Women's Volleyball: National Champs

The UCLA Women's Volleyball team finished off a dream season, beating Illinois in San Antonio to win the National Championship, the program's fourth...

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SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Tournament Most Outstanding Player Rachael Kidder had 20 kills and eight digs and senior Lauren Van Orden added 53 assists and a career-best 17 digs, as the ninth-seeded Bruins won the program's fourth NCAA and seventh National Championship with a four-set victory over #3 Illinois on Saturday at The Alamodome. Set scores were 25-23, 23-25, 26-24, 25-16.

UCLA improves to 30-6 on the season and wins the school's 108th National Championship. It is the first women's volleyball title since 1991. Illinois concludes it season at 32-5.

Van Orden, who was named to the All-Tournament Team, added four kills and five blocks. Freshman Zoë Nightingale also made the All-Tourney squad after posting a career-high 11 blocks to go with eight kills. Junior Tabi Love recorded 14 kills and three blocks, sophomore Mariana Aquino added four kills and four roofs and senior Sara Sage posted all six of her kills in the deciding set. Three other Bruins had double figures in digs. Senior Lainey Gera notched 19 to finish her career with 2,009, junior Bojana Todorovic added 18 and sophomore Kelly Reeves tallied 16 with seven kills. The Bruins hit .218 for the match.

The first set featured 12 ties and five lead changes, but the Bruins edged out the Fighting Illini at the end to take the opener. Illinois got off to a quick start with five of the first six points, but a 7-2 Bruin run gave them their first lead of the match. Kills by Kidder and Van Orden made it 5-3, and after a Fighting Illini sideout, back-to-back kills by Nightingale and Love made it 6-5. Illinois sided out again, but a 3-0 mini-run on a service error, a Reeves kill and an Aquino/Love combo block put UCLA up 8-7. The Fighting Illini responded with six of the next eight to go back ahead 13-10, but UCLA countered with a 7-1 run to go up by three.

Four in a row on back-to-back kills by Kidder, an Illinois attack error and a Reeves kill put UCLA back up 14-13. After an Illini sideout tied it, a Nightingale/Van Orden combo block and consecutive kills from Love and Nightingale made it 17-14. Illinois came back again though, scoring six of seven to take a 20-18 edge. UCLA responded with the next three on a combo roof from Aquino and Van Orden, an Illinois attack error and a Reeves kill to go ahead 21-20. While the score would be tied again at 21, 22 and 23-all, a Nightingale/Reeves combo block gave the Bruins set point and Kidder came through with her team-best sixth kill of the set to finish off a 25-23 victory. Reeves added three kills and eight digs in the first. Gera and Van Orden each posted five digs, while Aquino added three blocks. The Bruins were out-hit .160 to .151.

UCLA jumped out to an early 10-4 lead in the second set. With the Bruins up 4-3, they scored four in a row on a Nightingale kill, an Aquino/Van Orden combo block and back-to-back kills from Love to make it 8-3. After an Illinois sideout, a Fighting Illini service error and a Reeves kill made it a six-point difference. Illinois came back with four in a row to get to within a pair at 10-8, however a 4-1 UCLA run made it 14-9. Aquino and Kidder kills, a Nightingale/Reeves combo block and an Illinois attack error made it a five-point difference.

Illinois got three of the next four to get to within three at 15-12, but a 5-1 UCLA run made it 20-13. A Kidder kill and back-to-back Nightingale combo blocks, first with Love and then Van Orden, put the Bruins up 18-12. After an Illinois sideout, back-to-back dumps from Van Orden made it a set-best, seven-point advantage. However, the Fighting Illini stormed back with 12 of the last 15 points to take the second set 25-23. Kidder had three kills to lead the Bruins in the second, while Nightingale added four blocks. The Bruins were out-hit .275 to .182.

Illinois started strong in set three, taking a 12-8 edge, however UCLA responded with the next six to take a 14-12 advantage. Kidder and Nightingale dominated the run, as Kidder had a kill, Nightingale posted a kill and a solo block and the duo teamed up for a pair of combo roofs. The Bruins' lead never got to above a pair, as the third set featured nine ties.

With UCLA on top 21-19, Illinois scored four in a row to go ahead 23-21. A Nightingale kill made it 23-22, but the Illini sided out to earn two set points. However, back-to-back kills from Kidder and Love evened things at 24. Another Love kill gave the Bruins a set point and the Illini hit into the net to give UCLA the 26-24 win. Kidder and Love each had six kills, Reeves added three and Nightingale posted three kills and four blocks. UCLA had a big digging set, with Todorovic recording 10, Van Orden adding seven and Gera posting six. The Bruins out-hit the Fighting Illini .228 to .203.

The Bruins never trailed in the fourth set to clinch the championship. UCLA jumped out to early leads of 3-0 and 9-3. Kidder was a part of four of the points on three kills and a combo block with Nightingale, while Sage added two kills. With the score 15-10, the Bruins went on a 7-1 run to break it open. Two kills by Nightingale, with a Kidder ace in between, made it 18-10. After an Illinois sideout, a Nightingale/Van Orden combo block, two kills by Love and one from Sage put UCLA on top 22-11.

Another kill by Sage put the Bruins up 24-15 and gave them a bunch of championship points. Illinois stopped the first attempt, but a Sage kill wrapped up a 25-16 win. Sage had six kills and no errors in seven attempts (.857) in her only set of the match, Kidder added five kills and Love posted four. Gera and Reeves both had five digs, as the Bruins out-hit the Fighting Illini .333 to .250.

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