The Dark Side of the NU Volleyball Program

February 25, 2008 at 4:56pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

One of the downsides of being a premiere player in a premiere college athletic program is that little things like honesty and forthrightness don’t always go over so well. In (former) NU volleyball player Sarah Pavan’s case, it got her booted from the team. Pavan was a senior last season, so her playing career had already wrapped up. Her relationship with the team, however, had not. Until now.

The kerfuffle originated with a Red Week article in which Pavan expressed feelings not normally associated with the NU volleyball team. Whereas most of the Big Red “roof roof roofers” see the team as a merry band of perky lasses, the article portrayed a much darker reality, at least as far as Sarah Pavan is concerned. We shouldn’t be surprised; not everyone deals with successes and failures the same way, and teammates aren’t always going to get along like best friends.

Coach John Cook’s reaction in the wake of this news is astonishing for its childishness. The DN article contains this bit:

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.”

Are you serious, Coach Cook? If they don’t stop doing their job, you’re going to tattle? Give me a break. To whom will he tattle to when the Journal Star posts their story?

I’ll be interested to see how this story develops. In particular, I’m very curious what AD Tom Osborne has to say about it. Does he really want it to be known that, after years of loyal service, a dose of honesty is enough for a coach to boot a player from the program? If those are the values TO is bringing to the Athletic Department, then it’s clear we’re not much better off than we were six months ago.


A person posting as “Wendy Cook” has posted a comment on the Daily Nebraskan’s website. Coach John Cook’s wife’s name is Wendy, but there is no way to know for sure if the comment was actually made by her. If it is “the” Wendy Cook, I’m surprised she would respond outside of the Athletic Department’s usual channels. But just in case it is her, and in case her comment is removed from the DN’s site, I am posting it here:

It is very unfortunate that people take so much liberty in making assumptions about others without knowing all of the facts involved. As I am aware of the facts as they transpired, I take great offense to those that say that the team and /or coaches have been disrespectful in any way to Sarah. In my opinion, the reporting, or lack thereof, has been the most disrespectful to Sarah and created conflict where there was none. Sarah has not been kicked off the team. If Sarah has conflicting emotions about her teammates, then it is up to her, with the coaches volunteering their help, if she desires, to work to resolve those conflicts. The rest of the team had no conflicts with Sarah prior to the article being printed. Furthermore, the University and coaches have been very supportive of her academics and rescheduled practice times to accomodate her biochem schedule. Of course, they supported her in her academic endeavors as they support all of the young women but the article claims otherwise. In addition, the team and coaches have congratulated her numerous times on her awards but perhaps because she was uncomfortable in getting those awards she did not recognize their congratulations….. Her feelings about her awards and not fitting in or feeling isolated are not because her coaches/teammates did not try to help her fit in. It has more to do with that is just Sarah’s personality and that is OK. The team accepted that about Sarah and still supported her and to say anything different is very unfair to the team and coaches. I don’t think Sarah could have earned those awards without the support of her teammates so to say anything otherwise is absurd.

When the article was published without any forewarning to the girls and without Sarah being able to talk to them firsthand about her feelings, it came as a shock to all involved. Sarah had not talked about these feelings to anyone on the coaching staff or team except for her best friend Rachel Holloway possibly. She had ample opporunity to talk to the coaches/team as there is always an open door policy. The article has done a great disservice to not only Sarah but to others as well. At no point in any of this garbage reporting, does the reporter refer to the current players as to how they felt or past players that played with Sarah and helped out with the team this past year. No, the reporter chose to ignore their comments because they did not fit in with what the reporter wanted to put forward as he/she saw it. Unfortunately, there were others that submitted interview information that clearly attests to the current team and how supportive they all were of Sarah including the coaches. Does that discount Sarah’s feelings? No, but perhaps a better arena for Sarah to discuss her feelings would be to sit down with her team and do just that . In my opinion, this article highlights one persons insecurities as though everyone else should fix those insecurities. In the real world, we all have to put forth a little effort to get along with others and if I have a problem with you or my feelings are hurt, then I should step up to the plate and address that with you without being defensive or making false accusations.

The coaches and University have nothing to do with this “PR nightmare” as someone said. The nightmare and hurt that it has caused Sarah and the team lies solely with the organizations that choose to report and print stories without all of the appropriate facts. The university tried to explain how these articles would put a damper on Sarah’s legacy to no avail. If anyone owes anyone an apology, it is the reporters in these instances who misrepresented the facts and put a shameful light on some really great, hard working, extremely caring, fun-loving, team promoting individuals, coaches included!

Please stick to the facts in the future!

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The Comments

West A Dad February 25, 2008 at 6:34pm

She has a right to her feelings and opinions.  The statement about the phony smiles, hugs and high fives after every point are probably what did the most damage. 

I don’t agree for a second with Cook.  And I too would like to here the spin Dr. Osborne will put on this, if any.

Dave K February 25, 2008 at 7:42pm

This is pretty shocking, especially since I and probably most other people view the volleyball program as being a shining star for UNL. 

I’m especially disappointed in Cook.  Up to this point he’s been a model coach for all sports: he wins, his players graduate, and there is generally no controversy from his program.  For him to kick off the team possibly the greatest player in school history (!!!!) for some things she said in an interview is outrageous.  At most he could be disappointed in her, but she deserves far more respect than she was given. He should personally and publicly apologize to her, and offer to let her back at practice. 


