Ellie White first started playing volleyball in fourth grade at St. Alexander Elementary School in Palos Heights.
Then, she joined a club volleyball team when she was 11 years old.
Sure, White almost immediately showed a natural skill for the sport. But for the young volleyball player, she just loved to play.
“In fourth grade, it’s all about playing with your friends and having fun. That’s still the most important thing,” White said. “If you lose the fun out of it, you don’t want to play anymore. You want to win, but it’s who you’re surrounded with, having fun and giving it your all.”
It’s a competitive mindset that White, a 5’11” junior at Mother McAuley, has put to good use throughout her volleyball career.
After a huge junior campaign that saw her lead the Mighty Macs to the Class 4A state championship, the 16th in program history, White was named the 2022-23 Gatorade Illinois Volleyball Player of the Year on Jan. 13.
“I was driving to school when my mom [Colleen] called me and told me I’d won. I was just in shock. Speechless,” White said. “I was just full of joy. I had to text my coaches and thank them. I couldn’t give enough credit to my coaches and teammates. That’s what I’m most thankful for.”
White has starred on the varsity since she arrived at Mother McAuley as a freshman. She had a huge, breakout sophomore campaign, leading the Mighty Macs to a Class 4A state runner-up finish.
But as a junior, White took her game to a whole other level as a six-rotation outside hitter capable of taking over a game hitting, blocking, serving and defensively from both the front and back row.
She’ll put that all-around versatility to good use at the next level in college. White is a University of Michigan recruit; however, she will join the Wolverines not as an outside hitter but as a setter.
While she’s had a huge high school career as a hitter, she actually grew up playing setter, orchestrating the offense for her team as a floor general.
“The versatility I’ve had, it’s super cool and super fun to play. I get to play at a bunch of different positions and try different things,” White said. “It’s great, especially for my mindset. I’m not stuck at one position. I’m not at one spot. I can move around and go with the flow.”
White finished her junior year with 542 kills, including 20 in the state-championship win over Benet Academy. She also piled up 289 digs, 103 blocks (64 block assists, 39 solo blocks) and 28 service aces.
No moment was too big for White, who through the season and postseason run always seemed to deliver with a big kill, block or defensive play when the team needed it most. She said she tried to take a more relaxed mindset her junior year.
“We really talked about living in the moment this year,” White said. “I put that in my head every match. I can’t determine the future or think about the past. I just want to stay in the moment. I thrive when my coaches put that pressure on me and set those expectations for me. I take it all in and take a deep breath.”
The honor for the Mighty Macs star was the second time a Mother McAuley volleyball player received the Gatorade award. Charley Niego was named the 2016-17 Gatorade winner for her junior season when the Mighty Macs won the state title.
Niego went on to a standout collegiate career at the University of Notre Dame and the University of North Carolina.
“I went to the Notre Dame camp when Charley was there. Obviously, she’s still the talk around town still today,” White said. “I look up to her as a role model, too. To get that award just like her is super cool. It’s setting my standard even higher for next year.”
White plays club volleyball for First Alliance 17 Gold. At Mother McAuley, she is also involved in student government and is a student ambassador. White is a member of the National Honor Society and the Spanish Honor Society.
Looking ahead to her senior year, she can’t wait for one more go-around as the Mighty Macs defend their state title.
“High school has been super fun. I just love our environment here [at McAuley],” White said. “It’s been great, the big crowds against a rival. It was all amazing. I’m so happy I’ve got one more year to do it again.”