By LARRY VAUGHT
Freshman Madison Lilley has been nothing short of sensational for the Kentucky volleyball team this season.
She is that rare highly-touted recruit who may be even better than expected — and a lot was expected from her.
Lilley was the 2015 PrepVolleyball National Junior of the Year and was a member of the 2016 USA Volleyball Women’s Junior National Team. She had 2,976 assists in her prep career at Blue Valley West High School in Overland Park, Kansas. She was also Gatorade Player of the Year in Kansas.
Lilley has already made a huge impact at UK. She had her second straight double-double with 50 assists and 12 digs in Sunday’s win over Auburn. She has seven double-doubles this season and already has 690 assists for UK (14-2, 5-0 SEC). Four times she’s been named SEC Setter of the Week.
Kentucky coach Craig Skinner insists she has weaknesses in her game even if most have trouble finding them. “But the best thing is she wants to get better and that’s a trait the great players all have,” Skinner said.
Having a star Kansas athlete come to Kentucky to play in any sport given the Kentucky-Kansas basketball rivalry produced a different reaction that one might expect from Lilley.
“I get a lot of, ‘Can I get (UK-KU basketball) tickets? When will you be in Allen Fieldhouse? A lot of people are just asking for tickets all the time. Allen Fieldhouse just goes crazy (for Kansas basketball) but I think Rupp (Arena) is where it is at,” Lilley said.
But it was easy for her to become a Wildcat.
“My parents went to K-State. It’s easy to be here at Kentucky for me,” Lilley said.
Her mother was a successful high school volleyball coach. She gave up coaching when her daughter got to high school.
“She was coaching at my high school before I was in the program. I was just always around volleyball, because it was convenient,” the Kentucky freshman said. “She taught at my high school and coached my high school but once I came around and was playing there, she got out of coaching. But I was always in the gym with her.”
So did she drive her mother out of coaching?
“I think she just wanted to take time out to come and watch and kind of step away so she could just be in the stands and not coaching,” Lilley said. “As long as she could watch us play, she was fine not coaching. Watching me play was her main priority.”
Her mother didn’t force her into volleyball. She played basketball and softball — where she called herself a “decent hitting first baseman” — until she was in the eighth grade and chose to concentrate on volleyball. Lilley was also a gymnast and dancer.
“I dipped my feet into a bunch of different sports,” Lilley, an honor student in high school, said. “I was pretty good as a gymnast, but that was quite early in my life. I really liked it. It’s just volleyball was the best. I just loved volleyball.”
And she obviously made the right career choice.
She won the prestigious Andi Collins Award from PrepVolleyball that is awarded to the nation’s best high school setter. She received the award at a surprise assembly at her high school.
“It was really a cool experience to have all students there and get announced that way. It’s really a huge honor at home and cool to have all the students there,” she said. “I had no idea until they announced my name that I was winning. Everyone was like really happy. It was big time and something I will not forget.”
Kentucky will host Texas A&M tonight at 8 in Memorial Coliseum before playing at No. 1 Florida (13-0, 5-0 SEC) on Sunday on the SEC Network.
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