No laughing matter: Donahue propels Poly past Fieldston

Lily Donahue was bed-ridden with a stomach virus the first time Poly Prep met Fieldston and the phone call she got from teammate Cherkira Lashley after the match made her feel even worse.

“She said that they lost,” said Donahue, the Blue Devils’ 6-foot-4 senior middle hitter. “She was like, ‘Everyone is really mad that you weren’t at the game.’ I was like freaking out.”

But when her mother called coach Vanessa Ruck, Donahue found out that Poly had actually won. Lashley was just playing a prank.

“It was really embarrassing,” Donahue said with a laugh. “They like to mess with me like that.”

There was no messing around from the Blue Devils this time around.

Poly Prep came out strong early and beat visiting Fieldston, 25-15, 25-18, in impressive fashion Wednesday in Ivy League girls volleyball. Donahue’s play was of the utmost importance against a strong-hitting Eagles team. She had three of her four blocks in a dominant second set and also added four kills.

“It’s all her,” Ruck said. “They were just trying to keep the ball away from her. She’s a big presence at the net, for sure.”

The coach said her team typically is the one that is coming back in sets and matches. Not on Wednesday. Poly (7-2) got off to a 13-2 lead on Fieldston (4-4) in the first set on the back of a 10-0 service run by sophomore setter Jacquie Chirdo. It was the same story in the second set when the Blue Devils got off to a 12-2 advantage.

“[Fieldston] has a really strong team and we needed to take it away,” Chirdo said. “If we got caught up and lost momentum, it’s very hard to come back.”

That was just one of the improvements Poly has made over the course of the season. Back in September, Ruck had an impressive collection of athletes, but a dearth of girls who play volleyball year-round. Chirdo, who plays with Aviator, is the only club player on the roster. Donahue and Lashley are basketball players. Another hoops standout, Jackie Kennedy, has become the Blue Devils’ go-to outside hitter. She had seven kills against the Eagles and Chirdo finished with 16 assists.

“They were not like this in the beginning,” Ruck said. “They’re moving a lot better now.”

There’s no better time to get into a groove. Next Wednesday, Poly hosts Horace Mann with first place in the Ivy League on the line. Then the following week the NYSAISAA tournament starts.

“We really have to come together,” Chirdo said. “Everyone has to do their part, play their position.”

Donahue, in particular, has seen her game make great strides from last year, her first on a volleyball court. With her size, she’s a naturally good blocker, but her goal this season was to become more of a force hitting. She’s become that — except when she’s been sick in bed.

“Everyone kept talking about the [first] Fieldston game and how we played with so much energy and how we have to play like that from now on,” Donahue said. “And I was like, ‘well great, I wasn’t there, so I don’t know how you played.’ So I wanted a chance to show them that with an additional force at the net we can be an even stronger competitor.”

No joke.