Lilley eager to learn after joining UK volleyball staff

Published 3:46 pm Friday, June 16, 2023


Contributing columnist

It’s been two years since Madison Lilley was part of the 2020 split COVID volleyball season at Kentucky that ended with the Wildcats winning their first national championship and Lilley being named the national player of the year.

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Kentucky went 24-1 that season with the only loss coming at No. 7 Florida. Because of COVID, the season started in mid-October, paused for about two months and then restarted in late January. Kentucky won the national title in late April.

“It is pretty crazy to think about it,” said Lilley, who is back at UK as an assistant coach. “That senior season was long and a grind. Looking back at all the (COVID) testing in the bubble, wearing masks during practice … I don’t know how we did it.

“In the moment it was tough. Sometimes I am amazed at all the protocols and what crazy times it was. We got it done.”

Lilley was a non-stop worker who loved to compete. She could inspire others with her play or words. However, this will be her first time coaching.

She was a four-time All-American who had 53 assists in the national championship match along with a career-high 19 digs. She won two state high school championships in Kansas and was the Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year her senior season along with National Junior Player of the Year.

“I definitely think that will be a challenge. I have always been able to just do things and physically get on the court and do them and not have to explain drills, footwork. I just would do it,” she said. “I do think there will be an element (of coaching) that is a challenge but I am excited.

“It’s another way to help me improve by volleyball IQ. I never had to articulate drills, break down my setter training. The setters we have are so talented. Working in a new way with them will be fun.

“I won’t be able to physically change things. If we are down five (points), I will not be the one making decisions (on the court). That will be the most challenging part.”

Recruiting will also be a challenge even though most high school volleyball players will quickly recognize her name. She remembers being nervous when she talked to Kentucky coach Craig Skinner even though she verbally committed to UK when she was a high school freshman.

“I hope I can have laid back conversations with recruits. I am looking forward to connecting with young girls and young women interested in Kentucky and further their careers,” Lilley said. “If I get on phone calls I will talk about anything and not just volleyball. I want to connect with a lot of them because being able to connect with them in recruiting is such a big thing.”

Lilley admits she never really envisioned herself coaching at Kentucky — or anywhere else. However, she could not pass up the chance to be part of the UK program again and says winning a national championship is the goal as a coach just like it was for her as a player.

“Seeing how things operate on the coaching side and how hungry everyone is to succeed and put (championship) rings on our fingers is pretty cool,” she said.

Lilley was 14 years old when she committed to play for UK and Skinner. She said she “loved” him then and did during her high school and college careers.

“On occasion when he watched me (play) professionally and would text me I would realize how much I missed him,” Lilley said. “Craig is the best. I feel so grateful he is the captain leading our ship. It handles it so well and with so much poise.

“There is so much to learn (from him) as a father, parent. He really embodies what it means to be a well-rounded human.”