If the Fenwick boys volleyball team exhibits a bit of football mentality during matches, seniors Jimmy Finan and Pat Donahue may be the likely culprits. Finan played two years on the Fenwick football team as an underclassman, while Donahue served as the Friars’ star running back during the fall.

But their gridiron bloodlines may also have something to do with it.

Marty Finan, Jimmy’s dad, was a standout quarterback and safety for Fenwick in the late 1970s. In 1978, Marty was chosen the Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year while leading the Friars to an 8-2 record under coach George Badke. Jimmy’s uncles, John, Matt and Tom, and his older brother, Jack, also played football at Fenwick. Jack went on to play college football at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Jimmy Donahue, Pat’s older brother, meanwhile, was an effective wide receiver at Fenwick under current head coach Gene Nudo.

“The legacy of my family at Fenwick is awesome,” Finan said. “So many people come up to me and ask me if I’m Marty Finan’s son or Jack Finan’s younger brother. They have set a tremendous path and opened so many doors for me.”

While Finan and Donahue will always be associated with Fenwick football, both are making their mark on the volleyball court this spring. Finan is the team’s top setter with 82 assists and 23 digs, while Donahue is a very athletic outside hitter with 16 kills and 11 digs.

“I think one of Jimmy’s strongest qualities is his speed and hustle,” Fenwick coach Kate Whitman said. “His relentless pursuit of the ball as a setter trying to make a play off a bad pass or dig, or even defensively, is something that definitely stands out about his play. He has a pretty high volleyball IQ and natural ability as a setter.”

Whitman, who realized Donahue had natural athleticism and talent as a freshman, has been pleasantly surprised at his ability to acclimate himself to volleyball after taking his junior year off from the team.

“When he took last year off, I was unsure of how he would look coming back,” Whitman said. “Donahue is just as strong and fast on his approach and swing as before, and he’s been able to pick his timing back up pretty quickly.”

Along with talented players like senior middle hitters Mark Casagranda (another Fenwick football player), senior middle hitter Will Planek, junior outside hitter Pat Kenny (35 kills, 19 aces), junior libero Nick Lillig (48 digs) and sophomore right side hitter Graham Rogers, Finan and Donahue have led the Friars to a 3-2 start this season.

“We’re off to a good start and it seems like we are getting better every practice,” Finan said. “Our team chemistry is awesome. We’re all good friends and we pick each other up on the court whether things are going well or not.

“I basically run the plays and make sure everybody knows them. I’m kind of the second person with the ball every play so I touch the ball often, which is important. We have really good hitters with Pat, Graham, Mark, Will and Pat. All five are really talented at both hitting and blocking.”

Hitting and blocking are actions that Donahue is obviously familiar with in a couple of sports. While Finan put aside football and tennis to focus on volleyball the past two years, Donahue bided his time as a junior, backing up former Fenwick running back Robert Spillane. When Spillane moved on to play college football at Western Michigan, Donahue stepped in seamlessly as a workhorse running back who played a major role in the Friars’ 7-5 campaign in 2014. Donahue also briefly dabbled in track and field.

“We made history this season with the deepest run Fenwick football has had in the playoffs in like 10 years,” Donahue said. “It was really fun. I wish I could go back to the football season.”

The Friars advanced to the Class 7A quarterfinals (only the fourth Elite 8 appearance the football program’s illustrious history) before losing to Libertyville 28-10. As he did all season, Donahue ground his way to 82 yards on 25 carries and a four-year touchdown catch against the Wildcats’ outstanding defense.

After taking a year’s sabbatical from volleyball to train for football, Donahue is understandably a bit rusty this spring.

“I hadn’t touched a volleyball until this season started so I’m still getting back into the swing of things,” he said. “I feel like I’m definitely getting better each game. I really liked volleyball during my freshman and sophomore years so it was disappointing I couldn’t play last year, but I just wanted to prepare myself as best I could for football. With no football season next year, I decided to come back to volleyball.”

After high school, Donahue will attend Indiana University while Finan is still considering several options for college. Both are thankful regarding their experience at Fenwick overall and on the volleyball team specifically.

“Fenwick has prepared me so well for life,” Finan said. “Academically, students are challenged and everybody is so welcoming. It’s a family at Fenwick and student-athletes are pushed to be the best they can be.

“I’ve really enjoyed the camaraderie with my volleyball teammates. I love Coach Whitman, too, because she relates well to the players and helps us maximize about ability. Our goal is to win every match, win conference and then take it as far we can go in the playoffs.”

Donahue added: “I’m really glad I chose Fenwick and I’ve loved every minute of it. Hopefully, we’ll finish the volleyball season well.

“We’re playing in the Brother Rice Tournament this weekend. The tournament will gives us a chance to face a lot of really good teams and really see where we are as a team.  Hopefully, we’ll win a few matches.”

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Marty Farmer

The Illinois Press Association recently honored Marty with the 1st & 2nd Place Awards for Best Sports Feature for his article He's in an Oak Park state of mind: Former OPRF star Iman Shumpert returns...