July 8, 2020

Displaying Excellence, Leadership for PU Softball, Recent Grad Donahey Has Left a Special Legacy

SAY HEY: Megan Donahey slaps the ball during her career with the Princeton University softball team. Star outfielder Donahey hit .346 this spring in a senior season abbreviated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Donahey ended up with a career batting average of .362, third-best in program history. (Photo by Michael Sudhalter, provided courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

By Bill Alden

Having proven to be a model of consistency during her first three seasons for the Princeton University softball team, Megan Donahey was primed to take things to a higher level this spring in her senior campaign.

“Everyone was super optimistic about this year,” said Donahey, who batted .377 as a freshman, .328 as a sophomore, and .385 as a junior.

“We were coming off a tough season, we had lots of injuries late in the season but we were really confident in this squad. The six freshman were just so awesome and we had a really, really good team culture this year.”

With Donahey hitting .346 in the first eight games of the 2020 campaign as Princeton got off to a 4-4 start, that optimism seemed justified.

“For the eight games that we played, they went super well,” said the 5’4 Donahey, a native of Phoenix, Ariz.

“Typically we peak later in the season. We actually did really well in the pre-Ivy season. There wasn’t just one way that we won the games. Sometimes the pitchers would pitch super well and then other times the offense would have an explosion and do really well and we would win the game that way. It just seemed like all facets of the game were working at different times to make us do really well.”

But as Princeton was getting ready for its annual Florida trip in mid-March, the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving Donahey and her fellow seniors ruing what might have been.

“It was tough because we really had high hopes for this season and we would have loved to end our careers on a high note,” said Donahey.

“We just loved and invested in this team so much. I think the silver lining of all of this is that we were able to build a culture and a work ethic among the seniors that was really positive and will carry on into the next years. This event, as unfortunate as it is, it makes the team really, really hungry going forward in the next seasons. It makes you really appreciate any time you get to step on the field. My class and the team just have such high expectations for the program and we are going to be huge supporters of future Princeton softball teams. I think next year’s team is going to be so awesome.”

Princeton head coach Lisa Van Ackeren credits Donahey with taking a key role in creating that culture.

“She just completely took over this year; we had a
really strong group of captains and senior leaders on the team and she was just what everybody wants to be,” said Van Ackeren, whose other senior captains were Allison Harvey and Alex Colon.

“She really does set the tone with how you are going to treat workouts, practices, and any time you are together. If you are not giving 100 percent, it will show because Megan always is.”

In the view of Van Ackeren, Donahey’s influence will carry on with future Tiger teams.

“Our team talks about legacy quite a bit, it is one of our team’s values,” said Van Ackeren.

“What it really means is just understanding what you inherited and understanding that you are going to leave something behind when you graduate. You want to be proud of whatever version of you that your teammates remember and talk about after you graduate. I think what Megan’s teammates would say is that she put the team before herself every single day of her career.”

That selfless attitude was reflected in Donahey’s offensive versatility and defensive prowess.

“There were some years where she would just punch singles to left field like it was her job and there were other years where she really used her soft slap and her bunt game to get on base,” said Van Ackeren of Donahey, who ended up with a career batting average of .362, third-best in program history, piling up 157 hits, 80 runs, 45 walks, and 36 stolen bases along the way.

“Then there were other years where she put the ball in the gap. I think her first career hit at Princeton was a triple down the right field line in Houston. She has so many different tools that she used offensively. She is literally the best outfielder I have ever coached and one of the best ever in the league. She starts running before the ball is hit. She has got a phenomenal sense for things out there and puts her body on the line. She is a phenomenal outfielder.”

With things ending so abruptly this spring, Donahey and her teammates kept in frequent contact virtually.

“We had a weekly meeting with the whole team, the coaches, and a lot of our academic fellows on Tuesdays,” said Donahey.

“We did that through what would have been the end of the regular school year. The team is super, super close so we are talking to each other all of the time. We set up Zooms all of the time.”

While Donahey is leaving Princeton with memories of an Ivy title and many other on-field highlights, it is those bonds with her teammates that she will remember the most.

“I think freshman year winning the Ivy championship at home against Harvard, sweeping the first day was so fun,” said Donahey.

“That was so awesome; that team was super talented and came together really well. I also think the main highlights are just the team. You can look at the outcome of the season and say this was a great team, like it was freshman year. But the things that I remember most looking back were the practices with the team, looking over in the weight room and seeing one of my teammates getting a PR in something and seeing how hard they work. They are just truly inspiring. Regardless of the outcome of the season, the highlight is just being around them on a daily basis.”

Donahey’s inspirational play helped get her nominated as one of the eight finalists for the C. Otto von Kienbusch Award, given annually to Princeton’s top
senior female athlete.

“It meant so much, it was truly awesome,” said Donahey of the award which went to women’s basketball star Bella Alarie.

“All credit to just the people around me and the Princeton coaching staff. I have known coach Van Ackeren since I was 15 years old and she has been an incredible support  throughout my career. My teammates are just so awesome. Without them, I wouldn’t do anything softball-wise. They are such an incredible support system.”

Van Ackeren, for her part, was not surprised to see Donahey get that final accolade.

“We haven’t had someone even nominated in a number of years and she was absolutely worthy of that,” asserted Van Ackeren.

“I know she looked at the company she was in and was like wow, I am in this group of women. It is like, yes, Megan, we have been trying to convince her of that for four years. Being with her family to watch that, they were incredibly proud. She deserves it all.”

As Donahey looks back on the last four years, she is thankful for her growth off the field as well.

“One thing that Princeton does a really good job of is helping you figure out time management and how to organize yourself and juggle different tasks,” said Donahey, a graduate of Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs who will be working as a consulting analyst for Accenture in New York City starting this fall.

“Princeton taught me how to find things that I was really passionate about. It gives you a ton of opportunities to do that. My thesis (regarding school choice policies in New York City) is an example; I discovered an interest in education policy while at Princeton. With the independent work that you do, it allows you to choose a topic that you are really passionate about and dive deeper into that. They advise you along the way, they give you tons of resources and support. I think that is something that Princeton really helped me with to grow, just narrowing in on things that I am really interested in and that I want to go into.”