SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- When Michael Sealy took over as UCLA’s head women’s volleyball coach two years ago, he knew he needed a setter.

“We had some gaping holes,” he said.

Two good things happened. A kid from San Diego State, Lauren Van Orden, wanted to transfer. And Van Orden’s dad, Bill, was big follower of UCLA basketball.

“There was a video she sent in and she had two years left, which was a perfect window, and she was just making these great sets that were very difficult look really easy,” Sealy said. “We talked to her and her dad came with her. Luckily her dad was a huge UCLA basketball fan. Walking into Pauley [Pavillion], he had tears in his eyes thinking his daughter was going to have a chance to be part of that. And it was awesome.”

Bill’s daughter was awesome on Thursday night in the Alamodome as UCLA rolled past Florida State in the first semifinal of the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship 25-16, 25-17, 25-21. Van Orden had 43 sets, three block assists, eight digs and a service ace as the Bruins advanced to Saturday’s national-championship match.

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.
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Not bad for a kid from Aurora, Colo., who wasn’t highly recruited out of high school.

“I wanted to end up in California and [San Diego State] was the first team that offered and it seemed like a good fit,” Van Orden said.

But the fit wasn’t so good after two years. She knew UCLA had a new coach coming in.

“You have those times in life when the door opens at the right time,” she said. “As an individual to be around such great players and such great minds, you couldn’t ask for anything better.”

The recipients of those sets were pretty stout themselves against FSU. UCLA junior outside hitter Rachel Kidder was nearly unstoppable as she continued her fabulous postseason run with 21 kills, hitting .462. After two sets, she had 15 kills and was hitting .522 as the Seminoles were simply overwhelmed.

“Lauren did a good job running the offense tonight,” Kidder said. “She’s never been predictable and it’s hard when you’re on the other side of the net where we’re going to go. She had a lot of confidence and was really calm and made it easy for us to stay calm and be really comfortable out on the court with her.”

UCLA junior Tabi Love added 12 kills and sophomore outside Kelly Reeves had seven on a night when everything Van Orden put up seemed to result in something good.

“She ran our offense really well,” Reeves said. “She got everyone involved really well.”

It was especially pleasing to Sealy, who a while back tinkered with the UCLA offense, changing from one setter to two for a couple of matches because, as he said, “at that time our offense was so tragic and just stagnant and nothing was clicking. We just had to try something.”

That might have been a motivator for Van Orden

You have those times in life when the door opens at the right timeAs an individual to be around such great players and such great minds, you couldn’t ask for anything better.
-- UCLA senior Lauren Van Orden

“All of a sudden the playoffs started and feewe started being us again and a 5-1 obviously works better for us,” Sealy said.

The 5-11 Van Orden couldn’t have been happier. Against FSU her Bruins hit .328 and sided out at 78 percent. Van Orden herself had four kills in six attempts with no errors. Hard work has paid off for the admitted gym rat who loves to play.

“I was that kid in the summer who went to hitter camp in the morning, libero camp at night, setter work in the middle,” said Van Orden, who also played basketball and soccer growing up.

“She’s amazing,” Sealy said. “I can’t tell you how many coaches we play tell me, ‘Your setter doesn’t get enough credit.’ She is unbelievable.”

“I love being around the game and I love being around the game and I love being in the gym more than anywhere else,” Van Orden said. “I’m real lucky. I think a lot of girls fall out of love with the sport when you hit it too hard too soon. I’m real lucky. I never fell out of love with it.”

Now she has one more match to her college career.

“It’s another day I get to play,” she said. “All this is bonus. When I first started out in college this is not where I thought I would end up. Some girls don’t get to play another day. Their season is done. I’m just lucky that I get to continue playing.”