Sarah Pearman i…

by Tim Klobuchar

Sarah Pearman is everywhere.
In volleyball, that statement usually means the player covers all corners of the court, dives for balls, gets floor-burned repeatedly, etc.
Not that Pearman isn’t known for her hustle, but in her case “everywhere” means something a little different.
Thanks to a deal between the University and Minneapolis-based Sable Advertising Systems, the latter is promoting Gophers women’s athletics with billboards in the metro area.
The 11 billboards are replicas of promotional posters, which feature Pearman, face glistening, diving for a ball. The word “sweat” is in the upper left corner and the phrase “no sweat” is in the lower right. On the bottom is the Gophers women’s athletics slogan, “Catch what you’ve been!”
As the seasons change, athletes from different women’s sports will likely take their place on the billboards, but Pearman is the pioneer. She’ll be doing a spot for WCCO radio Friday morning from a billboard on the corner of 6th Street and Cedar Avenue. However, Pearman hasn’t given her recent notoriety much thought, so her head isn’t nearly as big as the billboards suggest.
“My friends said, `We were just driving and we saw your picture,'” Pearman said. “Which was news to me because I didn’t know they were even up yet.”
Pearman might not admit it, but she’s the perfect choice for poster child of Gophers volleyball. The junior outside hitter’s career at Minnesota has mirrored both the team’s triumphs and travails.
She arrived at Minnesota after a hugely successful high school career at Apple Valley, where in 1992 she led her team to a state title and was voted Metro Player of the Year.
Pearman started every match in 1993, when the Gophers went 24-10 and advanced to the NCAA regionals. But a knee injury, a torn anterior cruciate ligament, forced her to redshirt the 1994 season, a season marked by the controversial firing of long-time coach Stephanie Schleuder.
She struggled in 1995 playing in the back row, a position unfamiliar to her. The team also fought through an uncharacteristic losing season under interim coach Pam Miller-Dombeck.
This year, though, Pearman’s knee is back close to 100 percent, and the Gophers are a surprising 13-6 under new coach Mike Hebert.
Pearman is back at the position she used to dominate in high school, and though the adjustment hasn’t been easy, she’s shown rapid improvement already. She led a Gophers comeback in a match against Iowa this year with a career-high 20 kills.
Pearman’s progress is even more impressive considering her lack of collegiate experience as a hitter isn’t her only hurdle. At 5 feet, 9 inches, she hardly towers over her opponents. In addition, she hasn’t fully recovered the vertical jump she had before her knee injury.
“At first it was intimidating,” Pearman said. “I’m 5-9, maybe, so I had to learn to be a different hitter. In high school I could hit over people because I was tall. Now I have to mix up my shots.”
Although Pearman has had to change her style a great deal, that’s nothing compared to the adjustment she had to make when she was unable to play two years ago. After the initial knee surgery, she needed two extra knee surgeries to remove scar tissue, further hampering her comeback.
“The problem for me wasn’t so much physical,” she said. “It was mental. My confidence was down. I was working really hard, and then `bam,’ another surgery. I had to start all over.”
Fortunately Pearman found support from plenty of places. While her sister, Denise, was playing volleyball at Syracuse, she suffered the same injury at the same age as Sarah. Denise, now 25, was Sarah’s biggest supporter during her recovery.
She also met gymnasts Jonda Hammons and Lacy Purkat and soccer player Amy Muchlinski in rehab. They became fast friends and eventually, roommates.
“We all helped each other out when we blew out our knees,” Pearman said.
The attitude that helped her endure the long rehabilitation also led to Hebert naming her co-captain for this year.
“Every kill she has to battle for,” he said. “She needed a lot of training time, and since the first of the year I’ve seen her confidence steadily grow.”
Pearman, with her combination of talent and determination, embodies this year’s Gophers team like no other player. Anyone who can’t see that is missing the big picture, which is tough to do. It’s all over the place.