WILMINGTON – Ever since Mia Muzio started as the new Athletic Director at Wilmington High School back on July 1st, her plate has been completely full.
This past week she was able to take one item off of that stacked plate by naming Wilmington resident Lauren (Feltch) Donoghue as the new varsity volleyball coach.
Donoghue becomes the program's sixth coach and replaces Bruce Shainwald, who held the position for the previous four seasons. He resigned back in April because he and his family moved to a different part of the state.
“After multiple interviews, it was clear that Lauren was the best candidate for the position,” said Muzio about her first hire. “She exemplifies the type of culture that I want to promote as an AD, which has a strong focus on the positive growth of students-athletes not only as players but as human beings. This type of culture focuses on the development of a strong foundation, in which we start from the ground up to promote future success. She places value on inclusivity, the creation of strong youth programs, fundamental skill development, community service and good sportsmanship. These are the qualities that I look for when hiring a coach because it is important that a coach has a strong definition of what success in high school athletics truly means, which in part is winning games but also includes helping our student-athletes to be strong, hard working, resilient, and kind individuals.
“Lauren has the knowledge, background, and passion to take our volleyball program to the next level. We are so excited to have her on board.”
Donoghue grew up in Medford and attended Arlington Catholic High School. She played four years varsity volleyball and was a two-year league all-star and was also a captain during her senior season.
During her junior year, the middle/outside hitter was a part of the Cougars team that finished 21-3, losing in the Division 2 state semi-final game. The following year as a senior, AC finished 17-5, losing in the D2 North semi-finals to Central Catholic.
After that she went on to Merrimack College where she played at the intramural level as a freshman before walking on to the varsity team as a sophomore.
She elected not to play her final two seasons, mainly because she graduated early. During her senior year, she stayed in the game but in a different capacity, serving for eight years as the coach of the Evolution Volleyball Club team, age levels of 12 to 18. She started that program with help from her former high school coach. The first year the program had two teams and today, there's over 150 kids involved.
Donoghue graduated from Merrimack College a semester early in 2011 with a BA in Communications. She went on to work for the City of Medford and two years ago she switched professions and serves as the External Affairs Manager for the Massachusetts State Auditor's Office.
Before the school season started, the Middlesex League voted to move the sport of volleyball to Fall Season 2, meaning tryouts and practices will start in late February and games in March. If that season does take place, Donoghue will come right back around and coach the team again in September of 2021, assuming COVID-19 is no longer with us.
"I think that time will be beneficial for many reasons," she said of the possibility of the two seasons in a eight month span. "It also gives me time to get to know the girls rather quickly. Going through a COVID season obviously presents its challenges, but I am optimistic that I can get to know the athletes, even if it's over zoom conversations throughout the winter months.
"I know that there's girls who are pretty eager to meet their new coach and I'm excited to meet them. I know there were a number of seniors who graduated from last year's team so it's definitely a younger group (coming back for this season) but that also can be extremely beneficial."
She was asked if she is more offensive or defensive minded.
"It's important to be both," she answered. "One of the skill sets that I learned from the beginning of this game is that you have to learn how to do everything. In any second, anything can change, so it's really about being well-rounded, having that confidence and wanting to do anything to help the team."
Donoghue follows Doug Anderson (1982-1993), Mike Nee (1994-1999), Mark Staffier (2000-2009), Meghan Sheehy (2010-15) and Shainwald (2016-'19).
Anderson started the program and had several successful seasons and state tournament appearances, including a 12-win mark and state tournament loss to Lynnfield in '84.
Nee's best season was 1997 when he led the 'Cats to their best season in program history, an 18-3 record, a North Shore League Championship title and a trip to the Division 3 sectional semi-finals.
Staffier followed with what's believed to be an 77-108 record, with four straight tournament appearances from 2001-'04, including reaching the Division 3 North Sectional semi-finals in '02 and '04. Sheehy followed with a 37-83 record over six seasons and Shainwald was 32-48 in his four years.
The last state tournament appearance came in 2004, when the 'Cats were defeated by Lynnfield. Since then the team had 8 or 9 win seasons (missing out on the state tournament by one or two wins) six times, including Shainwald leading the program to records of 7-13, 9-11, 8-12 and 8-12.
With a combined record of 96-181 and no state tournament appearances since that '04 loss, Donoghue knows she has a lot of work to do but has an outlined planned.
"I like to focus a lot on the development of the game and the sport's skills set. I think it's very important to develop players as early on as we can," she offered. "I would like to get a youth program started here in town. It's something that I have seen through my years with club, that really makes a difference with players once they get to high school.
"I know where there's no youth development, and you have a girl walk through the doors for the first time never playing the sport, it can be intimidating. When you're playing other cities and towns where the players do have that youth background, it can be overwhelming and defeating. I believe that building from the ground up in terms of focusing on that youth and even focusing on the Freshmen and JV teams is really important. Just giving them that confidence that they need and knowledge about the sport.
"I know it may take some time absolutely (to build success in terms of wins and losses)," she continued. "I want to make sure that the girls have the resources in terms of taking it serious and obviously that starts with the coach that believes in them and believes in the program and bringing that energy from within because there's a lot of potential here.
“I have actually coached girls who have been within the Wilmington High School program throughout the years. It's just been a few but having them play club volleyball means they are serious. I think that camaraderie and the emphasis of development is important."
Donoghue stopped coaching at the club level because she got engaged to her high school sweetheart Bobby Donoghue, who is the offensive line coach on the WHS Football team. On top of that, the couple were in five weddings each. After that break, she got the itch last year to return and saw that Wilmington had an opening at the sub-varsity level.
"Last year (Bruce Shainwald) was looking for a JV coach so I ended up exchanging a bunch of emails with him," she said. "It just wasn't going to work out with their practice schedule and my work schedule wasn't as flexible at the time. When I saw this varsity position open, I figured I would give it a shot. I knew that there was a new Athletic Director, so overall it just sparked my interest.”
Donoghue added that currently there's no JV or Freshmen Coaches. She and Muzio are hoping to fill those vacancies soon.
"I am very hands-on and very big into development so having girls play at the younger level it's key to having a Freshman Coach who is focused on the same goals and that's really important," she said.