After four years as the volleyball coach at Clay, Tracy Donnelly is taking on a new challenge.
Donnelly became new coach at Cardinal Stritch Catholic in late July, so she and the Cardinals players are still kind of getting to know each other.
“We’re a little behind the 8-ball because we got a late start,” said Donnelly, who is Stritch’s fourth coach in four years. “We started (practicing) Aug. 1 and they’re adjusting quickly. They’re starting to get into the flow of games.”
Heading into Tuesday night’s match at Northwood, the Cardinals were 1-2 and 1-0 in the Toledo Area Athletic Conference after beating Gibsonburg and losing in five sets to both Delta and Eastwood.
“Our first match, against Delta, I made a few mistakes,” Donnelly said. “We had some injuries, and there is a learning curve on both sides of the court. They have to figure me out and I have to figure them out, which girls can handle pressure and which girls I can say, ‘hey, relax.’ I’m getting to that point. We’ve only been through three matches and every match is a little different.”
The Cardinals return four starters and seven seniors to a team that reached the Division IV regional semifinals last season before losing in three sets to sixth-ranked New Washington Buckeye Central. Stritch’s returning starters are senior setter Alexa McCourt, senior middle hitters Jennifer Trumbull and Allie Heyman, and sophomore outside hitter Maggie Merren. McCourt has aspirations of playing college volleyball.
“Alexa was a setter last year, so she’s kind of the quarterback and runs the offense,” Donnelly said. “She’s in charge of making sure the right hitters get the ball at the right time. She does a pretty good job and understands the game.”
Donnelly said Trumbull is more suited to being an outside hitter but has been moved to the middle because of an injury.
“One of the other middle hitters had a concussion early on, so we put Jennifer back in the middle,” Donnelly said. “She’s a very good blocker. Real steady and even-keel. She’s one of those people you can go to when you need a big point.”
The coach said the 5-foot-10 Heyman is the team’s emotional centerpiece.
“She’s a person when she makes a big play, she gets excited and gets the team fired up about stuff,” Donnelly said. “She just has that fiery attitude you like to see in your players. She gets emotional and helps lift them up.”
Merren is a “very hard worker,” according to Donnelly.
“She plays all the way around for us,” she said, “kind of that person you look for to be there all the time and kind of hold things together.”
Starting outside hitter Lauren Loucks, who is 5-11, is the Cardinals’ tallest player.
“Lauren is one of those athletes you love to have,” Donnelly said. “She just jumps through the sky, so we have to contain her. She thinks she has to hit the ball 100 miles per hour, and she has to learn that’s not always the best way to play the game. She’s one of those people who is fun to watch, because she can put the ball down.”
Other starters include senior libero Caty Rieker and senior right side hitter Kirsten Zalewski.
“Caty is just all over the floor defensively,” Donnelly said. “She also had a concussion – I’ve never had a player with a concussion in my coaching career, but I’ve had two this year. She hit her head on the floor and didn’t play full time. She’s just coming off the injury, so we put her back in slowly. She’s only played about half of the rotations.
“Kirsten is a lefty, so everything that comes off her hand comes off weird to everybody. She’s not a power hitter, but she’s real smart and she’s a team captain. She leads by example and keeps the ball in play. She’s a hard worker and she does a nice job blocking.”
Donnelly said the Cardinals’ No. 1 goal is to reclaim the TAAC title – they finished second last year – and make it back to regionals.
“I’d like to go back and make another run at regionals,” she said. “In the postseason, anything can happen. We just want to take it game by game."
Cardinal Stritch Catholic senior middle hitter Jennifer Trumbull goes for the kill while sophomore outside hitter Lauren Loucks (1) and senior libido Caty Rieker (12) look on. (Press photo by Doug Karns/KateriSchools.org)
Cardinal Stritch Catholic senior libido Caty Rieker sets for senior outside outside hitter Kristen Zalewski (3) and senior setter Alexa McCourt. (Press photo by Doug Karns/KateriSchools.org)