:
“By how she treats people, her character seems poor.”
One player said coaches “used fear to motivate you,” and that there was “not one person on this roster that feels comfortable going up to our coaches (sic) office.”
“Do something about the coaches,” another player wrote, “so that my teammates don’t have to continue suffering in silence.”
In interviews with USA Today, players discussed the abuse they endured from Stollings and her staff.
Stollings and her staff called players “disgusting” and “trash,” five players from the past two seasons told USA TODAY Sports. Coaches called post players “fat pig,” “grossly out of shape” and “grossly disproportional,” four say.
Players say coaches dismissed some injuries and pressured players to play even though a trainer or medical professional recommended otherwise.
When players took their complaints to school officials, including executive senior associate athletic director and senior women’s administrator Judi Henry, they say that Stollings retaliated by holding practices that were much tougher than normal, and berated them for being “mentally weak.”
Emmi Merriweather, who transferred to Kansas, recalls how Stollings scolded her when she started showing signs of anxiety and depression. After having numerous panic attacks, Merriweather brought her dog, Mikey, to campus so she could register him as an emotional support pet, but Stollings took him from her. Literally. She gave Mikey away to a stranger because she said the dog would be a “distraction” for Merriweather.
Alleged harassment from strength coach
Further allegations center on Ralph Petrella, the strength and conditioning coach who had worked with Stollings for years. Merriweather remembers Petrella body shaming her one morning when she stopped by his office for a snack, since she hadn’t eaten breakfast. He demanded that she get on the scale, yelled her weight to a room full of men’s basketball players and angrily berated her.
“I was just so embarrassed,” Merriweather told USA Today. “I think that might have been the most embarrassing moment of my life.”
Players recall Petrella taking photos of them from multiple angles, ostensibly to show their progress throughout the season, but they never saw the photos. He administered reflexive performance reset, always with permission, but would constantly touch the players near their chest and groin — which experts say is not the correct way to do it. He would reach underneath sports bras and press on pubic bones, and players say that he was verbally abusive and would make inappropriate comments about their appearance and dating life.
Petrella resigned in March after Texas Tech presented him with the allegations.
Stollings remains coach
The player exit interviews drew the attention of Texas Tech, which convened a four-person committee to review the allegations and Title IX complaints. Athletics director Kirby Hocutt released this statement to USA Today about that process.
“Earlier this year, we were made aware of allegations of inappropriate behavior by a support staff member of our women’s basketball program. When the individual was confronted with the allegations, the individual resigned from their position before any university review could take place.
“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.”
Hocutt said Wednesday night that he had met with the women’s basketball players for an hour and met with the team and coaching staff for more than two hours, according to USA Today. He plans to meet with them again on Thursday, too.
“There is nothing more important to Texas Tech and me personally than the experience of our student-athletes,” Hocutt said in the statement. “We will continue our conversation tomorrow to work through concerns about our program as we seek a path forward to make sure we are providing an environment to educate, serve and grow our student-athletes.”
Stollings was not being fired despite overseeing the program that saw over half of its players leave in two years, and retaining a strength and conditioning coach accused of harassment and abuse.
There was also no written record of the committee’s review, which was given to Hocutt “verbally.”
Is Texas Tech taking this as seriously as it should? Stollings’ statement, in which she admits to zero wrongdoing, would indicate that the school could be doing a lot better by its student-athletes.
“We know change is difficult and that has been no different at Texas Tech. Some wonderful young women have decided to leave our program and pursue their dreams elsewhere. I hope they have found everything they are looking for at their new destination.
“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.”
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