Sophomore shortstop Bridget Donahey prepares to field a ball.
Sophomore shortstop Bridget Donahey prepares to field a ball.
Daily file photo by Henry Frieman

Softball: Fueled by family, Bridget Donahey makes mark at Northwestern

Under the relentless Phoenix sun, where the dry heat dances over the desert landscape and MLB Cactus League stadiums hum with excitement, the Donahey family has forged an unparalleled softball dynasty.

After earning their degrees from the University of Iowa, Michael and Carolyn Donahey embarked on a new chapter, relocating from the Midwest’s heartland to the Valley of the Sun. Over a seven-year span, they welcomed five daughters into the world. 

The youngest daughter in the clan, Northwestern sophomore shortstop Bridget Donahey grew up in a household where softball wasn’t just a game — it was a legacy. 

“While most little kids carry around a blanket or something like that, my mom told me that I always had a ball in my hands,” Donahey said. 

Inspired by her older sisters Megan, who concluded her collegiate softball career at Princeton in 2020, and Katie, who is currently making waves at Yale, Bridget continued the family tradition as the third Donahey sister to play Division I softball at a top-10 academic institution.

The eldest daughter Megan — succeeded by Julianne in 1999, Katie and Kelly in 2002 and Bridget in 2004 — began the family’s prowess at the field, on the court and in the pool. 

While Megan, Katie, and Bridget focused primarily on softball, Julianne showcased her talent in volleyball, while Kelly participated in Special Olympics Arizona alongside her pursuits in swimming.

Katie Donahey, a junior outfielder at Yale, said accompanying her mom to pick up Megan from softball and playing alongside her sisters in the outfield ignited the passion that ultimately shaped both her and Bridget’s athletic careers.

“If (Megan) did it, we thought it was cool,” she said. 

The Bulldog standout’s journey to finding softball as the right fit mirrored Megan’s initial venture into swimming, as both girls eventually gravitated towards the outfield grass instead of the pool. 

Emulating Megan’s choices significantly influenced Katie’s and Bridget’s decision-making processes — especially as they navigated high school softball and the competitive recruiting landscape.


Central Phoenix-based Xavier College Preparatory has a long winning tradition in nearly every sport. With 153 state championships under its belt, the Catholic, all-girls high school has clinched more state titles than any other school in Arizona.

Until recently, however, the school had yet to make waves on the state softball landscape. As she’d later do in Evanston, Bridget helped add hardware to her program’s trophy case.

Four of five Donahey sisters attended Xavier, while Kelly attended the Austin Center for Exceptional Students, located 15 miles away.

When Bridget joined Xavier’s varsity softball team, the school had just hired a new head coach who hadn’t been part of the staff during Megan’s career or Katie’s first two years of high school. But, he was no stranger to the Donahey’s.

Coach Bradley Downes inherited a dormant program with zero state titles to its name in 2018.

Downes coached Megan’s club softball team and said he fondly remembered Katie and Bridget running around on the sidelines as young children before Katie was old enough to join the team herself. 

While Downes had never coached Bridget before she enrolled in Xavier, he said he eagerly anticipated assuming the head coach role for her freshman year, envisioning her participation in shaping his new program from its inception.

During the 2019 season, Xavier’s roster included just two seniors, and Bridget started at shortstop from day one. Primarily a third baseman and catcher on her club team, she adapted to meet the team’s needs.

After the season’s initial months, Downes observed a shift in the team’s culture toward a more player-led approach, which he credited to his seniors’ influence.

“They expressed what they wanted. They held each other accountable,” Downes said. “They found a really good balance with the discipline to do their daily work while also still having a lot of fun.”

Although Katie and Bridget sported Xavier’s royal blue and kelly green uniforms together for just one season, they both cherished the “special” opportunity to play together. 

“I think Megan’s mentorship was always helpful,” Katie Donahey said. “She was always so worried about getting recruited, and she didn’t enjoy it enough. I think that’s something Bridget and I are grateful to have her guidance on, and we really took that to heart”. 

