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Texas Tech players discuss culture of ‘fear, anxiety’ in report

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Wednesday morning USA TODAY Sports released a damning article detailing the Texas Tech women’s basketball program and allegations of abuse over the last two seasons since Marlene Stollings took over as head coach in April 2018.

The report, written in collaboration with The Intercollegiate, was curated from exit interviews from the past two seasons via public records requests. Along with the public documents, 10 players, two former assistant coaches and two parents were interviewed by USA TODAY Sports about the program. Six of the players spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation from the program.

In detail, the allegations centered on primarily emotional and physical abuse. Below are some of the claims from the reports:

  • ■ The emphasis of maintaining an elevated heart rate during play drove two players to abstain from taking over-the-counter painkillers in an effort to use the pain to keep their heart rates spiked.
  • ■ Three international players on rosters the past two seasons allegedly faced treatment such as being ridiculed, isolated and threatened by coaches. Brazil native Marcella LaMark said Stollings told LaMark her fitness lagged so far behind teammates that she was “dangerous” to them. LaMark has since transferred to Pittsburgh.
  • ■ Emma Merriweather, a 6’5″ center, said she was admonished by coaches for displaying symptoms of depression, for which she was eventually diagnosed. She was also allegedly told by assistant coach Nikita Lowry Dawkins to snap a rubber band on her wrist when she had a negative thought. Merriweather transferred to Kansas after the 2018-19 season.
  • ■ Five players alleged strength and conditioning coach Ralph Petrella sexually harassed players, making suggestive comments to one player and using a therapy technique that involved applying pressure to some players’ chests and pubic bones and groins. Petrella, who denies any misconduct, resigned in March after the season.
  • ■ Three players said Stollings retaliated by holding tougher practices after they brought abuse claims to school officials, including Judi Henry, executive senior associate athletic director and senior women’s administrator. 

Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt gave a statement to USA TODAY Sports saying that the university had formed a committee to investigate the claims of abuse, Title IX requests and transfer requests filed with the NCAA as well as interviews with school officials.

“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,” Hocutt said. “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 herself also provided a statement to the publication, which read in part:

“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.”

Stollings, upon being hired by Texas Tech in April of 2018, brought Nikita Lowry Dawkins on as the associate head coach; Lowry Dawkins served in a similar position with Stollings at Minnesota and VCU. Lowry Dawkins had her own brushes with scandal, as she had been removed from her head coaching position at New Mexico State in 2003 following a school investigation “into allegations of mental and physical abuse, and other conduct that has jeopardized the health, safety, welfare and education of student-athletes under your charge,” according to a copy of the school’s termination notice obtained by the Intercollegiate along with other investigative records (She was reassigned to assistant athletic director). Stollings, at the time her associate head coach, had been promoted to the top spot but ultimately resigned in support of Lowry Dawkins.

In New Mexico State’s investigation, they found that Lowry Dawkins had threatened to kill a player, pulled another’s hair and pushed players in conditioning drills to the point of nauseousness. Her tenure at NMSU is not listed in her current bio with Texas Tech no was it mentioned when she was hired.

While Stollings has produced in her time with Texas Tech (14-17 in 2018-19; 18-11 in 2019-20), she has also lost the faith of many of her players – after the 2018-19 season, eight players and two assistant coaches either transferred or left the school altogether. In exit interviews from the 2019-20 season, 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.”

Emma Merriweather, who was one of the players interviewed by USA TODAY Sports, spoke about her experiences with the coaching staff, primarily Stollings, Lowry Dawkins and former strength and conditioning coach Ralph Petrella (who also worked with the two coaches at Minnesota and VCU). She recalled a morning in March of 2019 when she went to get a snack from the weight room and Petrella shouted at her to step on a weight scale. After she did, Petrella shouted her weight to members of the men’s basketball team then berated her.

“He was so upset, like shaking and I was like, ‘What is going on?’ ” Merriweather told USA TODAY Sports. “I was like, ‘You’re going to yell out my weight in front of all these men and tell me my body is disgusting in front of all these men?

“I was just so embarrassed,” she continued. “I think that might have been the most embarrassing moment of my life.”

Merriweather had also been scolded for showing symptoms of depression – which was later diagnosed. Those feelings were made worse when Stollings took her emotional-support dog, Mikey, and gave her to one of the team’s 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 said. “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.”

Even further, Merriweather shared in the report to USA Today Sports, the letter she wrote the NCAA after she departed Texas Tech:

Stolling, Texas Tech
Part 1 of Emma’s letter to the NCAA
Stolling, Texas Tech
Part 2 of Emma’s letter to the NCAA
Stolling, Texas Tech
Part 3 of Emma’s letter to the NCAA
Chris Bullock
Chris Bullock
Before joining The Ball Out, Chris Bullock was part of SB Nation's Swish Appeal for nearly three years, covering everything women's basketball. Chris has had the honor of doing live coverage of the WNBA Finals, the NCAA Tournament, and also was given his own column, "The Triple Double". A self-described "foodaholic", Chris lives in the San Diego area with his wife and two daughters, and also hosts his own podcast, "Conscious Cravings", where he speaks about his experience as a mental health advocate.

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