Auburn, Ala.—Caroline Lilley has been named Auburn Women’s Tennis Head Coach, Director of Athletics Allen Greene announced Friday. Lilley spent the previous four seasons at the University of Kansas where she helped the Jayhawks to four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, including the program’s first-ever Big 12 Conference Championship in 2019.
Named assistant head coach at Kansas in December 2018, Lilley joined the KU staff as an assistant coach in May 2015 after a successful stint as an assistant coach at Gonzaga.
“We are thrilled to welcome Caroline to the Auburn Family,” Director of Athletics Allen Greene said. “During the search to find our next coach, Caroline’s work ethic, driven personality and intellectual depth was captivating. More importantly, her commitment to the holistic care and development of the student-athlete aligns with our purpose to educate, support and develop our young men and women at every opportunity. Caroline has excelled as both a student-athlete and a coach, and we can't wait for her to get to the Plains.”
This past season, Lilley helped KU to a 21-4 record, a trip to the NCAA Sweet 16 and the Big 12 title. The Jayhawks were ranked for 16 consecutive weeks during the season, peaking at No. 7 before finishing No. 13 in the final polls. Three Jayhawks, Nina Khmelnitckaia, Janet Koch and Anastasia Rychagova all earned first-team All-America honors by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA). The doubles team of Koch and Khmelnitckaia reached the No. 1 ranking in the country, and Kansas as a team did not lose a doubles point all season.
She made her presence felt immediately at Kansas in her first spring season in 2016, helping the Jayhawks reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 17 years. Kansas finished second in the Big 12 Conference, the Jayhawks highest finish in 18 years. The four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances were a program first since earning four-straight berths from 1996-99. In 2018 Lilley helped lead KU to its first victory in the NCAA Tournament since 1999.
“I want to thank Allen Greene for the opportunity to lead the women’s tennis program. His vision for Auburn Athletics is unprecedented, and his passion for the Auburn Family is unmatched,” Lilley said. “I would also like to thank President Leath for his leadership and involvement in this process. Finally, I want to thank Evin Beck, Marcy Girton, and Brant Ust and the rest of the Auburn team for their tireless work in vetting so many qualified candidates. “
National rankings have become the norm for KU tennis since Lilley’s arrival; the Jayhawks have appeared in the ITA rankings in all or part of every season Lilley has coached at KU. In 2018 KU spent 11-straight weeks in the top-20, including a season-ending ranking of 18 in 2018, the program’s highest end-of-season ranking since 1998 (17th).
Individual players have earned national rankings under Lilley’s tutelage. In fall 2017 junior Anastasia Rychagova became the first Jayhawk singles player to be ranked No. 1 in the country, and in May 2018 she became KU’s first singles All-American in 20 years.
In recognition of her work at KU, Lilley was voted ITA Central Region Assistant Coach of the Year in 2018.
“I am humbled and grateful to be a part of a renowned university and unrivaled athletics department. Auburn is a family and the people are what make this place so special,” Lilley said. “The integrity and unwavering character throughout the department is something that impressed me and attracted me from the beginning. I am excited to start working alongside Coach Bobby Reynolds and the entire Auburn tennis staff. War Eagle!”
A Portland, Oregon native, Lilley spent the two seasons prior to joining the KU staff as an assistant coach at Gonzaga, where in 2014 the Zags earned a Top 75 national ranking for the first time in program history, a feat they repeated in 2015. With her help Gonzaga signed the #7 recruiting class for mid-major schools, the highest-ranked recruiting class in school history.
National recognition is nothing new for Lilley. She had an accomplished playing career at both Kentucky (freshman and sophomore years) and Georgia Tech (junior and senior years). She was ranked with five different doubles partners throughout her college career, with a high of No. 6. She was nationally ranked in singles as well, with a high of No. 67.
As a junior she posted a personal-best 26-12 singles record, contributing to Georgia Tech’s consistent presence as a top-15 program in the country.
Graduating with a business administration degree with a concentration in finance, Lilley left Georgia Tech with the second-best doubles winning percentage in Tech’s history – 69 percent (38-17, including 20-7 in dual match play).
Lilley earned her MBA, with a concentration in finance, from Kansas in 2018.
For more information, Kirk Sampson