In Katie and Bridget’s one year playing together, they helped a team that had won just four games in its previous season improve to a 17-5 record. Although Downes’ squad didn’t make the state tournament, the Donahey duo helped lay the groundwork for the program’s future success.

Although Bridget’s sophomore season and Katie’s senior season was canceled due to COVID-19, Downes said the elder sister’s influence molded a team that Bridget would later lead as an upperclassman.

As Katie moved on to Yale the following year, Bridget helped carry the team’s winning momentum to win consecutive state championships in her junior and senior seasons.

When the stakes were heightened by a single-elimination postseason tournament — as opposed to the usual double elimination format that existed pre-pandemic — Downes’ team secured its first state title with Donahey’s two hits and two runs scored being a contributing factor to the championship victory.

Downes said the team established a tradition where his players convert their team nickname, the Gators, into an acronym to represent the values they aim to embody each year. 

Stepping into more significant leadership roles during their junior year, Bridget and her teammates decided to retain the “R” in the acronym, symbolizing “real fun,” a concept her sister had championed during the previous season.

Downes said Bridget cultivated an atmosphere conducive to winning. This involved listening to music and dancing with teammates before games, while demonstrating the ability to maintain focus when the moment called for it.

“They lived it out. They decided that at the end of the day, they wanted to have fun,” Downes said. 


Before she even stepped into high school competition at Xavier, Bridget pledged her verbal commitment to NU, declaring her intention to become a Wildcat as an eighth grader.

Following in her older sisters’ footsteps, Bridget said she wanted to go to a school that valued academics but also had a storied softball program. 

“The thing that really stood out to us about Bridget was that she’s a complete ball player,” NU coach Kate Drohan said. “She’s got great offense, defense, great hands, great speed, but she also really values her education so we knew right away she’d be a great fit”

As Extra Innings Softball’s 13th ranked recruit in the class of 2022, Bridget was primed for success on the collegiate diamond — however, her major breakthrough with the ’Cats has only reached its onset.

As a freshman, Bridget started eight games, with Maeve Nelson — a member of NU’s star-studded class of fifth-years — occupying the shortstop position for all 55 games.

In 32 at-bats, Donahey tallied just two hits, recording a .063 batting average.

Following Nelson’s graduation, Bridget stepped into the starting shortstop role. The sophomore put in work on and off the field to prepare for her elevated responsibility, and she said she collaborated with sports psychologists throughout the offseason. Donahey has recently found her rhythm, boasting a batting average of .282 for the year, along with a team-high 30 walks.

In NU’s recent series at Purdue, Donahey hit two home runs, aiding the team in a 9-0 run-rule victory in the weekend’s opening game. Four of her eight homers came within a one-week period between the Maryland and Purdue series, serving as a testament to her recent growth. 

“I think it’s just been a lot about putting in the mental work recently,” Donahey said. 


During the team’s first tournament of the season, the Phoenix native had the opportunity to compete in her hometown at the Kajikawa Classic.

“That was so special,” Donahey said. “I had an array of people come to see us play ranging from kids who grew up watching me, to physical therapists I’ve had, to old coaches. It was truly incredible.”

Well-versed in the significance of team dinners and bonding moments, Carolyn and Mike Donahey opened their home to NU’s entire roster and coaching staff during the team’s stint in the Grand Canyon State.

Drohan said she carried immense gratitude toward the Donahey family, not only for their hospitality but also for their continued support of the entire program. 

Alongside their unwavering support for the ’Cats, the Donaheys maintain their commitment to Downes’ program and their daughters’ alma mater. Downes said he still encounters the couple at Xavier games, even though their daughters are no longer on the team.

During the past two years, the couple has dedicated their time to attending both Yale and NU home games, making every effort to catch as many of Katie and Bridget’s games as possible.

Anchored by her family’s shared love for softball, Donahey looks to play an integral part in the ’Cats’ success as they push toward another NCAA Tournament run.

“I’m just so proud to see Bridget representing Xavier and representing her family so well,” Downes said. “I can’t wait to see her excel in this next chapter.”

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Twitter: @AudreyPachuta

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