UK netter thrilled to have Madison Lilley on UK coaching staff

Published 9:08 am Friday, July 14, 2023


Contributing columnist

She was already excited about playing volleyball at Kentucky, but Michigan prep phenom Ava Sarafa got even more excited when coach Craig Skinner added Madison Lilley to his coaching staff.

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Lilley was the national player of the year when she led Kentucky to the 2020 national championship before embarking on a two-year professional career overseas.

Sarafa is a setter like Lilley. The 6-foot Sarafa averaged 11 assists per set last season for Marian High School and many regard her as one of the best setters in high school volleyball history.

“I was training and my dad sent me the tweet about her getting hired. I started jumping in the air about it. I was so excited. I had no idea about it but I am so excited to learn from her IQ-wise. She was so technical,” Sarafa said. “As a setter, she was one of my biggest volleyball idols. Getting to learn from her is going to have such an impact on me.”

Sarafa is now on campus but she met Lilley previously at a UK volleyball camp and said in between camp sessions she even played with the campers.

“It just really can’t be better than to have her on staff,” Sarafa said. “Seeing a big player like that come back to the program says a lot about how she appreciated the program. Her impact on recruiting will be great. She is such a respected player. So many girls my age and younger look up to her and having her at Kentucky is great.”

Sarafa won the 2022 Audi Collins Award given to the nation’s most outstanding setter and was named the national high school senior player of the year by She finished her prep career with over 5,000 assists and won three straight state championships.

Sarafa, who committed to Kentucky on Sept. 4, 2021, admits her senior season was “amazing” after the team lost four talented seniors off its 2021 state championship team.

“After winning two straight state championships, a lot of people wanted to see us fall down. Pulling it off and proving people wrong meant a lot to me,” the UK freshman said. “My experience at Marian was amazing and I would not be the player I am without my teammates and coaches. All the awards were special and winning the Audi Collins Award meant a lot to me.

“I feel like I improved as a leader and you have to be a leader on the court as a setter. This year I needed to step up and lead the team more and I did that.”

She knows playing at Southeastern Conference power Kentucky is a “big jump” playing against the best of the best.

“I am just looking forward to learning from and being around the best players in the country. You are never going to be perfect but you want to become the best player you can be.”

Sarafa has a work ethic similar to what Lilley did at UK. She described herself as a “gym rat” who would stay in the gym as long as she was allowed.

“I would always go to the gym early. That extra work seems small but helps so much,” she said. “Putting in time and reps improves your game and I don’t ever plan to stop working like that.”