Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Updated: Bilney sisters, Nichols, Wann share their memories of Ginny and Natalie

Our deepest sympathies go to the families of Ginny Doyle, Natalie Lewis and Daniel Kirk, whose lives were lost in a tragic hot air balloon crash on Saturday. Doyle, associate head coach under Michael Shafer, was the longest tenured assistant in the state. A Spider player for two years and an assistant for 15, she once held the NCAA Division I record for consecutive free throws made with 66.

Buffalo native Lewis, a former swimmer for the Spiders and two-time team captain, was in her second season as the team's director of operation. She and longtime sweetheart Michael Dougher became engaged in April.

Kirk was the balloon pilot.

LadySwish extends its sympathies to the entire Richmond team and coaches.

We offer recollections of Ginny and Natalie, who were remembered Wednesday morning by the Richmond community at an on-campus service. A more formal memorial service is planned for the fall.

We thank Samantha Bilney, Rachael Bilney, Amber Nichols and Becca Wann, both of whom graduated on Sunday, for sharing their memories with us.

From Samantha, who shared her thoughts in writing:

"I'm not sure I could ever have thanked Coach Doyle enough for how she impacted my life. She
introduced me and my family to the University of Richmond, something I would never have been able to find on my own. The experiences I had at UR will shape me forever, and I never would have known the school existed if it weren't for Coach Doyle. And I think that is one of the things that made her so special -- she gave kids all across the country a chance to change their lives! And she did it with the greatest  passion, love and the truest understanding of the game of basketball I have ever known. I will always remember the long talks, the banter, the jokes, and her smile. Her creaky knees, her sarcasm, and her heart. Forever happy she was teaching the game of basketball and forever happy I will be remembering all she taught me, on and off the court.

"Any time I have described Natalie I say, 'You know! The happy one with the beautiful smile!' And that is how I will always remember her. I knew of her as a swimmer and fellow student-athete at UR, but I got to know her when she joined our staff, and I am so gracious of our time together. I have truly never met someone who radiated such happiness. She brightened the world of those around her with her spirit and positivity. Her excitement for life was inspiring, as she embraced each day with energy and enthusiasm, and I think that is what I will always remember the most about her. We lost a stunning person but gained a radiant angel. 

"I will always love them both, and I will never forget the beautiful joy they brought to my life. I am honored and grateful to have known them and completely heartbroken to have lost them. My prayers are with the Lewis and Doyle families as well as all the Spiders that knew them. May we always cherish the true joy they leave in our memories."

From Rachael, who shared her thoughts in writing: 

"I am forever indebted to Coach Doyle, as she was my lead contact and recruiter at Richmond. The conversations we shared will always remain special as she was a huge part of my decision to attend UR. She was also so much of why my time at school was so special. Coach Doyle was always goofy with the players. We pulled pranks, picked on each other and laughed relentlessly. We always joked with each other that you had to plan out at least 90 minutes if you were going to the coaches offices because, without fail, you would get caught up talking to Coach Doyle. She was so loved and respected by everyone at the school and beyond. I only hope to have the same reputation she acquired. Her legacy will live on . . . once a Spider, always a Spider.

"I had the honor of being in school with Natalie at the same time. Although I only got close to her when she was our director of operations, her bubbly personality and unwavering smile were well known by all. I can truly say I have never been around a person who simply glowed so naturally as Natalie. She radiated all day, every day. Her passion for life, people, her swim team and then the basketball program was palpable. Of course, her efforts with her job made her indispensible, but it was her love and compassion that we all appreciated so much more. The joy that Natalie had will long be missed, but I am so thankful to have had the chance to know her and more importantly learn from her. 

"Thank you, Natalie and coach Doyle, for everything. I love you both with all that I have. My heart is with your families and your memories will be with me forever."

From Amber: Ginny and Natalie were the last two people Amber saw when she left campus a week ago for an internship interview at a sports management company in California.

"Before I left, I was in Coach Doyle's office talking about my upcoming trip to Cali. Natalie came in and sat down with us and was telling us about the engagement party her mother and father had thrown for her. She was so excited. Her mom had taken 1,000 pictures of her and Michael. She was giving us the details of her engagement party."

Ginny told Amber to promise to text or call with details, and Natalie assured Amber she'd get the internship.

