Clay's volleyball team was the only public school to qualify for the City League's
Clay volleyball’s season
final four tournament.
The Eagles, the No. 4 seed, lost to top-seeded and eventual league champion St. Ursula Academy in the semifinals. St. Ursula went on to defeat Central Catholic in the finals. The fourth final four participant was defending champion Notre Dame Academy.
The question posed to first-year Eagles coach Tracy Donnelly was, what will it take for a CL public school to win a league dominated by the three Catholic schools?
"It's going to take a lot of hard work, obviously," said Donnelly, who won four Toledo Area Athletic Conference titles in her six years at Cardinal Stritch.
Donnelly said teams like St. Ursula, Notre Dame and Central Catholic, which won the 2007 Division II state championship, have more of a mental edge over their CL brethren than a physical advantage.
"They have great athletes," Donnelly said, "but the mental part separates us from them. When they make a mistake, they know it's OK and they're not going to do it again. When we make a mistake, they let it get into their head and they know they're going to make another mistake.
"With hard work and defense you can override the physical differences. The mental part is where those teams are just way above us ... their confidence and believing in themselves and (knowing) if you do what the coaches have you do, you can have success."
Clay finished the season with a 14-8 record, including 7-3 in the CL. The Eagles got off to a 7-1 start, then skidded to a 7-7 record during the more difficult part of their schedule.
Clay's season ended with a loss to Anthony Wayne in the sectional tournament.
"It was frustrating to end up on such a sour note," Donnelly admitted. "We did very well in the City League. Coming from Stritch and having a few years of 20 or more wins, it's tough not to take 14 wins personally. At the beginning of the season we were like a rocket taking off, improving every day. We then hit a plateau and kind of hung around that midpoint of the season.
"It was very exciting getting to the final four. That was an outright win for us. We beat everyone else in the City except the three Catholic schools. St. Ursula was just overpowering.
“We're getting to the point where our girls aren't afraid of those teams, we just have to learn to compete with them."
The Eagles' captains were seniors Lexi Laberdee, an outside hitter and back row player, and right side hitter and back row player Megan Agoston. Clay will also graduate seniors Tori Harper, Marci Herr and Haley Masters.
"We had some key injuries and illnesses that played a role in some of our downfall toward the end of the season," Donnelly said. "Lexi had a foot stress fracture that she was playing on."
Some of the top players returning next season are sophomore setter/outside hitter Kristen Kayser, sophomore libero Kim Crawford and junior middle hitter Torrie Reichert.
"The setter in volleyball is like the quarterback in football," Donnelly said. "People truly don't understand what the setting position requires. They have to motivate everybody and they run the offense. The physical part is demanding, but the mental part in making decisions and keeping the team going is also a part of the setting position.
"The libero runs the defense for you, so Kim is going to have to step up and make as many plays as she can. Torrie is a quiet, offensive weapon. She has a real quick arm swing and puts the ball down. She's going to have to step up and we're going to have to rely on her making more big plays for us next year."
Clay volleyball’s season is over, having lost in the City League final four and tournament, but in this contest against Waite the Eagles have a 21-3 lead and going for another kill. (Press photo by Harold Hamilton/www.hehphotos.com).