The Bruins won their fourth title in school history, putting them third behind Stanford (six) and Penn State (five).
Tabi Love had 14 kills for UCLA in the 25-23, 23-25, 26-24, 25-16 victory. Michelle Bartsch led Illinois with 22 kills in the first championship match ever for the Illini.
It was a sweet title for UCLA coach Michael Sealy, who is entwined in Bruins history. He was born on the campus and played on the UCLA men’s team during the peak of the women’s dominance.
UCLA hadn’t won a championship since 1991 or even played in the final since 1994.
The Bruins are the sport’s first new champion in five years. They dethroned the Nittany Lions, whose record run of four consecutive titles ended in the regional semifinals.
Since 2004, at least one of the same five schools has played in the national championship match: four-time defending champion Penn State, Nebraska, Texas, California and Stanford. The Cardinal won an NCAA-record sixth title in 2004 before losing two consecutive times to the Nittany Lions, whose run stands as the most dominant in the sport’s history.
UCLA was once the blueprint for how to build a dynasty. The Bruins hoarded the best players from volleyball-rich Southern California, made five consecutive trips to the semifinals starting in 1988 and won its three championships. Even today, the program’s 12 national semifinal berths are second all-time.
Those glory days in Westwood are older than most of UCLA’s current players.
UCLA never exactly nosedived off college volleyball’s landscape of haves and have-nots – there are just 10 different champions in the past 30 years – but the Bruins were not living up to their legacy during the years when they went deep into the regionals.