Photo by Allyssa Hynes/Nebraska Communications

Professionalism, Excellence Keyed Pavan's Success

By Brian Rosenthal

As you might imagine, Sarah Pavan has never taken losing well.

You don’t become a four-time All-American – the only such player in Nebraska volleyball history – by simply shrugging off defeat.

So as a youth in Canada, when Pavan did experience a rare loss, her parents asked her one question, meant to keep everything in perspective.

Did you do everything you possibly could to be as good as you could be today?

If Pavan answered yes, she did, then her mother and father would tell her she shouldn’t be ashamed, that she should be proud.

“That laid the foundation for how I do everything in the rest of my life,” Pavan said. “I think coming to Nebraska and joining a culture that coach (John) Cook created helped refine that and helped perfect that, because the culture of the volleyball team here is second to none.”

Pavan told the story Friday night at a banquet at Pinnacle Bank Arena to celebrate the induction of five student athletes and two coaches into the 4-year-old Nebraska Athletics Hall of Fame.

Then on Sunday, Pavan, a 6-foot-6 outside hitter from Kitchener, Ontario, had her jersey retired before a sold-out Devaney Sports Center crowd that saw Nebraska improve to 6-1 with a sweep of former conference foe Iowa State.

“We’re so honored and privileged to finally get you up there, and be recognized as one of the greatest Huskers of all-time,” Cook told the spirited crowd during the jersey retirement ceremony.

Pavan was selected as the nation’s best volleyball player and top overall female student-athlete in 2006, the same season she led Nebraska to its third of five NCAA titles.

Professionalism and excellence have always been expectations at Nebraska, Pavan said, in the same manner her parents expected of her.

“If I’m going to do something I’m going to do it, and I’m going to be all in,” Pavan said. “That manifested in giving everything I had in the weight room, on the court, in practice. If I’m doing everything I can, then hopefully that will help my teammates get better. Together, we can do great things.”

Pavan took the same approach with her academics, so she took advantage of the many top-notch resources Nebraska had to offer then -- and still does today, even on a greater scale. She graduated with a 4.0 GPA in biochemistry in 2008 and was a three-time, first-team academic All-American, and won an NCAA Top 10 Award as one of the nation’s 10 best student athletes across all sports and all divisions. 

“I wanted to take advantage of every opportunity I had to set myself up for a life past volleyball,” Pavan said. “I feel so blessed to have been able to learn from the best here and become a professional both on and off the court. It started here.”

As for her selection into the Nebraska Athletics Hall of Fame, Pavan was playing professionally this spring at the Commonwealth Games in Australia when she received a phone message from Cook.

“He was like, ‘Sarah, you got an honor, can you please call me back.’ I had no idea what he was talking about,” Pavan said. “I called him back and he told me, and first I was like, ‘Wait, they do that?’ and second, I was, ‘How, and why me?’ I was really surprised.”

Pavan joins softball player Peaches James, gymnast Tom Schlesinger, football player Mike Rozier and baseball player Darin Erstad as student athletes in the 2018 class of the Nebraska Athletics Hall of Fame.

“It is such an honor to be included in the Hall of Fame,” Pavan said. “It’s not something I expected to happen, and to be inducted in this class in particular is so humbling, just being around so many legends of Nebraska sports.”

Pavan finished her indoor career this spring and is now a fulltime beach volleyball player. Her goal is to win the gold in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and participate in at least one more Olympics after that.


Devaney, Osborne Join Hall With Rozier

After Friday’s formal introduction of five student athletes and two coaches into the Nebraska Athletics Hall of Fame, former Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne motioned to fellow inductee Rozier.

“Mike,” Osborne said, as loud as he could. “Get over here.”

Rozier obliged, and stood with Osborne for a photo with both inductees holding their trophies representing their induction. They stood in front of the 2018 plaque at the outdoor Nebraska Athletics Hall of Fame, on the east side of Memorial Stadium, atop Ed Weir Track.

Osborne and the late Bob Devaney became the first two coaches to enter the Hall of Fame. Previously, the only student-athletes were eligible, but first-year Director of Athletics Bill Moos felt coaches should be honored, too, so he immediately changed the qualifications.

Osborne, who won 255 games and led Nebraska to three national championships, entered the Hall of Fame the same year as the lone Heisman Trophy winner he coached as a head coach, a running back from Camden, New Jersey, who came to Lincoln via Coffeyville Community College in Kansas.

Rozier totaled 4,780 rushing yards in only 35 career games, not including the 340 yards he rushed for in three Orange Bowls (the NCAA did not begin including bowl game statistics until 2002).

He’s still Nebraska’s all-time leading rusher.

“Mike was a great running back,” Osborne said. “The thing I noticed, the first time we had a scrimmage, a lot of backs have maneuverability and can escape a tackler, but in the process, they make a lot of moves and waste a lot of time.

