Nebraska made short work of Iowa State on Sunday afternoon but the fans stuck around after the match to welcome back one of their own and honor her for her legendary Husker career. After entering the Nebraska Athletics Hall of Fame on Friday, Sarah Pavan saw her jersey raised to the rafters at the Devaney Center, joining seven other Nebraska volleyball greats.
“The Pavan deal, we’ve been working on that for years trying to get her here,” Coach John Cook said. “With her schedule it’s been really, really tough, but this is her weekend. She gets to go in the Hall of Fame with Coach [Tom] Osborne and Coach [Bob] Devaney and Darin Erstad. Mike Rozier went in too; she got to hang out and have fun with him, which I think was an adventure.”
This weekend was Pavan’s first chance to experience a match at the Devaney Center as the Huskers were still competing in the NU Coliseum during her career from 2004 to 2007.
“Special weekend — we finally get to retire her jersey in here and she gets to see Devaney,” Cook said. “I’ve been telling her about Devaney but I don’t think anybody believes it until they actually come here. She used the word world-class, and this is a world-class facility. She’s played all over the world in tons of different countries, beach and in-door.”
After the match, Nebraska unveiled Pavan’s No. 9 jersey alongside the other Nebraska greats above section C4.
Cook addressed the crowd before turning the microphone over to Pavan.
“I just want to thank Sarah for being a Husker and sharing your career here at Nebraska,” Cook said. “You’ve done amazing things and set a really high standard. We’re so honored and privileged to finally get you up there and be recognized as one of the greatest Huskers of all time.”
Pavan was emotional from the start but delivered an eloquent speech
“I thought I was going to cry, but not this early,” Pavan began “Wow. This is an incredible honor. With a program like Nebraska with the history and tradition of excellence and professionalism, to be honored in this way is incredibly humbling. There have been so many incredible athletes that have come through here before me and even after me, and to be recognized in this way is absolutely incredible, so thank you so, so much.”
Karen Dahlgren, Lori Endicott, Janet Kruse, Cathy Noth, Allison Weston, Stephanie Thater, Nancy Metcalf, Jordan Larson and now Sarah Pavan have all had their jerseys retired by the school.
Pavan had plenty of praise for the Devaney Center crowd, listed at 8,108 for Sunday’s match.
“This is actually my first time seeing a game here in the Devaney Center and let me just say, I thought I was lucky when I played here in the Coliseum but Nebraska volleyball and Husker nation is really taking it to the next level,” Pavan said. “What was once the best college volleyball experience in the NCAA has become world-class. This has been absolutely amazing … to get to experience this for the first time is absolutely incredible.”
Pavan made sure to thank Cook for everything he’s done for her.
“My four years that I spent here at Nebraska were some of the most memorable and special years of my life and I want to think Coach Cook for the opportunity of playing here,” Pavan said. “He made me a much better professional and a much better player. I owe a lot of what I became as a professional to him and to my experience here at Nebraska, so thank you.”
Next, Pavan turned her attention to the fans.
“I also want to thank all of you,” Pavan said. “You opened your arms to me, a young kid from Canada, and you made me feel like I was at home. You all opened your arms and made me feel like part of your family. It was not easy to come to a different country as a 17-year-old but you guys made it easy and you guys saw my transition as a young kid to what I am now as a professional. Thank you for being the greatest fans in all of college volleyball and the entire world, in my opinion.”
When the applause finally died down, Pavan had one final message for the fans before leaving the floor.
“I’m truly, truly honored and proud to be able to call myself a Nebraska Cornhusker and it won’t take so long for me to come back next time,” Pavan said. “Hopefully you’ll see my face around here sometime soon.”
Cook said Pavan’s address went as he expected and that he was happy Nebraska could finally make the experience happen after about three years of trying to work it into her schedule.
“I heard her speak Friday night at the Hall of Fame and she did an amazing job there,” Cook said. “She’s such a bright, articulate student-athlete, pro volleyball player now that I knew anything she said was going to be really classy and capture the moment for her. I think this place meant a lot to her. Like all players, once they leave here they appreciate it way more than when they were here and as they see the rest of the world and they play in other programs and so on post-college, I think they really appreciate what Nebraska offers. She took full advantage of it, the volleyball part and the academic part. I was really proud. It’s just really cool.”
Pavan, a four-time All-American who holds three school records and a list of accolades that runs a mile long, has certainly left an incredible legacy at Nebraska.
“I definitely heard a lot about Sarah,” said Jazz Sweet, a sophomore who plays the same position Pavan did for the Huskers. “You can’t come on a Nebraska visit or really come into this state without hearing something related to volleyball about Sarah. She’s an amazing player. She came in, four-year All-American. I just heard a lot about her and I’ve always wanted to be like her because she’s such a great example and she set a great example here and then post Nebraska. I definitely knew a lot about her and was excited to see her in the gym.”
Sweet was spectacular against Iowa State, finishing with a match-high 11 kills and not hitting errors. Cook even said she showed some Pavan-esque qualities in the match.
A lot of what Cook does know in terms of team motivation and the mindset he tries to instill in his program came as a direct result of his time coaching Pavan, who he said was one of the most competitive players he’s ever been around.
“She really taught me how to start the 'Dream Big' part,” Cook said. “She’s here as a freshman and I ask, ‘Sarah, what’s your goal?’ She goes ‘I want to win four national championships, I want to be the academic All-American of the year. I want to win the Broderick Cup.’ I’m thinking ‘OK, this is a freshman; easy.’ But she did almost all of it. We had really good chances to win four national championships. She just kind of pushed the envelope for me. When you’e around people like that and they’re thinking that way, why not have everybody think that way? That’s the thing I learned form her.”
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.