From a young age Sarah Pavan was focused and methodical, two of the things that fans also saw from her from 2004 to 2007, when she was one of the all-time great players for the Nebraska volleyball program.
And that’s part of what got her to Lincoln. Coming out of Kitchener, Ontario, Pavan also was considering Stanford, Penn State and Minnesota.
“I was very methodical even as a kid and I had a list of everything that I needed to make sure was in a school,” said Pavan in a recent interview. “It was like a good athletic program, academic support, great strength and conditioning facilities, a top-notch program, etc. And honestly of every school I visited, Nebraska was the only one that had everything.
“So me, with my logical brain, I was just like, ‘Well, it has absolutely everything that was on my list, of course I’m going to go there.’”
For Nebraska, it’s a very good thing she did. The right-side hitter helped the Huskers win four Big 12 Conference championships and the national championship in 2006.
When her college career was over, she’d amassed 2,008 kills for a school record that still stands and gathered a long list of awards. Among the most noteworthy honors, because it displays both the immediate impact she made and her consistency, is that she’s one of just five players in NCAA history to be named a first-team All-American four times. She also was the 2006 AVCA national player of the year, and a two-time Academic All-American of the Year across all sports.
And this weekend Pavan was added to the Nebraska Athletic Hall of Fame, and she’ll have her jersey retired after the Huskers’ match against Iowa State on Sunday. She’s just the ninth volleyball player to have her jersey retired.
“She’s probably the most decorated college volleyball player in the history of volleyball,” said Nebraska coach John Cook, who also considers Pavan one of the most competitive players he’s ever coached.
“When you look at the awards she won volleyballwise and academic, I’m not sure anybody can top that. It’s going to be great to have her back and honor her for her career here.”
Pavan, 32, is now a full-time professional beach volleyball player and lives in Hermosa Beach, California. She represented Canada in the Olympics for beach volleyball in 2016, and hopes to qualify for the Olympics one or two more times.
She’s had a busy schedule for many years as both a professional indoor and beach volleyball player, and is in Lincoln for the first time since attending the wedding of teammate Dani Busboom in 2010. Pavan was excited to show her husband, Adam, Lincoln for the first time.
Now almost 11 years since her final college match, Pavan says there is no question for her what the highlight of her college career was.
“Oh, absolutely winning in 2006,” Pavan said. “When I was getting recruited the one thing I always said was, 'I just want to win championships, I want to win championships. I want to win four.' And honestly, we had the opportunity. We were very good, and had the opportunity to win four, but the moment that sticks out in my mind of my whole career here is winning in 2006 in Omaha.”
The Huskers also reached the national championship match in 2005 before losing to Washington. Two other times during Pavan’s career the season ended in the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight, coming during seasons when the Huskers had been ranked No. 1.
Pavan said just because she didn’t win the multiple national championships she’d hoped for she doesn’t feel like she underachieved during her college career.
“In the moments it’s disappointing,” she said. “I think that everything happens for a reason, and had we won every year it wouldn’t have been as special the one that we did get. The disappointments and the tough times and everything made me a better athlete while I was here, but also prepared me to be a better athlete when I left and went to pursue a professional career. I think I was prepared in so many ways having been here.”
* Iowa State head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch, and Iowa State first-year assistant coach Fiona (Nepo) Fonoti, were each All-America setters at Nebraska.
* Nebraska learned on Friday that backup setter Brooke Smith won her appeal to the NCAA for eligibility after transferring, and can now play this season.