Madison Lilley honored as the SEC Female Athlete of the Year

Kentucky Wildcats setter Madison Lilley(Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports)
Kentucky Wildcats setter Madison Lilley(Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports) /

When the Kentucky Volleyball team took fans on a magical run to a National Championship it was Madison Lilley leading the charge, and with that effort, she is now the Roy F. Kramer Southeastern Conference Female Athlete of the Year for 2020-21.

Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who won the Heisman Trophy at Alabama, was named the male winner of the award for 2020-21.

The superstar Lilley who was named Most Valuable Player when the Wildcats won their first-ever national title has been adorned with so many accolades, but for the Kentucky athletic program and the rest of the league she becomes the first-ever volleyball player to win the award since

The 5-foot-11 senior setter came to Kentucky from Overland Park, Kansas, and quickly became the face of Wildcat volleyball. But she wasn’t alone because coach Craig Skinner had assembled an elite squad that completely meshed and resulted in a journey that had Big Blue Nation enthralled.

Madison Lilley just the second Kentucky female to win the honor

Lilley becomes just the second female student-athlete from Kentucky to win the award, joining gymnast Jenny Hansen in 1995. She is the eighth athlete from Kentucky ever to win the award that includes AJ Reed, 2014; Anthony Davis, 2012; Tim Couch, 1999; Jenny Hansen, 1995; Jamal Mashburn, 1993; Kyle Macy, 1980; and Jack Givens, 1978. The SEC began the men’s award in 1976 and the women’s award in 1984.

As far as female athletes Lilley is clearly the best since Hansen

Hansen is one of the most distinguished gymnasts in NCAA history where she held NCAA records with eight individual titles at the national meet; four titles in one year (1995, floor exercise, balance beam, vault, all-around); and three all-around championships (1993-95). The 1995 SEC Female Athlete of the Year, Hansen was also named the NCAA’s most outstanding gymnast of the past 25 years.

Fast forward and Lilley became the always smiling face of the program.

Coming off a dismal basketball season Big Blue Nation needed something to smile about and get behind and Lilley and her teammates brought the joy.

They navigated their way to a 24-1 record, with the only loss coming to Florida 3-2.

In the NCAA Tournament, they were stellar blanking UNLV, Western Kentucky, and No. 7 Purdue 3-0. In the national semifinals they upended No. 6 Washington 3-1, and then-No. 4 Texas by the same score in the title match. 

Lilley led the NCAA with 12.37 assists per set and fueled the UK offense to the highest hitting percentage of any team in the NCAA.

Skinner was overcome with the achievement of his team this year but overjoyed with Lilley’s honor.

"“I’m proud of what Madison has achieved as an athlete. It’s truly incredible what she’s accomplished. What I’m even more proud of is her vision that she set forth for herself and the team. She set out a path to win a national championship and she followed through with it like the champion she is.”"

The drive was also found in the classroom as well with Lilley graduating from Kentucky in the spring with a degree in Integrated Strategic Communications and was named CoSIDA Academic All-District this season for the first time in her career. She is on the ballot for Academic All-America, currently in the voting process.

Kentucky Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart cited all of these accomplishments, drive, and personality of Lilley that made her so deserving.

"“Given the number of incredible athletes in our league, to be elected SEC Female Athlete of the Year is an elite honor. What made Madison so special is that she is worthy of being chosen from both an individual and a team perspective.  Individually, her record-setting performance on the court speaks for itself. In addition, the way she led her team – with unyielding commitment to make her teammates their very best and her indomitable will to win – makes her deserving of this distinction.”"

The awards may not be over just yet.

Lilley is one of four finalists for the 2021 ESPY Award in the category of Female College Athlete of the Year. The winners will be announced during the ESPY’s, scheduled to take place July 10 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Congratulations Madison.

Next. Kentucky volleyball wins National Title. dark