RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — One was the constant in Richmond women's basketball, the beloved assistant coach who had been on staff for 15 seasons, remaining through two coaching changes. The other was hardly out of college, always cheerful and willing to help and with a demeanor that led others to expect great things.
As the University of Richmond on Sunday grieved the losses of associate head coach Ginny Doyle and director of basketball operations Natalie Lewis in a fiery hot-air balloon accident, friends and colleagues praised them as shining faces of the program and whose expertise and cheer will be difficult to replace.
"There's not a person in this business that doesn't see Ginny as just a light," Joanne Boyle, now the coach at Virginia, said of Doyle, who was on her staff with the Spiders from 2002-05. "She was just a light for other people, and when you talk about this business and the genuineness and caring about the kids and what's best for the student-athletes, she epitomized that, and I know people would line up to say that about her."
Doyle and Lewis died Friday night when their balloon drifted into a power line, burst into flames and fell into a heavily wooded area about 25 miles north of Richmond. They were there for a special preview of a festival set to open Saturday.
Doyle, 44, was hired by Bob Foley at Richmond in 1999. When Boyle got her first head coaching job, replacing Foley at Richmond, Doyle "just rose to the top" in an interview and Boyle decided to keep her on staff.
She also tried to get Doyle to come along when she left for California, but with no luck. Instead, Doyle stayed on again when Michael Shafer took over, and rose three years ago to associate head coach.
"She would talk about Richmond and the school as though she had started the university," Boyle said Saturday. "That's how entrenched she was in that community. ... She gave her heart to that school, and that being said, she did the same with her family. ... Her life was about serving other people."
The same was true for Lewis, a four-year letter-winner in swimming who just completed her second season with the basketball program. Her job required great organization skills as she made travel, hotel and bus arrangements for the team, planned for meals and handled day-to-day basketball business.
In the grind of a season, broadcaster Matt Smith said, she was a shining light, too.
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