DECATUR — For as long as Seven Sassano can remember, she's wanted to attend an Ivy League school.
After posting more than 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds as a member of the Eisenhower girls basketball team, all bets would have been on her playing college basketball.
But last summer, at the behest of administrators and former players, she started sending basketball game film to college rugby coaches.
Immediately she heard back, and last month announced she would play rugby for Dartmouth College, an Ivy League school in New Hampshire.
The process happened in a hurry for Sassano, who has never played organized rugby before.
“I put out information, kind of a feeler, to see how it would go," Sassano said of the early part of the process. "Right away I had tons of coaches responding and saying, ‘You look great. You would be great at this. Your athletic ability would be awesome. Your rebounding ability, you already showed you’re super aggressive.’
"It’s just something that fell in place."
After a roster spot opened up on the Dartmouth team, she was contacted by the coaches and immediately asked to commit.
Sassano said Dartmouth coaches told her how rare it was for the program to offer a guaranteed roster spot to someone with no rugby experience, and pressed for a commitment. But she wouldn't do it without a campus visit.
The next day, Dartmouth had her on a plane to fly across the country for a visit.
She was sold.
“I fell in love with the campus and the girls," Sassano said. "Right away it all happened."
Ivy League schools are prohibited from providing academic or athletic scholarships to players.
About the same time last summer that Sassano was sending out film to coaches, she was in the midst of a big decision: Did she even want to play college sports?
Sassano, a political aficionado, plans on being a lawyer, already interning at Paul Chiligiris's Decatur office, and possibly majoring in political science with a minor in Spanish. Her goal is to attend Law School and become a U.S. Ambassador.
It's a rigorous workload, especially at a prestigious university.
But there's something about sports Sassano couldn't shake.
“I can’t not do a sport," she said. "I can’t be without a team. That’s one of the things that majorly draws me to sport is you have somebody there that you already know. I’m going to a school where I’m not going to know anybody, but I’m going to have a team backing me up the whole time."
She's already started the studying for rugby with meticulous research.
Sassano gets books and pamphlets in the mail to read up on the rules and the play, but admittedly, the biggest lessons are going to come when she gets on the field.
Coaches have told her that her rebounding skills, she led the H&R area in rebounding, and aggressiveness on the basketball court would translate to the field.
But there were nerves. Sassano had the image of big, muscular players on the field against her. A little research showed that she would be among the tallest and strongest on the field.
That part eased her concerns.
“It definitely will be rough at first, but I have to keep at it and work hard. It’s something I want to do," she said. "I want to excel at it. I’m not going to start a sport and not want to excel and be the best possible person I can be. I’m going to try my hardest to be the best person on the team. It’s the type of person I am: I’m competitive."
There are advantages to starting with a blank slate. Sassano can track every wrong step she started with, or blown play, and watch herself develop from those.
"It’s a sport I’ve never played before so we’re going to be able to track and watch my acceleration as an athlete," said Sassano, who also entertained college offers for rowing. "We’re going to see me from the beginning to wherever I go. That’s exciting."
If there's one thing Sassano doesn't do, it's back down from a challenge.
“I definitely know I can do it," Sassano said. "It’s going to be hard, but I have to buckle down, focus on those grades and working out with the team. It’s going to be different.