Amber was back from the trip when she saw the group text from Shafer telling the seniors about the accident. "My first thought was it wasn't fatal; maybe it got stuck in a tree. Then Olivia (Healy) texted me at 2:45 a.m. on Friday night and said they were missing. I broke down. My mom stayed up with me. On Saturday, coach Shafer explained what happened. Sunday was graduation, and it was really, really hard. We were with coach Shafer in person and we were about to take pictures, and he said to us that coach Doyle told him on Friday she was proud of us and told him she couldn't wait to see us graduate. She told him that she wanted us to enjoy this day and she wanted us to be happy. He told us, 'I know Natalie and Doyle want  you all to be happy, and this is a moment to celebrate.' It was inspiring. It was a really emotional moment for us."

"Coach Doyle was the one who reached out to my high school coach to recruit me. She was the one I always worked out with and she the one I reported my grades to every week. She was the coach I probably had the best relationship with, because I saw her the most. My freshman year, I remember I was struggling a little bit adjusting to the flow of the college game. She pulled me aside after practice and said, 'You have a lot of potential and I know you're having a tough time adjusting right now, but I wanted to let you know that I believe in you and if I didn't, I wouldn't have gone out of my way to recruit you.' She was that kind of person. When she saw you struggling, she tried to build your confidence up.

"This previous summer was my biggest memory of Coach Doyle. I worked every day with her by myself. Every day we would meet at 12:30 and do ballhandling workouts. We would laugh and she'd tell me I'd be getting drills quick. We'd laugh through the drills. I remember going through my old text messages and at the end of the workout she'd text me, 'You really did a good job today. You had a purpose. You're going to have a great season.' That fact that she cared so much about how I was improving spoke to her personality.

"We'd always talk about everything. Even when I'd go into her office for my grades for what should be a two-minute meeting, it would be 30 to 45 minutes. We would talk about everything. In California (during the season), we missed our flight to get back to Richmond. She ended up taking care of me and four of my teammates in the airport. She stayed up while we all slept. 

"She always cared. She always wanted details about what you were doing. That showed how much she cared. When I got the internship with the Redskins, most people brushed it off. She wanted to know details like, 'What are you doing?' and 'Do you like it?' and 'Who have you met?'

"Natalie came to us last year, and off the bat, she was smiling all the time. You could have the worst day of practice, you could have the worst mood, and Natalie would come in and smile and brighten everything up."

From Becca:

"Nat taught me to swim last summer. After basketball season ended, three days a week we would get in the pool, and she taught me all the strokes. It actually ended up helping me, because when I was frustrated, I would get in the pool as an outlet. Every Tuesday morning we would get up and we would swim.

"One day at practice I was struggling and I was sitting. I was upset I wasn't on the court, and I started crying. I didn't think anybody saw me. I left and gathered myself and came back in. We went down to lift and came back up an hour and a half later. Nat knows I love dried fruit. She left dried fruit and nuts with a note that said, 'Hope this dried fruit helps those wet eyes I saw this morning. xxx Nat.' That's her. She would do anything for anybody. She's the most thoughtful person.

Coach Doyle . . . I just remember sitting in her office for extended periods of time talking about nothing! This year with not playing I feel like I got to know all of the coaches, but especially Coach Doyle, on a different level. Coach Doyle is one of the funniest people you will meet. It's this dry humor. Our relationship was mostly banter. I'm not sure there were any actual compliments dished out. It was usually her picking on me and me picking right back. I started refing IM (intramural) basketball as an on-campus drive. I liked it, and the coaches would let me ref scrimmages in practice.  Coach Doyle would be one of the other refs. Her and Coach Shafer would give me the hardest time for refing. I"ll always remember that. I went to this A-10 refing clinic in Richmond. Immediately afterward I went to Coach Doyle's office and she asked me how it was. For an hour I told her about all the dumb stuff I did. She texted me after that and said, 'I'm sitting here laughing at the stories you told me about your refing.' She would pounce on any opportunity to give me a hard time, which I loved. We definitely had a unique player-coach relationship in that manner, but I loved it."

On graduation day: "For me it was a balancing act. I went to church that morning and I walked in the door and sobbed for probably an hour and a half. I had gotten Nat a ticket to come. But I realized both of them would kill me if they knew I was crying on my graduation day. They would be like, 'You worked four years for this. You're just going to cry it away?' I put my big girl panties on for them. We had a moment of silence for them, and I sat there in my cap and gown with tears streaming down my face. It came in waves. I saw the swimmers who were graduates and they had their caps decorated like we did. We just cried. Sunday for me -- there were times I celebrated my graduation, but it was very up and down. It was also Mother's Day. Afterward, I went to dinner with my mother and in the restaurant there was a five-minute news story on them, and I started crying. It doesn't go away, but at the same day I want to honor them with the way they'd want me to be, and sad is not anywhere close to that."

For more memories, read Mel Greenberg's blog here.

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