From the backyard to Blake Arena

Helen Lucas
@_helenlucas

In a rematch of last years NEWMAC quarterfinals the Pride could feel the Cougars starting to put the pressure on. After two exhausting sets the Pride found themselves beginning to close out the third set against Clark.

Springfield held a 22-16 set lead and was searching for the sweep. The Cougars called one final time out to try and put a stop to the Prides victory. After coming out of the timeout Clark seemed confident that they can catch the Pride. Hannah Lozano stepped up to serve the ball. After the Clark returned the ball over the net Jen Donnelly was set up for a perfect shot.

When Donnelly hit the ball it soared over the net to the right side of the court. Springfield then scored three straight points to hold a 24-16 lead. The Pride was victorious and Donnelly ended the night with 12 kills.

Donnelly, who is now one of the top players in the conference, wasn’t always the player to watch.

In her first season with the Pride, Donnelly did not have as much pressure to perform offensively as she does now. She was spent a lot in her freshman year moving around and finding her spot on the court. This can aggravate a player, especially a top athlete like Donnelly, who was Gatorade Player of the Year her senior year of high school. However like many college athletes Donnelly realized she still had a lot to learn.

“I [came] in and the upperclassmen are really strong, and just really good. [In high school] I’d never been nervous or really had to compete for my spot and I definitely had to compete every single practice,” said Donnelly. “I had really good role models for sure and that set the tone for me because I knew what they had achieved and I wanted to do the same thing.”

It didn’t take Donnelly long to figure out how the Springfield College women’s volleyball program worked. By her second season she was third on the team in kills and kills per set and fourth on the team in digs. She went from playing in 19 matches her freshman season to 34 during her sophomore campaign.  

“When we saw the biggest transformation in her spring season of freshman year when all the things we had been asking her in the fall just kind of clicked,” said head coach Moira Long. “I think often when you have a chance to step back for a minute and think about or watch what has been said to you, you have time to slow things down in your mind and then you can make it happen on the court.”

When Donnelly first started playing volleyball in eighth grade she did it in hopes of playing in high school with her neighbor, Abbey Greene, who is two years older and eventually played at Lyndon State College in Vermont. The two of them would work on their skills in the backyard after school.

“It was just for fun in the beginning, but as we played more and more Jen started picking things up. She got better and better, and it became our thing. The more she played the more she fell in love with it,” said Greene.

After playing in the backyard Donnelly went to camps over the summer and made it onto the JV team her freshman year of high school at Exeter-West Greenwich in Rhode Island. From there her love of the sport grew and she joined a club team where her skills continued to grow and allowed her to make varsity her sophomore year.

“The biggest change was confidence. She had trained very hard at that point and had therefore gained a trust in herself as a player, so you could tell she wasn’t trying to prove herself anymore,” said Greene. “She got out on the court to own it and played for the love of the sport. She knew she was good and we all saw it too.”

When Long saw Donnelly playing one day in the field house and knew that she wanted Donnelly to play for the Pride.

“She had this presences on the court and you just tell she just was like I want to win, I’ll do anything to win. You would think anybody in athletics has that in them, but I don’t think that’s true of all athletes. JD just wanted to win and it was passion and desire to win,” said Long

Before coming to Springfield, Donnelly never realized how much volleyball could change her life.

“I thought it was just a sport, but it is so much more than that and at the college level it pushes you…off the court it teaches you to be a better human in a way. ” said Donnelly.

Having an all-around player is essential to any team’s success, and Donnelly is just as strong at getting back on defense as she is on offense. She is currently ranked No. 3 in kills per set, with 3.58, and No. 5 in kills, with 204, in the conference. On top of her strong offense she also is No. 2 on the team in digs with 204 as well.

“I think that not thinking on the court is something that I’m doing better this year,” stated Donnelly. “It sounds weird but when I start to think about each job I have to do and maybe I have to do something perfect then I’ll just get in my own head and mess up, so my way about going with things is just going with the flow of the game.”

 

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