Sports Women's Sports

Riley Donahue making great impact for women’s volleyball after transfer

By Chris Gionta

In its opening weekend of play in 2021, the Springfield College women’s volleyball team won all four of its games. Head coach Moira Long enjoyed the weekend sweep, but in one of those games, a standout first-year on Endicott named Riley Donahue was a reminder of what slipped through the cracks for Springfield.

“I was like ‘man, she can jump so high and reach the top of the pin, and it would be great if she were wearing maroon!’” Long said.

The outside hitter gathered 10 kills in just her second career collegiate game despite the Gulls losing. Luckily for Springfield, it was the last time Donahue was on the opposing side, as just one year later, she became a member of the Pride.

Donahue’s journey into the sport started with influence from someone very close to her.

“My sister, who’s a couple years older than me, ended up playing volleyball in high school,” Donahue said. “And at that point, I wasn’t playing, but I was kind of watching her and watching all of her games, and I was super interested in it.”

She went on to try out for the South Windsor High School volleyball team and made it in her first year there, and was happy to have her desire to play be maintained throughout her tenure at the school.

“I got pretty lucky with my high school coaches and my club coaches because they kind of kept the love for the game with me,” Donahue said.

At South Windsor, she earned all-conference honors in her sophomore, junior and senior seasons. She also was named all-state for her senior year.

As her high school career progressed, more and more eyes from the college landscape went in Donahue’s direction. One of the coaches looking to get her in their program was Springfield’s Moira Long.

Recruiting at the time of Donahue’s senior season came with its own set of obstacles. It was in the fall of 2020, when COVID restrictions were very prevalent and numbers were progressively getting worse.

“We weren’t really having visitors to campus,” Long said. “So I talked to her on the phone a whole bunch.”

There were obstacles that presented themselves in what may have been a critical point in Donahue’s recruiting process.

“My greatest regret that year is that she wanted to come for a visit and we weren’t allowing off-campus visitors at the time, and I didn’t meet with her because I was afraid I was going to get in trouble,” Long said.

Ultimately, Donahue decided to go to Endicott College. There, she amassed 277 kills in 30 matches for her first collegiate season, which included an incredible 23 kills in an NCAA Tournament game.

Despite her success at Endicott, Donahue still pondered if she made the right choice.

“I, with the whole recruiting process my senior year, just kind of took a shot in the dark with Endicott,” Donahue said. “ But, I kind of knew that school itself might be temporary going there, and team culture up there was a big thing that kind of lacked, and I overall didn’t have a great volleyball experience. I wanted to be part of a winning culture but also a strong team culture.”

After Endicott’s season concluded, she looked into the possibility of transferring, and Springfield was one of the schools of interest again. Because of looser regulations, Donahue was able to have a more realistic experience on campus.

“When I came back in January and I came to take a look at the school again, I immediately met a couple groups of people and knew this was the school I wanted to go to just based off the culture — in the school itself and in Blake Arena with all the sports teams,” Donahue said.

Long observed what Donahue’s campus experience was like and grew more confident that the Pride’s second opportunity to get her on the team would be made successfully.

“For me, I knew she was going to fit in as soon as she sat down in Cheney with my team,” Long said.

Donahue made the transfer to Springfield and made an immediate impact on the volleyball court. In the Pride’s three opening games at the Springfield College Invitational, she combined for 44 kills and led the Pride in the category in each game. That earned her NEWMAC Women’s Volleyball Offensive Athlete of the Week honors.

She combined for 50 kills in three games in the next week and was given the award again. After another successful pair of games, Donahue earned a third consecutive NEWMAC Women’s Volleyball Offensive Athlete of the Week honor.

Not only has she been able to be a star player for Springfield, but she is enjoying all aspects of her experience on the team.

“The team culture in general is awesome,” Donahue said with a smile. “I think Coach [Long] puts a lot of emphasis on growing us as individuals and people ourselves as well as volleyball players… I’ve learned a lot mentally as well as the volleyball aspect, which is really cool and really unique to be a part of a team like that.”

Photo: Springfield College Athletics

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