RICHMOND, Va. — The streak became Ginny Doyle's constant companion.
It went to meals with her. And, of course, to basketball games. It even was mentioned on national television.
Ginny Doyle, a 5-foot-11 senior guard/forward for Richmond, hadn't missed a free throw since March 1, 1991. Since then, she established NCAA records for most consecutive foul shots made--by a man or a woman. Previously, the record was 64, set by Joe Dykstra of Western Illinois during the 1981-82 season.
But Doyle found herself wishing the streak would go away.
Finally, one day her wish came true. Doyle was at the free-throw line to finish off a three-point play with about three minutes remaining against visiting Old Dominion on Jan. 22.
"I knew it was off as soon as it left my hands," Doyle said. "I can usually tell."
The streak ended at 66.
"I was relieved when I missed it," said Doyle, who is leading the nation with 80 for 83 from the line this season. "But after I began thinking about it, I was a little disappointed afterward."
Her gloom was erased, in part, by Richmond's eventual victory. It was the reverse of when Doyle passed the women's record of 57 consecutive free throws on Jan. 11. The Spiders went on to lose to East Carolina.
For Doyle, the streak helped Richmond (16-8 overall, 9-2 in the Colonial Athletic Assn.) carve its own niche in women's basketball. The small private school (enrollment: 3,400) is known for two things in the sports world--an odd nickname, the Spiders, and a men's basketball team capable of springing major upsets in the NCAA tournament.
Now, the legend of Ginny Doyle has been added to campus lore.
"As a first-year coach, you remember every little thing about your first team," Richmond's Tammy Holder said. "When I'm talking to my children and grandkids, the Ginny Doyle saga will be in there. It's part of folklore here."
That was even before Doyle's free-throw shootout against CBS's Billy Packer here earlier this month.
A little background:
One day after Doyle broke the collegiate record, Packer and colleague Andrea Joyce were talking before the network's telecast of the Villanova-North Carolina men's game.
"We were talking about six or seven news items," Packer said. "And I said to Andrea, 'Ginny Doyle set a new record. I think that's kind of a neat story. If you do it, there's one thing you'll have to mention. The women shoot with a smaller (one-third inch less in diameter) basketball.' "
Packer said Joyce looked at him and said, "Come on."
Said Packer: "She probably thought I was kidding or I was crazy. I looked over at her (Joyce) across the floor and she was laughing at me."
Richmond sports information director Phil Stanton made some inquiries and found out Packer was coming to Richmond to speak at a luncheon.
Packer said he would accept the free-throw challenge if a charity or an athletic program would benefit. So an anonymous donor put up $5,000, saying the men's basketball program would get it if Packer won or the women's team if Doyle prevailed.
Packer, jokingly, arrived with his arm in a sling. About 1,200 spectators showed up midday at the Robins Center, including a noisy group of youngsters from nearby St. Christopher's elementary school. Soon, one of Doyle's teammates was directing the children in cheers.
Doyle set off a few tremors when she actually missed a shot during warmups. Then she proceeded to make 20 out of 20. Packer, an outstanding free throw shooter in his college days, went 12 for 20.
Packer wasn't under any illusions he could blink away the years and pick right up from college ball.
"It's funny all these guys who talk about how they could shoot this and this," he said.
Packer is a realist. So it didn't bother him later when the inevitable heat came.
"(Maryland Coach) Gary Williams said to me, 'You let us down--12 out of 20?' " said Packer. "Let's put this in the proper context in the history of the game. What Ginny Doyle did, out of any of the truly great shooters, nobody had a streak like that. Nor has anyone had a career like hers. It's not like we're talking about some fly-by-night type thing.
"This is in the 100-year history of the game. She's great. You don't do what she's done at the free-throw line if you don't have a lot of moxie."
Doyle openly feared the Packer contest.
"My parents even came down from Philadelphia at the last minute," she said. "I was probably more nervous at that than I was throughout the whole string of free throws. When I walked in the gym, all those people were there. That's what made me so nervous."
Now life has returned to normal on campus. Richmond is preparing for the upcoming conference tournament, and Doyle has shown she is more than a one-dimensional player, leading the second-place Spiders in scoring with a 17.8 average.
There is one concern, however. She's a little worried about her free-throw shooting.
"Lately, I've been struggling," she said. "I just missed one down at East Carolina. Then I went six for six, but one just rolled all around the rim. This is probably the most I've been struggling."
Struggling? She has now missed three free throws since last March. For the near-perfect Doyle, she has even turned struggling into a relative term.