HARRISONBURG — At about 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Sarah Williams got a call from High Point women’s basketball coach DeUnna Hendrix. Williams, an assistant coach at James Madison, played with Hendrix at the University of Richmond. The phone call was about Ginny Doyle.
“She asked if I heard about Doyle,” Williams said. “Then said she was in an accident.”
Doyle, a longtime Richmond assistant coach, died Friday night in a hot air balloon crash about 25 miles north of Richmond after the balloon hit power lines and burst into flames. Also killed in the accident was Natalie Lewis, the Spiders’ director of women’s basketball operations, and the balloon pilot, Daniel Kirk.
Doyle was 44; Lewis was 24; and Kirk was 65.
Williams said she kept in touch with Doyle, for whom she played during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons before transferring to JMU, and described Doyle’s death as “unimaginable.”
“Coach Doyle has been a cornerstone of that program,” Williams said. “She’s been there for at least three coaches that I know of. … She’s got so much pride for that university. She’s dedicated to that program. I can’t even wrap my head around just how tragic this is and how much their kids must be hurting and how coach [Michael] Shafer must be hurting.”
Doyle spent 15 years as a UR assistant coach after being hired by Bob Foley in 1999. She stayed on staff for two coaching changes, first with Joanne Boyle, now Virginia’s coach, and then Michael Shafer, who was hired in 2005.
Doyle also was a Richmond graduate. The Philadelphia native played for the Spiders from 1990-92 and was named associate head coach in 2011. She recruited Williams.
“When I played there, she definitely was the coach I was closest with,” said Williams, who is from Wilmington, Del., about 20 minutes from Philadelphia. “When you transfer, it’s a little bit hard to keep as close contact as when you were a player. She always, whenever I saw her on the road [recruiting] … she was always very friendly. Just kind.”
JMU played at Richmond last season, and the Spiders return the game this season. The two staffs are close, and Richmond, under Shafer, has always been a go-to game for JMU coach Kenny Brooks.
Brooks said he knew Doyle for about 10 years. He said he did not know Lewis, a Buffalo, N.Y., native and former UR swimmer, but that he had been thinking about them all weekend.
He described Doyle as “great” for women’s basketball.
“She was one of those people who did everything the right way and worked really hard,” Brooks said. “She was a tremendous asset to the University of Richmond. I can’t even fathom that this actually happened. It seems like a dream.”