“But Mike could get by a guy without slowing down. His movement was very slight. He was a guy who didn’t have to make a lot of moves.”

Osborne, notorious for his dry humor, didn’t disappoint in that regard when visiting with reporters.

“Sometimes Mike would run by me and be laughing during a game,” Osborne said, “and often times I’d say, ‘Mike, if you took this seriously, you could really be good.”

Osborne used the same humor in discussing his own induction into the Nebraska Athletics Hall of Fame.

“If you live long enough, sometimes they put you in these things,” Osborne deadpanned as only Osborne can.

“It’s very nice, because it’s something where you’re chosen by the people that know you. Most halls of fame, people voting have no idea who you are, so this is probably a little tighter to get in this one, because if they can remember those losses to Oklahoma, it’s nice that people still vote for me.”

Rozier, meanwhile, said he considers Osborne a second father to him.

“If he needed a kidney and I was a match,” Rozier said, “I’d give it to him.”

Osborne, who visited Rozier’s parents in New Jersey, was a big reason Rozier came to Nebraska, while turning down other schools “who offered me money and cars.”

Rozier, who came to Lincoln for Nebraska’s canceled season opener last week, and returned for the Colorado game, has been and always continues to be appreciative of Nebraska fans’ support.

He remembers the first time he took the field at Memorial Stadium.

“Yeah, I stopped. I stopped in the middle of field and looked around,” Rozier said, “and saw everybody in red. I’d never seen that before. I was just amazed how Nebraska fans followed us wherever we’d go, and to this day. Wherever we go, they’re all there.”

While Rozier is famous for his long, reverse-field touchdown run against UCLA, he said his most memorable moment as a Husker was overcoming a hip-pointer to help Nebraska battle back from a halftime deficit to defeat Missouri.

Rozier seldom sat because of injury, which says how painful his ankle was that he couldn’t return for the second half of Nebraska’s 31-30 Orange Bowl loss to Miami that thwarted a chance at a national title in the 1983 season.

“It would’ve been nice to have Mike,” Osborne said flatly.


Erstad Caught Osborne’s Eye

Nebraska baseball coach Darin Erstad is the only current member of the Nebraska Athletics Department to join the Hall of Fame. He enters, of course, based on his baseball accolades as a collegiate player. In only three seasons, he collected a school-record 261 hits and became a first-round MLB draft pick who won a World Series with the Los Angeles Angels.

But he also excelled on the football field as a punter his senior season, helping Nebraska to the 1994 national championship.

Osborne had only wished he’d taken Erstad sooner.

“Darin wasn’t an unknown,” Osborne said. “We knew he was a good athlete, we knew he was a good kicker. We talked about him in 1993, but at the time, if you put a guy who was on baseball on the football field, he’d count as a (football) scholarship.

“Looking back at it, that was my mistake. Might have been nice to have him in that bowl game against Florida State to kick that field goal toward the end.”

Osborne was referring to the Orange Bowl game against Florida State to finish the 1993 season, when a missed field goal in the final seconds allowed the Seminoles to hang on to an 18-16 victory that, in essence, prevented the Huskers from winning three straight national titles, and four in five seasons.

“Nothing against the kickers we had,” Osborne said, “but I just think the kind of kicker (Erstad) was would’ve been a real asset.”


Special moment for Schlesinger

Let’s just say a few folks may have experienced a few, ahem, ‘’seasonal allergies” when retired Nebraska men’s gymnastics coach Francis Allen presented Tom Schlesinger with a Nebraska letter jacket during the Hall of Fame banquet.

Schlesinger, one of the most decorated gymnasts in Nebraska history, lost his Colorado home to wildfires, and with it, his Nebraska awards and other memorabilia. So Allen gave Schlesinger a new jacket, and Dennis Leblanc, Nebraska Associate Athletic Director for Academic Support, presented Schlesinger with a replacement trophy for his 1989 NCAA Top Six Award, presented to the NCAA’s six most distinguished student athletes across all sports and all divisions.

Schlesinger won two individual NCAA titles – including the 1987 all-around title – and was a key member of Nebraska’s 1988 NCAA championship team, when he won the Nissen-Emery Award as the nation’s top gymnast.


James a Homegrown Husker

Of the five student-athletes inductees into the 2018 Nebraska Athletics Hall of Fame, softball standout Peaches James was the only one born and raised in Nebraska.

James, a graduate of Papillion-LaVista High School in suburban Omaha, was a two-time finalist for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award in her four seasons with Nebraska.

During her career, Nebraska won two Big 12 regular-season championships and one tournament title, finished with a top-15 ranking every season and posted two top-10 national finishes, including a fifth-place showing at the 2002 Women’s College World Series.   

James compiled a 98-38 career record with a 1.19 ERA. She finished her career with a school-record 945 strikeouts, and she still holds the Nebraska record with 44 career shutouts.

Reach Brian at or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.


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