This March, the UVA women’s basketball team advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. It was the first time in her seven-year tenure that head coach Joanne Boyle had led them to the Big Dance.
Two days later, the 54-year-old coach announced her retirement due to a family matter.
A story in The Washington Post reported that the family matter was related to the adoption of Boyle’s daughter, Ngoty, now 6 years old, from a Senegalese orphanage in 2014. Federal regulations have mandated that Boyle and Ngoty return to Senegal to finalize Ngoty’s adoption process, which could take months or even years.
For Boyle, realizing she might need to spend significant time away from Charlottesville meant retiring from a career she has loved at four schools for almost half her life.
After playing basketball as a four-year letterman at Duke University, where she earned a degree in economics, Boyle earned her master’s degree in health policy and administration at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She played professionally overseas for three seasons then planned to enter the Peace Corps or work for the World Health Organization. But Duke head coach Gail Goestenkors asked Boyle to join her staff as an assistant.
“What spoke to me was Gail’s passion and energy for her vision,” Boyle says. “Really being able to be a mentor and help guide a program, and to help these young women attain and leave a legacy.”
Six months in, she knew she had found her calling. Boyle spent nine years as an assistant at Duke before accepting the head-coaching job at the University of Richmond. She led the Spiders for three seasons before becoming the head coach at the University of California, Berkeley, where she guided the Bears to the NCAA Tournament four times in six seasons.
In 2011, Boyle arrived in Charlottesville. In her first season, she led the team to a 25-11 record—their best one during her seven years at the helm. But Boyle does not concentrate solely on records.
“We’ve had great games, beating top-five, top-ten teams in the country,” Boyle says of her UVA tenure. “But for me, it has always been about the relationships with your players and staff.”
Boyle’s players and fellow coaches highlighted the same qualities when talking about Boyle, describing how she carried herself on and off the court rather than the X’s and O’s. That includes setting the example that family should come first. Boyle is a single parent, and her devotion to her daughter is clear. Despite her own health setbacks over the years, and a strong coaching career, Boyle didn’t hesitate when deciding what was best for her family.
“She’s really taught me the importance of getting back up and brushing yourself off after adversity,” player Aliyah Huland El (Educ ’18) says. “That it’s not always how you got there or what your particular circumstances are, but how you respond to them. She helped me stay grounded in understanding that everything is temporary, nothing lasts forever.”
And for Boyle, that also means a new path after coaching. She’s talked about the possibility of doing work with her daughter in Africa and of finding ways to give back to the communities around her, wherever that may be.
“I know when I walk in the room and Joanne is there, I act better,” Miami women’s basketball head coach Katie Meier says. “You’re so impressed by her that you’re more generous, you’re more patient. You feel like, ‘I’m with a high-level person, I need to bring it!’ She wants to help others and do the most she can with her time on this Earth.”