Monday, February 25, 2008

Sarah Pavan's dismissal

Disturbing article from the Daily Nebraskan by Sam Erb (http://media.www.dailynebraskan.com/media/storage/paper857/news/2008/02/25/News/Pavan.Interview.Upsets.Nu.Volleyball.Coach-3231815.shtml) giving some details as to why Nebraska head volleyball coach John Cook dismissed Sarah Pavan, Nebraska's most celebrated female athlete, from the volleyball team.

The source has to be taken with a little grain of salt, as apparently the interview that started all the problem was written by the same author. But, boy, this is akin to Reggie Bush getting thrown off the 2005 USC team for not getting along with his teammates. I'm anxious to hear the rest of the story, because it's hard to imaging a player of Pavan's stature being thrown off the team for what's being currently reported. And if Cook allowed the situation to get to the point where Pavan had to be booted to keep the rest of the team happy, then there's some huge problems in the 'Husker volleyball leadership, gaudy records and national championships be damned.

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Pavan interview upsets NU volleyball coach
Sam Erb - Special to the Daily Nebraskan
Editor's note: Sam Erb is a reporter for Redwire, a magazine published by UNL's College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

Sarah Pavan, the most decorated female athlete in NU history, has left the volleyball team under circumstances that have a former teammate and some Husker fans critical of the coach and the Athletic Department.

Last week, Coach John Cook told Pavan she could no longer practice with the team after an interview the four-time All-American gave to Redwire, a magazine published by the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

In the article, Pavan said with each award her volleyball skills attracted, she felt more alone, frustrated and cut off from teammates, some of them envious.

She said she felt misunderstood - disliking the limelight and the phony camaraderie of high-fiving after every point - and had spent hours crying on the leather couches in the coach's office.

The article quoted Cook as saying some teammates may have had a problem with Pavan's intensity because "women want to be the pack and bond together. On men's teams it's different, they don't care."

Shortly after the article was published, some teammates harshly criticized Pavan for revealing what she said was the downside of being the best player on a team full of competitive, world-class athletes. Not long after, she was informed she could no longer practice with the team.

Pavan, a senior who has a 4.0 GPA in biochemistry, was later told she could rejoin the team if she agreed to a number of conditions, including a full apology to her teammates. Pavan declined, touching off more frustration and loneliness for the 2006 National Player of the Year.

"I hope people will stop judging Sarah for telling the truth and how she honestly feels," said Rachel Holloway, the setter on Nebraska's 2006 National Championship team.

"I'm proud of Sarah for being honest, and if it hurts other people maybe they should look at themselves," added Holloway, an All-American who left the Husker volleyball team and the university earlier this year and transferred to Alabama University.

The sudden dismissal of Pavan, the 2006-2007 Collegiate Woman of the Year, also has rankled a number of Husker volleyball fans.

"I just think it's really sad. It's really too bad. I just thought they would be more supportive of her than that," said Lynette Bendig, a volleyball fan from Fremont.

Dylan Otley said he has been a fan since the 1995 National Championship Husker volleyball team visited his elementary school. He said he found a certain irony in the way the situation has been handled.

"Beside the fact that the article is about team unity and that there is so little of it in her opinion, and then to kick her off for not being a team player, it's absolutely ridiculous that they would be able to do that in good conscience," said Otley, a senior math major at UNL.

Contacted last week, Coach Cook said he was disappointed with the outcome of the Redwire article. He said it cast the volleyball program in a negative light.

Asked to clarify Pavan's status with the team, Cook said he preferred not to dwell on the past and that the team was focused on preparing for next season. "There is no more story," he said.

Cook, who has won two national championships at Nebraska and sports a seven-year record of 217-15, strongly discouraged any more reporting on the issue.

"If you don't stop doing it," Cook said, "I'm going to call over to the journalism college and get this straightened out."

Shamus McKnight, NU's volleyball sports information director, asked to know if there would be another story, what it would be about and who would be contacted.

"Usually I know ahead of time who is going to be interviewed, so I can prepare them," McKnight said.

Meanwhile, not everyone connected to the team was disgruntled about Pavan's departure.

"I'm not that upset about it," said Rich Kern, an officer with the Match Club, the volleyball team's official booster club. "I guess in some respects it doesn't bother me, because she is no longer a playing member on the team."

That sentiment is not shared by Tammy Cheatum.

Cheatum is a fan who waits in line all night to buy her season tickets each year. An elementary school teacher, Cheatum makes the three-hour trip from Orchard to Lincoln for every home game, then turns around and drives another three hours to get home. Pavan, who recently signed a three-year professional contract to play in Italy, is one of her favorite players.

"You just don't have players like that come along," said Cheatum, "It's devastating to think that the love of the sport is being taken away.

"Someone who wants to help benefit the sport is being sent away."

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