Current and former Texas Tech women's basketball players allege that coach Marlene Stollings and her staff fostered a culture of abuse in the program, USA Today's Jori Epstein and Daniel Libit report.
Since Stollings and her staff took over the program in 2018, 12 players have departed the program. Stollings remains employed by Texas Tech.
"Our administration and my staff believe in the way we are building and turning this program around here," Stollings said in a statement to USA Today. "Our student athletes are developing a disciplined approach both on and off the court."
Among the players' claims, according to USA Today, include Stollings's emphasis on maintaining an elevated heart rate of over 90% during play. Players described this as a "torture mechanism" and would be questioned if they did not reach the benchmark. Possible consequences included further conditioning and potentially reduced playing time. Players wore heart rate monitors during games, practices and workouts. Two players said they stopped taking over-the-counter pain medications because, “If we’re in pain, our heart rate’s going to be higher," according to USA Today.
Further claims include international players being "ridiculed, isolated and threatened" by coaches.
Emma Merriweather, who has since transferred, told USA Today she was scolded for having panic attacks, a sign of depression for which she was later diagnosed. Stollings also took away Merriweather's dog and said he was a "distraction" from basketball. The coach reportedly offered the pet to boosters.
“A lot of these girls had never experienced depression or extreme anxiety before they came to Tech and they experienced it with Marlene,” Merriweather told USA Today. “Coach Marlene was evil and manipulative and vindictive in a quiet watered-down manner, so you can’t outwardly say, ‘This person is evil.’ … Her values are not in protecting her team and the girls. That woman is a millionaire off being evil.”
Five players claim that strength and conditioning coach Ralph Petrella sexually harassed players. Per USA Today, Petrella was accused of making multiple suggestive comments to one player and using a recovery therapy technique that "involved applying pressure to some players’ chests and pubic bones and groins." Petrella also reportedly once made Merriweather "get on the (expletive) scale" in the weight room and announced the number to the men’s basketball players.
Petrella denied the allegations but voluntarily resigned after the 2020 season.
The university formed a committee to review the players’ allegations of abuse in exit interviews, which resulted in Petrella's resignation "before any university review could take place," athletics director Kirby Hocutt said in a statement to USA Today.
After players brought abuse claims to school officials, players say that Stollings "retaliated" by holding tougher practices.
Stollings previously coached at the University of Minnesota and Winthrop University. The Gophers saw increased success under Stollings, posting a 24-9 record and reaching the second round of the NCAA tournament in the 2017-18 season. Stollings was brought to Texas Tech to return the program "to national prominence," the school's release said.
Texas Tech women's basketball finished with an 18-11 overall record last season, including a 7-11 mark against Big 12 opponents. The Lady Raiders have 11 Sweet Sixteen appearances but have not reached the NCAA tournament since 2013.