MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — Former University of South Alabama women’s volleyball players on Tuesday brought a federal lawsuit against their former head coach, the school and other university personnel, alleging the former head coach “sexually harassed, and physically and emotionally abused her players for several years,” according to a news release from the law firm representing the students.

In addition to former head coach Alexis Meeks-Rydell, the lawsuit names as defendants the University, Athletic Director Joel Erdman, and former assistant coaches Rob Chilcoat and Patricia Gandolfo.

The lawsuit describes a “culture of fear” in the program, where players were allegedly routinely subjected to abuse, including:

  • pinching players’ buttocks
  • at least one instance of slapping a player in the face
  • regular overtraining, coersion to practice or play while injured
  • forcing players to play though concussed, experiencing asthma attacks
  • verbal abuse

One allegation outlined in the lawsuit is that Meeks-Rydell forced players to engage in “floor hugs,” “in which team members laid on the ground while Meeks-Rydell laid on top of them.”

The lawsuit alleges these abuses continued through 2019 and 2020, though Erdman, Chilcoat, Gandolfo and other university officials had direct knowledge of the abuse.

Meeks-Rydell was hired as the University’s Women’s Volleyball Team Head Coach Dec. 31, 2018. She resigned from USA in February, according to the lawsuit.

She was hired as the assistant coach at Purdue University Fort Wayne in Indiana on June 1. Purdue University Fort Wayne confirms to WKRG News 5 Meeks-Rydell has been put on administrative leave. They sent us this statement: “Upon learning of the lawsuit and allegations against Alexis Meeks-Rydell during her time at the University of South Alabama, she was immediately placed on administrative leave pending university review of the matter. This will be the extent of our comment at this time.”

Former assistant coaches Chilcoat and Gandolfo have also left USA. Chilcoat is an assistant coach at Brown University. Gandolfo at the University of West Florida.

Erdmann still serves as USA’s athletic director.

The University of South Alabama has released a statement about the lawsuit, it reads:

“The University has been made aware that a lawsuit was recently filed that has not yet been served, and does not comment on pending litigation.”

University of South Alabama

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, Mobile Division.