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Archive for Thursday, September 27, 2007

Keegan: Horejsi chock-full of fun

September 27, 2007

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Jayhawk volleyball team falls to #1 Nebraska

The Kansas Jayhawk volleyball team was outplayed by the #1 Nebraska Cornhuskers who went on to win all three matches. Enlarge video

Guaranteed good times are rare in sports because most venues require the home team to score a victory to send the patrons home happy. Not so at the Horejsi Center, home of the Kansas University volleyball team.

Spectators save their stress for football and basketball games. They come to Horejsi to watch college kids enjoying the sport they play, the teammates they play it with, the crowd that watches them.

If Kansas loses, as it did Wednesday night to defending national champion and top-ranked Nebraska, the fans don't file out in a somber mood. They take their entertainment and head home.

Some of the good times are supplied by "Ray's Boys," the courtside student cheering section that takes its name from popular head coach Ray Bechard.

Ray's Boys seldom cross the line into bad taste. They do their homework on opposing players.

Nebraska senior Sarah Pavan, a delightful young woman who happens to stand 6-foot-5, comes from Kitchener, Ontario. Ray's Boys came armed with the knowledge she is Canadian.

"Sarah, go play hockey, eh?" one of them hollered.

Earlier, in demonstrating the ultimate sign of respect, one of Ray's Boys hollered, "Hey, Pavan, graduate. You're too good."

Pavan will graduate in May, and she just might do so with a 4.0 grade-point average in biochemistry. That's if she can ace Physical Chemistry, which she called the hardest course she ever has taken.

"If I work my butt off, maybe I can get an A," she said. "The course has about a 50 percent pass rate. We'll see what happens."

She knows what will happen, and so does everybody else: A.

Pavan plans to play professional volleyball in Italy before attending medical school. Don't bet against her changing the world for the better in a substantial way. Some day, she'll look back on her matches at Horejsi with a smile.

"It's different from a lot of places we play," Pavan said of the venue with a capacity of 1,300. "We play in a lot of huge basketball arenas. Here, the fans are right in your face. It's a sellout every time we come here. It's fun."

Even the hecklers?

"I usually get made fun of for my height, so that's nothing new," Pavan said.

She wears her size well and is extremely coordinated and agile. Slender yet powerful, the long lefty was the American Volleyball Coaches Association Player of the Year in 2006.

How did she end up at Nebraska?

"My father arranged for me to take a visit, and I didn't want to go," she said. "I didn't know anything about Nebraska, didn't even know where it was. I'm glad my father made me visit. I love it."

Her father learned of Nebraska's volleyball dominance reading the internet, Pavan said.

Such research on Kansas doesn't exist. The Jayhawks are 1-77-1 all-time against Nebraska.

So what?

Bechard recruits teenage girls to Kansas and sends winners out into the world. During their time at KU, the student-athletes entertain crowds. For a non-revenue sport, that meets the definition of a successful program.

Beating Nebraska is asking too much. After all, volleyball is the Cornhuskers' best fall sport.

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