SAN ANTONIO, Texas — When UCLA faces Illinois in the national title match on Saturday night, it really isn’t Kelly Reeves’ birthright to win.
Nor was she born to be a Bruin, but you could understand why people would think so. After all, when UCLA last won a national title in 1991, Kelly’s mother, Jeanne, was not only an assistant coach but pregnant with her future star.
“I was in the belly,” Kelly said. “It’s crazy to think.”
|UCLA advances to national title match|
Rachael Kidder had 21 kills and UCLA advanced to its first national championship match since 1994 with a sweep of Florida State in NCAA semifinal action on Thursday night.
And like her mother, her two brothers, many of their relatives — even her current coach, Mike Sealy — Kelly was born in the UCLA Hospital.
What’s more, Jeanne, who still ranks 14th on the all-time UCLA kills list, coached Kelly throughout her club-volleyball career, which is quite a story in itself. Suffice it to say that a team that included USC libero Natalie Hagglund, Yale’s Kendall Polan (Ivy League MVP), Northwestern’s Katie Dutchman and Jenny Woolway at UC Davis — well, almost everyone on the team is now playing in college — won the USA Volleyball national open-division championship when they were 16.
“We had some fun,” Jeanne said with a laugh, adding, that those days might have been easier than now. “There were things I could control. I probably took more out on Kelly than any other player, but sitting on the sidelines is a bit stressful for us.”
Her dad, Mike Reeves, nodded in agreement.
“But like I told her, I just love watching her play because she makes you want to play the game,” Jeanne continued. “She makes the sport look like it’s fun.”
Kelly Reeves, a sophomore right side hitter from San Diego, quietly filled in the gaps Thursday night in UCLA’s three-set sweep of Florida State, collecting seven kills, three service aces, two blocks and 10 digs in the kind of performance that may go unnoticed on a team with big bangers like Rachel Kidder and Tabi Love, but not to her teammates and coaches. And not to opposing coaches, either.
In a sport where it seems everyone knows everyone and is tied together in some way, Kelly’s first national-level high-performance exposure came when she was 15 and one of the coaches in that program was Illinois coach Kevin Hambly, who, from that experience remains close friends with the family.
“That was a long time ago,” Hambly said with a smile. “She’s grown up a lot. She’s an incredible kid, incredible competitor, great personality, comes from a great family. I really enjoyed my time with her. But that was a long time ago. Now to talk to her and see how much she’s matured is really, really cool.”
Jeanne, is just a touch taller than her daughter. She played volleyball at UCLA for Andy Banachowski, who, when he retired, was replaced by Sealy, who inherited Kelly.
“She had a ton of success at the club level and you always like that winning DNA,” Sealy said. “It tends to rub off.”
Jeanne also played basketball two years for the Bruins and legendary coach Billie Moore. A 1982 All-American, Jeanne played on the 1984 U.S. Olympic volleyball team that won the silver medal before returning to UCLA, coaching there from 1987-91.
Remember the ties? Mike Reeves’ younger sister, Lisa, was a teammate of Jeanne’s at UCLA, which is how they met. Mike ran track at Oregon and was a teammate of Steve Prefontaine’s. Together, the Reeves, along with sons Connor and Jake, have had a ball watching Kelly this week. Connor, by the way, is a junior at UCLA who does analysis of the UCLA men’s and women’s matches on internet radio. Jake is a high school setter who wants to play in college.
Jake should hope he has much fun as Kelly, who just enjoys playing more than seems possible.
“She’s just one of those kids who just has passion for the game,” Jeanne said. “And not for herself, for her team. She’s very celebratory for everybody, not just Kelly. And it’s kind of rare and she comes by it honestly. She’s totally different than I was and it’s all good.”
UCLA teammate Love, who transferred from Minnesota, was taken aback at first by Reeves.
“She has a lot of energy and not really what I was used to as far as style of play,” Love said. “But it’s a great change. She plays with a lot of heart and it’s admirable.”
Love said there was one time Thursday during the semifinals that Reeve screamed, “Let’s go! Look at me in the eyes! Let’s go.” Love laughed and told her to calm down. “I guess we’re opposites in that sense but I love her fire and she gets us pumped up.”
Reeves blushed for that and then even worse when Sealy talked about her.
“She’s all unicorns and rainbows. She sees about four unicorns a day and rainbows wherever she looks,” Sealy said.
“In a good way,” Love chimed in as Kelly blushed even more.
“Like at the [tournament] banquet, she was the one who went up and spoke on behalf of our team,” Sealy said. “And they asked her a question and I never worry about her anymore, because even if she’s stumbling, she’s so open, heart-on-her-sleeve just talking to you, that even if it rambles and makes no sense it’s awesome. She had a five-minute run-on sentence that everyone just loved. It was great.”
Kelly didn’t take up volleyball right away, although she was always around it as a little girl who tended to beat the boys in their sports. Her mom laughed at recalling her playing baseball with the boys and finally, when Connor moved up into a tougher level and Kelly was in the sixth grade, “we decided to get her away from the boys and then she found volleyball. And then at 12 in her first [Junior Olympics] she was hitting with both hands. She thought like with soccer since you kick with your right and your left, she used both hands in volleyball.”
Soon after, Jeanne took on coaching her with the Wave volleyball club, which from the start included Hagglund, who was an outside hitter in juniors. “Imagine having those two on your court all the time,” Jeanne said. “That was some fun stuff.”
But when they won that 16s national title, Banachowski told Kelly she could play at UCLA but wasn’t offering a scholarship to her as a freshman. So she visited a bunch of schools, including Stanford, Cal, Texas, Washington and Nebraska.
“Obviously I was born a Bruin,” Kelly said. “And I’ve grown up going to all the football games and basketball games and stuff, but once high school came and I got through the recruiting process, I wanted to look at other schools. UCLA was always in the back of my mind, but I wanted to see other places.”
Jeanne hoped Kelly would find her own way.
“I wanted her to go be her. I wanted her to be who Kelly Reeves is, not looking at me. I wanted her to have her own path and so did she. And she found her path.”
Kelly said she had kind of a recruiting epiphany.
“People tell you when you go to these places you get a feeling and I didn’t feel it at the other places, but when I went to UCLA, I felt it like instantly,” she said, her voice almost dropping to a whisper. “It was the weirdest thing. Maybe it was because we were at the USC-UCLA men’s basketball game and all the atmosphere, but it was awesome.”
And she looked at Jeanne and said, “Mom, I want to be a Bruin.”
She called Banachowski the next day “and it was the best feeling ever.” As it turned out, Banachowski had a scholarship to give. Jeanne’s number 40 is retired at UCLA and Banachowski even offered to unretire it so Kelly could wear it, but Kelly, who wears number 2, declined.
Own path? She can do something even her mom didn’t as a player by winning it all Saturday.
“Ever since I was a little kid I’ve dreamed of being here,” Kelly said. “Now I’m here and it’s like whoa. You have to take a step back and soak it up.”
All along the way looking for unicorns and rainbows.
“I love it. I mean, I’m out there doing what I love,” Kelly said. “I just have this passion for it. It’s the place that I can go and get everything out of my brain and just be free.
“They make fun of me for the unicorns and rainbows, but I love it. It’s what I love to do. It’s just who I am. Volleyball has made me the person I am today. It’s a great sport and I’m so happy I’m doing it. I love it.”