I wouldn’t be surprised if the national sports networks pick up on this, since she was a ‘national’ player, and neither Cook nor TO want the bad publicity it’s going to bring.  There’s probably no template for damage control for a volleyball controversy, so it will be interesting to see how it pans out.  I wonder if TO thought the first program that would bring him stress would be the volleyball program.

Pam February 26, 2008 at 3:06am

I’m not quite sure why people are upset with Coach Cook? He didn’t write the article. And he didn’t force Pavan to do the interview. Regardless of that, let us not forget, regardless of how academically brilliant Ms. Pavan is and regardless of how amazing she is on the vball court, she’s still a young woman with a lot of maturing yet to do. I thought the article was yet another display of pointless journalism by the LJS. I felt the article cast Sarah in a very poor light, not the NU program or coaches. I think anyone who is a fan of Nebraska Volleyball knows she is reserved and didn’t like all the hooplah, why the article to prove it? Bottom line, when you are the NATION’S TOP volleyball player, like it or not, you are going to have to step out of your comfort zone and deal with the accolades and the attention.

D.M.B. February 26, 2008 at 3:19am

I have a ton of questions about this article but when I first read the original article, to me, Pavan comes across as a real whiner.  “No one understands me” “no one acknowledges me”

In the article her father says:

Mr. Wilson February 26, 2008 at 3:20am


Dave K February 26, 2008 at 3:21am

I’m a big fan of Coach Cook.  As I said earlier, he’s a model coach for a model program.  To ban Sarah from practice because of some things she said in an interview, effectively tarnishing her amazing career, is inexplicable.  I’m not saying he needs to be fired or reprimanded for this, I’m saying it’s incredibly disappointing.

I haven’t seen the story in the LJS yet, so I’ll assume you were referring to the DN.  Sure, it’s pointless journalism, but so is everything else the DN has done since Neal left there several years ago.  But you can’t blame pointless journalism for the stain the volleyball program now has to live with for a while.

Dave K February 26, 2008 at 3:23am

To clarify the above, her banishment from practice tarnishes her career, not the comments in the interview.

Pam February 26, 2008 at 3:45am

Do you know for sure she’s been banned from practice? If she has, I look at it this way…he’s got to get his team focused for the spring schedule and for next fall, they don’t need this kind of distraction. Having her in practice to fire some spikes at the team would be very beneficial, but with all this fallout from the article maybe Coach Cook decided it’s best for the team if she wasn’t around. If it’s true, I agree that it’s disappointing because Pavan brought a lot to the program, but I am sure there is a lot going on in those offices and on that court that the general public isn’t privvy to and Cook took the action he felt was best for the team as a whole, which is more than Sarah did when she decided to give the interview. She didn’t received all those awards on her own, she had a supportive coaching staff and team helping her every step of the way. She should be thanking them instead of complaining about being uncomfortable and misunderstood.

pam February 26, 2008 at 3:46am

The LJS made the choice to print the article. The LJS has a larger number of subscribers than Redwire.

Pam February 26, 2008 at 3:48am

I completely and totally agree!!!

Mr. T February 26, 2008 at 3:54am

There are definitely no positives to come out of this situation. Although its true that the article could have been some sort of vindictive and whiny strike by Sarah against the program, an aggressive move by the journos behind the story, or just the by-product of a badly thought out interview, the attitude a lot of people have voiced against Sarah is pretty telling.

Just in passing conversation with people I know at UNL, I’ve been pretty surprised at how brutal folks have been towards Sarah. Although I agree in principle that there is a required discipline and spirit that comes with the job of being a champion athlete, its no surprise that these kids are, in the end, not just robots for the UNL athletics program but actual people with real emotions.

I also think that the “stop reporting this story” line by Cook is pretty obnoxious to say the least. It will be interesting to see if this story actually develops, or if it just “goes away”.

Gene February 26, 2008 at 2:52pm

If you’re going to be a head coach of any major program you have to be able to PROFESSIONALLY handle the media. People behaving like adults don’t threaten a journalist at the first whiff of criticism.

D.M.B. February 27, 2008 at 12:17am

The other point I wanted to make is this…The NU athletic department is a PR nightmare.  I really thought that the problems would be shored up with the end of the Stevie P era, but I guess not.  Things consistently went wrong under Petey’s direction.  Leaks, denials, rumors, Bill Callahan, etc. 

What’s even more troubling, is that the reaction comes from the shining star that is the Nebraska Volleyball program.  Would Terry Petite do something like this?  Absolutely not.  What possessed Cook to do this?  Why alienate the greatest player in program history by kicking her off the team?

Mr. T February 27, 2008 at 4:32am

I am disappointed at how things have developed in regards to Sarah these past few days in “husker nation”. If she was the star player of the football team about to go into the NFL, this would be all over ESPN. The way Cook has disposed of her is just ugly.

Best of luck Sarah.

Jim March 5, 2008 at 2:14am

The thing she says the “phony smiles, hugs and high fives” are not phony to the rest of the team or they would do them.  I hated that stuff when I played baseball, the rally caps, the stupid made up handshakes we did, and the worst was the “magic bat” which was an old wooden bat one of the fathers had that was at the edge of the dugout and everyone touched it for luck before batting.  I hated that part of baseball, I always thought we should just play the game hard, but I played that game as well as the one on the field.  I never fit in with most of the players and didn’t hang with them off the field.  I definitly see where she is coming from.

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