Power 17-1 setter Madison Lilley has been selected as the 2016 Prepvolleyball National Junior of the Year.
Madison Lilley set the USA Youth National Team to a Silver Medal at the U18 World Championships over the summer, matching the squad’s best-ever finish. Two months later, Lilley led Blue Valley West(Stilwell, Kansas) not only to its first state tournament appearance in a decade but to the Kansas 6A title. She did this despite playing out of position for much of the year and despite playing hurt the rest of the time.
It is these things that set her apart, by the narrowest of margins, from the rest of a talented Class of 2017. Lilley is PrepVolleyball.com’s 2017 National Junior of the Year.
When Lilley, who stands 5-11, announced her commitment to the University of Kentucky one month before the start of her sophomore year, she already was a nationally-renowned assist maker with a mesmerizing game. A great leader who commanded the court, Lilley demonstrated the ability to deliver a ball to outside hitters with ease from the opposite side of the court. She could set quicks, in front of and behind her, with pace and touch. Her ability to get her feet to the ball and better even errant passes was something to behold. She was an elite blocker, defender and attacker.
Lilley was so good in fact that she always was mentioned in the same breath as the other two elite setters in this class, Sydney Hilley of Champlin Park (Minnesota) and Ashley Shook of Plainfield Central(Illinois). I mention this because, while Shook, a Texas recruit, did not have enough high school team success in 2015 to be a serious contender for the Junior of the Year award, Hilley, a Wisconsin recruit, was the player Lilley had to beat out to take it home.
The differences between Hilley and Lilley, when it comes to National Junior of the Year consideration, are ever so slight, shadows on a penumbra if you will. Both made the Youth National Team and started matches for the USA. Both led their high school teams to the state tournament in their state’s largest classifications. Both had silly stats that showed their all-around brilliance: 200 or more assists, digs and kills. Hilley, our 2014 National Sophomore of the Year, was named Metro Player of the Year in the Twin Cities, Minnesota Gatorade POY, First Team All-State and MaxPreps’ National Junior of the Year. Lilley was First Team All-State and a member of the All-State Tournament Team but was not 6A Player of the Year (that went to senior Tess Reid of Olathe Northwest, another brilliant setter). Lilley’s team won state, which matters a lot; and made an 84-place move in the national rankings to finish at No. 12. Hilley’s team finished third after getting knocked out of the running for the title by Eagan, which has another brilliant junior setter/hitter inBrie Orr, and finished 77th nationally. Lilley’s team had slightly better overall personnel but the team doesn’t make the state semifinals without her. Hilley’s team doesn’t make the state tournament without her.
See my dilemma? Lilley and Hilley are two brilliant players with outstanding credentials for the award. YOU choose one!
I chose Lilley, not only because Hilley has already been recognized nationally for her 2015 work by MaxPreps, but also because Lilley went the extra mile by playing out of position and hurt to lead her team to a state title.
“I say this as a fan and a rival,” said Dave Johnson, head coach at Blue Valley. “I have had to coach against her in high school and club and have had the privilege to work with her as well. This kid is legit. Best setter in the country.”
Blue Valley West coach Jessica Kopp said that the hardest thing about coaching Lilley in 2015 was defining her role. She’s a tremendous setter, of course, but also is a strong attacker and blocker. Because the Jaguars only had one true middle, Kopp had to use Lilley’s versatility to benefit the team.
The plan early was for Lilley to set three rotations, play two in the middle, because of her ability to block and hit quicks; and one on either pin. This worked pretty well. For the first 14 matches, Lilley averaged 4.5 assists and 3.5 kills per set and BVW was 12-2, losing only to two teams in the national top 25, Shawnee Heights and Olathe Northwest.
Lilley then strained an abdominal muscle, which affected her ability to swing. “At this point, we switched to a 5-1 which ended up being a blessing in disguise,” said Kopp. “Her consistency at the setting position was so good that it took us to another level.”