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Kentucky has never had nation’s top volleyball player or coach. Now, they have both.

·3 min read

The University of Kentucky volleyball team has been unlocking previously unopened doors all spring. On Thursday, the Wildcats enjoyed another breakthrough.

Madison Lilley and Craig Skinner were honored as national player and coach of the year, respectively, by the American Volleyball Coaches Association.

Kentucky had never previously won either award. Thursday’s announcement marked only the eighth time in AVCA history that one school has swept both awards in the same season.

The second-seeded Wildcats (22-1) were to play No. 6 seed Washington (20-3) Thursday night in the NCAA Tournament Final Four at Omaha, Neb. No. 4 Texas (26-1) and No. 1 Wisconsin (18-0) were to square off in the second semifinal. The national championship match is set for Saturday night.

Lilley, a 5-foot-11 senior setter from Overland Park, Kan., was previously named Southeastern Conference Player of the Year after leading the Wildcats to a league championship during a 2020-21 season that spanned the fall, winter and spring because of COVID-19. She is the first SEC athlete ever to win the AVCA national player of the year award.

Lilley, the school’s all-time leader in assists, has received AVCA All-America recognition all four seasons as a Wildcat but made the First Team for the first time on Wednesday.

She ranked second nationally in assists per set, had 10 matches of 40 or more assists and three matches with 50-plus. She also contributed five matches with 30 or more kills and 10-plus digs. Lilley had 38 assists in Kentucky’s 3-0 regional finals victory over Purdue on Monday night.

Skinner has led Kentucky to the NCAA Tournament in each of his 16 seasons as head coach but this year is the Wildcats’ first trip to the national semifinals. UK entered the 48-team tournament as the No. 2 overall national seed. The Cats’ 2021 SEC title was the school’s unprecedented fourth in a row, and he was voted the league’s coach of the year by his peers.

Skinner’s streak of 16 straight postseason appearances has been achieved by only nine other schools all-time. He’s led UK to seven Sweet 16 appearances and two Elite Eights in addition to the Final Four.

Under Skinner’s watch, Kentucky has produced 23 players who earned First, Second or Third Team All-America distinction, including five this season.

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UK tennis men ousted

The UK men’s tennis team was defeated 4-1 by Texas A&M in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament at Fayetteville, Ark., on Wednesday.

The 18-7 Wildcats, ranked 14th in the nation and seeded fifth in the SEC Tournament, now await the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on May 3 to determine their postseason future.

Texas A&M, seeded fourth in the SEC Tournament and ranked eighth in the nation, won the No. 2, 4, 5 and 6 singles matches to take down Kentucky on Wednesday. The Wildcats won the doubles point behind victories from the teams of Cesar Bourgois/Gabriel Diallo and Millen Hurrion/Liam Draxl.

Draxl, the nation’s top-ranked singles player, was leading No. 4 Valentin Vacherot of Texas A&M 2-6, 7-6 (7-2), 5-3 but the match was not completed after the Aggies clinched the team victory.

Texas A&M (16-7) advanced to face Florida in Thursday’s semifinals. South Carolina and Tennessee squared off in the other semifinal.