Players Addie Budnik and Grace Townsend depart from the team bus at they arrive at the arena in Columbus.

Women's Basketball

‘Moments of work for a lifetime of memories’

Richmond, the Spiders have landed.

A plane touched down in Columbus, Ohio, Wednesday evening delivering the Spider women's basketball team to its first NCAA appearance since 2005, a 19-year span. They are a No. 10 seed, and they face No. 7 seed Duke today at 2:30 p.m. Alumni Engagement is hosting a game watch in Columbus, and there will be a big one on campus, too.

At practices in the Queally Athletic Center this week, head coach Aaron Roussell had guidance beyond Xs and Os for the team. They were trading “moments of work for a lifetime of memories,” he told them. Be present in the moment, he said. Enjoy the experiences you’re having while they happen. You’ll get goosebumps for the rest of your life when you see videos and pictures of the A-10 championship and celebration. You’ll never watch another selection show the same way again. You’ll never watch another NCAA Tournament the same way again.

Roussell has experienced it before. This is his seventh trip to an NCAA tournament, but his first with Richmond. He knows that, as much as he might tell them, the players don’t yet understand how life-changing this experience is.

“There’s a different relationship and a different thought after you go through winning a championship,” he said during an interview. “It’s sounds corny, but it’s a blood relationship, a sisterhood when you’ve been through a championship experience together.”

The trip to the NCAAs is the culmination of a goal and a leap of faith the team’s four seniors — Addie Budnik, Kylee Lewandowski, Siobhan Ryan, and Grace Townsend — took four years ago. When they were being recruited, the program hadn’t had a winning record in five seasons. Still, they bought into the new coach, the program’s new vision, and the university.

Townsend, a local player who was the best point guard in the A-10 this season, visited campus with her family on their own when she was making her college decision. “Walking around, there was a bunch of construction going on, but it felt right,” she said. “You get the feeling like, ‘OK, this is where I’m supposed to be.’” She signed on without a scholarship open for her, just a promise from Roussell that he had faith in her. She had a scholarship by the second semester of her first year.


Members of the University of Richmond women's basketball team scrimmage at a practice session before their NCAA game.

The seniors’ first semester on campus was fall 2020, a time when COVID-19 had shut down normal campus life. “We spent a lot of time together and weren’t necessarily mingling a ton with other students on campus,” Budnik said. “We formed that bond within our class, and honestly, I feel like we’ve just gone through so much together that’s brought us even closer and that’s translating on the court in terms of chemistry.”

In the years since, they’ve all roomed with one another in various configurations. Lewandowski calls their bond “awesome.” “We were restricted because of the bubble,” she said. “We joked around that we were our own bubble.”

In their time together, the team has gotten stronger. In their first season, which was limited by COVID-19, the team compiled the program’s first winning record since 2015. In their sophomore year, they pulled off a seven-game winning streak and finished above water, going 16-14. The team really hit its stride their junior year, winning more than 20 games and going to the WNIT, where these Spiders got the program’s first postseason win since 2015. This year, they’re dancing in the NCAA Tournament.

Craig Kocher, the university chaplain, has seen the team play as much as anyone outside of the coaching staff. He’s the team’s play-by-play announcer. (Yes, at Richmond, the chaplain calls the games. He also does baseball and soccer.)

“They’re so fun to watch,” he says. “There’s this warmth and genuineness, but also underneath that, they want to win. That belief and demanding of themselves and expecting to win —  that’s how I experience a lot of our students at Richmond. Most of them are genuinely nice people. They’re genuinely enjoyable to be around, and they’re also really talented and really driven and really want to succeed in whatever their chosen thing is. This team really fits the University of Richmond.”