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Monday, June 05, 2023

When Chipper Jones suffered a torn ACL, he said it sounded like a gunshot. When Willis McGahee fell victim to the same injury, he writhed in pain as if he had been shot.

Ashlee Elliott’s experience was nothing like that.

One slight pop against South Florida last season and the two-time All-Southeastern Conference star knew exactly what  happened.

“I’m just lying on the ground thinking ‘Really? It’s the third game,’” she said. “And I can hear (former teammate) Lauren Hyde behind me yelling ‘Get up. It’s just your ankle. Shake it off.’ I turned and yelled back, ‘You can’t shake this one off.’”

Some ACL injuries are devastating. Some are simple. But all have a similar result: a daunting challenge awaits, but an appreciation for what was lost can be gained.

Ashlee Elliott has come full circle.

On Friday, she opened the 2010 season and returned to the pitch where she suffered a torn ACL in her left knee nearly a year ago. Elliott returned in the best shape of her life, motivated to make every second count.  She returned after struggling with indecision, weight gain and the worst pain she’s ever felt.

“At first I was just in shock,” said Elliott, a fifth-year senior who has started 59 games in her career at UF.

But in the medical room after suffering the injury, Elliott realized what had happened and she bawled. 

“Tears overwhelmed me,” she said. “I was like, ‘What am I going to do?  Am I going to leave? Am I going to stay? The pros?’ I just didn’t know.”

But Elliott relied on her faith and strong family support and took the injury as something that happened for a reason. She vowed to come back harder than ever and help Florida claim its fifth consecutive SEC Championship.

“God wanted me to stay for this, and I know in the end God wanted me to have five rings on my hand and all my fingers filled,” she said.

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The road back is never easy. Elliott labored through a painful surgery and was frustrated not being able to help her team on the field.

She decided to return for one final season and complete her degree in Sociology. But when it came time to get back in shape, Elliott said she was lazy and not mentally prepared for the grind ahead.

“(UF coach Becky Burleigh) told me this was going to be ‘the hardest preseason of your life, ever,’” Elliot said. “I knew I had to cut back on everything and focus on what I needed to get done in preparation for the team.”

With the help of the training staff, Elliott got back in shape and strengthened her knee.  Focusing on jumping, cutting and stretching, Elliott said her knee is around 85 percent but feels as strong as ever.

“I got a graph a couple of weeks ago and it looks like a healthy ACL,” Elliot said. “I’m proud of it. Hard work pays off.”

Elliott didn’t just want to recover, she wanted to improve her conditioning.

“She really dedicated herself this summer to getting into the best shape of her life,” Burleigh said. “That’s really paid big dividends because it has allowed her to focus on other things. Her body doesn’t get stressed so her mind isn’t as stressed and that’s allowed her to be a more rational leader.”

Elliott entered this preseason with a competitive intensity and reaffirmed her leadership role on the team. 

“Ashlee is all about not taking one day, one practice or one minute for granted,” forward/midfielder McKenzie Barney said. “She told me when she first came back that she just wants everyone to know how much these injuries suck and that she’s going to take every advantage of every second she gets.”


This time last year Elliott was the starting striker and scored UF’s lone goal to defeat Miami. But on Friday Elliott was in charge of not allowing Miami to score one back.

Elliott changed positions and will fill graduated All-American Lauren Hyde’s spot at center back.

It was Elliott who unselfishly stepped up to fill the void left by Hyde.

“I’ll play where they need me to play as long as I am on that field contributing,” she said. “I’ve played every position at Florida besides goalie. (Keeper Katie) Fraine can watch her back next time.”

Elliott has watched game film of Hyde and other defenders in preparation for her position change. And while she was a dynamite force at the top, the change wouldn’t be possible without the consistent play of her replacements last year, Barney and Lindsay Thompson.

“Ashlee is a ferocious defender and we really needed one of those in the back this year and she is the one that stepped up for it,” Barney said. “It says a lot about her coming back from that injury, too.”

Selflessly, Elliott put the team before personal accolades. But that doesn’t stop the defender from keeping her eye on the goal.

“I want to score so bad, I’m not going to lie,” she said. “I want a couple of goals this year.”

Ashlee Elliott has no fears about stepping on the pitch. She’s brimming with the excitement to lead her team one last year. She’s encountering a new position and a new experience coming off a significant injury. She is looking forward but playing back.

“She’s going to have a terrific year,” Burleigh said. “There will be some ups and downs with a new position, but I think at the same time she’s really taken it in stride. She’s been awesome.” 

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