TAYLORVILLE (WCIA) — Elle Richards never imagined she’d get the chance to play on the state’s biggest stage. Even being on varsity was in question, after an ATV accident hospitalized her before her freshman year.

“Going from such an immense injury to where I am now, it’s just so amazing and I’m beyond proud of myself and my team for making it to state,” says Richards. “I am so proud of just how far I’ve made it as an athlete.”

Richards was riding with a friend on an ATV when it crashed. They were taken to the hospital where Elle was told she had compartment syndrome, a painful result of the accident that affected her legs. Richards decided to try and play her freshman year of volleyball just a few months after the injury.

“Throughout playing my freshman year I could tell that there were some restrictions in my playing abilities,” says Richards. “I couldn’t jump as high and I also had a pain all the time in my leg.”

Richards got surgery once season ended in December, then spent the next eight months recovering. While the road to recovery was tough, Richards bounced back to make the varsity team her sophomore year.

“I always had my parents pushing me to try really hard in physical therapy and they’re like, ‘You have to get back out there, you have to bounce back from this,'” says Richards.

“She’s just a hardworking girl, who’s determined, lot’s of determination, very competitive,” says Tornadoes head coach Kim Peabody. “She wants to give it her all, she doesn’t like to lose and I think that drive got her back and ready to play again.”

Richards not only recovered, but she led the Tornadoes on a historic run, qualifying for state for the first time in program history finishing fourth in Class 3A this Fall. As a senior, Richards led her team with 373 kills, averaging 4.1 per set, and was third on her team with more than 300 digs.

“I knew that this would be my last year of high school volleyball ever so I really just gave it my all every time I stepped on the court,” says Richards.

The WCIA3 Volleyball Player of the Year plans to play in college and is currently looking at schools for next season.

PAST WCIA 3 VOLLEYBALL PLAYER OF THE YEAR WINNERS:

2022: Elle Richards, Taylorville

2021: Caroline Kerr, St. Thomas More

2020(21): Valerie Nutakor, St. Teresa

2019: Allie Trame, St. Thomas More

2018: Allie Trame, St. Thomas More

2017: Mica Allison, St. Thomas More

2016: Kylie Michael, St. Joseph-Ogden

2015: Dana Westfield, Central

2014: Taylor Bauer, Watseka

2013: Marie Less, St. Teresa