SAN ANTONIO (AP) — UCLA is finally back in the finals.
Junior outside hitter Rachael Kidder had 21 kills and the Bruins advanced to their first national championship match since 1994, sweeping newcomer Florida State in the NCAA semifinals Thursday night.
Tabi Love added 12 kills for the Bruins in the 25-16, 25-17, 25-21 victory. They’ll play either rival USC or Illinois in Saturday’s championship.
Seventeen years is a long drought for a program with UCLA’s reputation. The Bruins (29-6) have three championships, tied for third all-time, and four runner-up finishes. But UCLA was making just its first semis appearance since 2006.
“It feels great. I think most of us, when we decided to come to UCLA, knew that the program’s been really good in the past,” Kidder said. “And I know when I came in, I was really looking forward to turning it around hopefully. That was the goal.”
The Seminoles (28-7) never led in the first two sets during their first semifinals appearance in school history. Jekaterina Stepanova had 11 kills for Florida State.
“It’s always a disappointment to lose no matter where you lose,” Florida State defensive specialist Katie Mosher said. “But I think the fact that no one expected us to get to the final four at all, it just shows so much for our team as a whole.”
There will be a new NCAA champion for the first time since 2006 regardless of who UCLA faces. Four-time defending champion Penn State was eliminated by the Bruins last week.
Kidder picked up where she left off against the Nittany Lions. The 6-foot-3 star of UCLA’s front line, who helped finished off Penn State with 15 kills in the regional semis, put together her eighth match this season with at least 20 kills. She hit .462, her best performance of the tournament.
“She has to give herself compliments only if she hits over .500,” UCLA coach Michael Sealy said. “.462 in her mind isn’t good enough.”
Visnja Djurdjevic had eight kills for the Seminoles. Florida State looked nervous at times in a historic debut for the Seminoles, hitting just .173.
Florida State was the first ACC team to advance this deep in the tournament. Throw in the Illini, whose last run this far was 1988, and it’s made for one of the freshest-looking semifinals in recent years.
But the biggest factor is the absence of Penn State. The Bruins swept the Nittany Lions to end Penn State’s record 26-game postseason winning streak and the most dominant run in NCAA women’s volleyball history.
The Nittany Lions don’t seem missed in the Alamodome. Sealy said it was probably good for the NCAA that a new champion will finally emerge, and Florida State senior Rachael Morgan spoke both in awe of the Penn State era and with relief to see other teams get a shot.
That leaves USC and UCLA as the remaining familiar powerhouses. The schools have won a combined six national championships since 1981 — three apiece — but none since the Trojans’ back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.