LINCOLN — Sarah Pavan walked on to the court Sunday at the Devaney Center and took it all in. So much had changed since she last played in Lincoln.
The program for which she recorded more kills for than anyone else added two more national championship banners to its volleyball palace that holds double the crowds that used to watch her in the NU Coliseum.
No. 7 Nebraska welcomed the All-American back with at least one familiar sight, however. Before NU placed Pavan’s retired jersey high above the court, the Huskers swept Iowa State 25-22, 25-18, 25-16 to win their sixth straight match.
Fitting for a day when Nebraska (6-1) put Pavan’s name alongside the program’s other greats, the current Husker left-handed opposite hitter led the way. Sophomore Jazz Sweet had 11 kills on 22 errorless swings to hit .500 and reach double-digit kills for the fourth straight match in front of 8,108.
In her last four matches, the sophomore from Tecumseh, Kansas, is hitting a Pavanesque .416.
“You can’t come on a Nebraska visit, or really, come into this state without hearing something related to volleyball about Sarah,” Sweet said. “She’s an amazing player. She came in (and was) a four-year All-American. I’ve wanted to be like her because she’s such a great example.”
During her Husker career, Pavan was the ultimate insurance policy, bailing out NU will kills in tricky out-of-system situations. Several of Sweet’s kills came the same way Sunday, when both teams put the other in long rallies and dared hitters to terminate under less-than-ideal conditions.
Sweet said afterward that she’s learned to take more controlled swings when the Huskers are out of system and she receives a high bump set, usually from libero Kenzie Maloney. Whereas last season, she might fire the ball right into a double block, this year she has learned the two virtues of a good out-of-system hitter: Patience and vision.
“I’ve had a lot more reps with it so I definitely know the timing,” Sweet said. “This is my second year with Kenzie out-of-system setting so I know more where to look for the ball and where she’s going to place it, which is usually right on the money.”
Sweet’s final kill was a stellar example. With Mikaela Foecke forced to take NU’s second touch from the deep corner, she bumped the ball high across the court to Sweet on the left pin. Sweet, a lefty who takes most of her swings from the right side, cut the shot inside the Cyclone block to end the match in 1 hour, 25 minutes.
Foecke added nine kills on a team-high 30 attacks and NU also got eight kills apiece from sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stivrins and freshman outside hitter Capri Davis.
But coach John Cook had a feeling it might be Sweet who was ready for a big day during the serve-and-pass pregame practice.
“You look at players and you know if they’re dialed in and want it,” Cook said. “I kept telling (setter) Nicklin (Hames), ‘Get her the ball.’ ”
It was Nebraska’s 84th win in 86 meetings with Iowa State (6-4), which got nine kills from senior Jess Schaben. But before the Huskers sailed smoothly in the second and third sets, they had to hold on at the end of the first.
The Cyclones trimmed NU’s lead to 22-21 when Davis sailed a shot wide. But ISU committed errors on the next two rallies, and after a couple of missed connections with her middle blockers early in the set, Hames found Stivrins for a kill on NU’s second set point.
“We kind of weathered the storm there,” Cook said, “and then I think we started wearing them down and breaking them down a little bit with our serving. That allowed our block and defense (to set up), and we finally got some great transitions.”
Iowa State, which hit .137, became the sixth of NU’s seven opponents this year to hit below .200. Maloney had a match-best 14 digs after putting up a career-high 25 against Creighton on Thursday night. Hames added 13 digs for her fourth straight match in double figures.
“I think our block has been setting up really nicely lately,” Maloney said. “It looks a lot more disciplined than it did in the beginning of the season. For diggers and back-row players, it’s a lot easier to see the ball and read and dig around that.”
After the match, the show continued. Pavan’s career highlights played on the video board, and after an introduction full of praise from Cook, Pavan wiped away a tear and took a second to find her voice.
“A program like Nebraska with the history and tradition of excellence and professionalism, to be honored in this way is incredibly humbling,” she told the crowd. “It wasn’t easy for me at 17 to come to another country. But you opened your arms to me, a young kid from Canada, and you made me feel at home.”
Pavan took Cook aback when she arrived as a freshman in 2004, telling the coach her goal was to win four national championships. With her, NU captured one in 2006 and reached at least the regional final in her other three seasons.
Cook now encourages all of his players to set the highest goals and speak them into being. That wasn’t always the case. Sunday, he was able to thank her for showing him the value of dreaming big.
“She just kind of pushed the envelope for me,” Cook said. “When you get around people like that, and they’re thinking that way, why not everybody think that way?”
Iowa State (6-4)…………… 22 18 16
At Nebraska (6-1)…………..25 25 25
ISU (kills-aces-blocks): Schaben 9-0-1, Herbst 6-0-2, Holthaus 5-0-0, Lazard 4-2-2, Rhodes 4-0-3, Brandt 1-0-1, Bailey 1-0-1, Herrera 1-0-0, Enna 0-1-0. Totals 31-3-10.
NU: Sweet 11-0-1, Foecke 9-1-2, Stivrins 8-1-2, Davis 8-0-2, Schwarzenbach 3-0-3, Maloney 0-2-0, Hames 0-1-1. Totals 39-5-11.
Set assists: ISU 28 (Brandt 18, Mauck 7, Schaben 1, Bailey 1, Hilegas 1). N 39 (Hames 29, Maloney 6, Foecke 2, Smith 1, Densberger 1).