A big deal at Stevenson, where she capped her high school sports career with a state championship, Ashley Richardson might never have felt bigger.
Europe, where space often yields to practicality, can have that effect on even averaged-sized Americans. Calling it one last family trip before she goes off to college, Richardson vacationed in Paris, Switzerland and Italy with her parents and older brother. It was her first time in Europe.
"It was like nothing I've ever experienced before," Richardson said. "It was very cramped and tiny. But every city we went to was beautiful."
Cramped and tiny?
"I just never really realized how small the hotel rooms would be in comparison to American hotel rooms," she said with a laugh. "The roads and all the cars are so tiny. We had to take two cabs because we all wouldn't fit in one."
At Stevenson, the 5-foot-7 Richardson also enjoyed an experience of a lifetime, as she competed three sports in each of her four years. After a senior campaign that included leading the basketball team to 23 wins and the North Suburban Conference title and then helping the badminton squad capture the state championship, Richardson is the Daily Herald's female athlete of the year.
She and best friend Sam Friedman (soccer, basketball, field hockey) were two of just four Patriots to play three sports senior year.
In a couple of months, Richardson will head to Drexel University in downtown Philadelphia. She's hoping to have the chance to walk on the basketball team, a mid-major that finished 22-11 and advanced to the second round of the WNIT last season.
"I'm still trying to contact the coach," said Richardson, who was a four-year varsity starter at point guard and finished her career with 1,490 points. "I like big cities (like Philadelphia). I love Chicago. I hope to move back here one day and live downtown. I'm going to study interior design, and (Drexel) is one of the best schools for it. So it's the best of both worlds for me."
Richardson was a shot-maker for Stevenson. After playing volleyball as a freshman, she went out for golf her sophomore year and stuck with it. She played three falls on JV, but early in her season year she fired a 40 at Crane's Landing, Stevenson's home course.
"I was ecstatic," Richardson said. "I never came close to that again (laughing), but that's OK."
The basketball court was where she sank shots in front of cheering fans. A three-time Daily Herald all-area selection, the playmaker/shooter helped the Patriots win 95 games in her four seasons, averaging 14.5 points, 3.3 assists and 5 rebounds per game as a senior.
As winter transitioned to spring, she switched to a smaller court, yet kept scoring points. In badminton, her strategy of simply "hitting the birdie hard," she said, and athleticism allowed her to excel in a sport that she didn't take up until high school.
She went to the state meet her sophomore year with doubles partner Nicole Xia, then finished top eight in singles the past two seasons.
"If you watch Esther," Richardson said of freshman teammate Esther Shi, who won the state singles title, "her footwork is just amazing. All the high-level players have all this finesse, and I was like, 'I have not nearly as many hours in the gym as they do, so I'm just going to hit it hard and go for it.' "
Richardson's style worked well enough at state to capture five wins at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston this spring.
"Ashley is one of the greatest competitors that I have coached in my 21 years at Stevenson," Patriots badminton coach Grant Johnson said. "She has always been willing to accept challenges both on and off the court, and her work ethic is tireless, never missing a practice in her four years as part of the program. While badminton is often seen as an individual sport, she consistently supported her teammates and led by example through the good times and bad. Her relationship with Esther to make each better every day at practice was exceptional to watch as the season progressed."
Richardson joked that, parents aside, "absolutely nobody" shows up for badminton meets. That didn't make what the Patriots accomplished at state any less enjoyable for her.
"My top moment this year was definitely winning state for badminton, because it was a surprise," Richardson said. "We knew we were going to be close, but then when it happened, it was amazing."
That same word -- amazing -- helps describe her impact at Stevenson.
"Ashley is an outstanding person who is well respected by her peers, teachers and coaches," Johnson said. "It takes a unique individual who excels at multiple sports in high school yet at the same time brings a passion for not just winning but also an enjoyment for the process of working to be a winner. Our program will certainly miss Ashley's presence, but it has been a true pleasure to coach her, watch her grow as an athlete and individual, and be a part of her success. It was awesome to see her play her best at the state tournament and cap her outstanding career with a state championship trophy.
"She certainly has earned it."