Their season came to a heartbreaking end Tuesday night at Perrysburg with a 22-25, 22-25, 25-17, 25-17, 16-14 loss to Otsego in the Division III district semifinals.
That loss, however, didn't take away from what the Cardinals accomplished this season in winning their second straight Toledo Area Athletic Conference championship as well as a sectional title.
"At the beginning of the year, we were not a very strong team," Donnelly said. "The first match of the year, we lost to Maumee and probably played as poorly as we could. From then, the girls made a commitment to improve every day and every week, and they did that. They came to practice, they worked hard and worked out the problems they had as a team. They put it all together and gave it all they had.
"It was a great season. I'm proud of all the girls for all the hard work and the teamwork. We didn't have any drama. They worked together and continued to improve. We fell short of our goal, but Otsego is a great team. I was pleased with the girls not playing scared. They went out and played hard and got beat by the better team that day."
Stritch advanced to the district with a 25-12, 29-27, 25-19 victory over Lake in the sectional finals. The Cardinals rolled through the TAAC schedule a 10-0 record to claim their fourth conference title in Donnelly's six years as coach.
Otsego, the Suburban Lakes League champion, outlasted Cardinal Stritch in a five-game marathon. It was the Cardinals' first five-game match of the season. They won both of their matches that went four games, against Tiffin Calvert and Evergreen, in 2008.
Donnelly said her team got worn down as the match went past the third game.
"One of our outside hitters who we usually go to, Jessica Turner-Smith, was exhausted by the third game. The whole team was," Donnelly said. "We have her jump serve and she's our go-to hitter, and when she seemed to start getting tired, it just kind of spread to the whole team.
"You always have ups and downs in a volleyball match, but usually you get them fired up and tell them to play with their heart. Usually they bounce back. They tried, but they just didn't have it in them. It was an exciting match."
The Knights took an early four-point advantage in the fifth game before the Cardinals battled back to take the lead. But, it wasn't meant to be for Stritch.
"Both teams played great defense," Donnelly said. "We did outplay them, but in the third game you could see some fatigue setting in. We put up double and triple blocks and it came down to a few close calls. That's part of the game. We came back in the fifth game and took the lead on them by two or three points, and I thought for sure we were going to win it."
The Cardinals finished with a 20-4 record, and Turner-Smith was named the TAAC Player of the Year.
Junior outside hitter Alex Blazevich was also a first-team all-conference selection, while senior right-side hitter Julie Long and junior setter Kristen Filzer were second-team picks. Delaney Mahoney, a senior libero, and junior setter Bri Wlodarz both earned honorable mention.