Briana Sassaman is an ESU Field Hockey student-athlete alumna who served as one of the captains of the 2019 team that won a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) championship.
The team also made it to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II semifinal game.
Sassaman started playing field hockey when she was in the third grade because her mother was a former player and coach.
Sassaman started playing club field hockey at seventh grade and continued throughout high school. She was a stellar three-sport athlete, but field hockey was her first love.
Unfortunately, Sassaman sustained bilateral meniscus tears on both knees and missed most of her senior season in high school.
Nevertheless, her outstanding play caught the attention of ESU Field Hockey Head Coach Sandy Miller, who recruited her to play for ESU.
It also helped that Sassaman knew Morgan Firestine, who was already a student-athlete on the team, from playing club field hockey together.
During the recruitment process, Sassaman was able to watch ESU Field Hockey beat Merrimack College on a penalty stroke to win its first national championship in program history.
“It was so chilling. I’ve been in their shoes before, where it comes down to a penalty stroke to determine a game but never on a playing field of a national championship,” Sassaman said.
“So it’s just so chilling watching from afar knowing that this is the team I am going to join in a year,” Sassaman said.
But before Sassaman could flourish as a field hockey student-athlete at ESU, she had to recover from her knee injuries.
“It was very difficult to adjust to playing field hockey at the collegiate level when I hadn’t played in a year.” Sassaman said.
Sassaman revealed that she struggled to get playing time during her first two years at ESU.
“I had to work on being fundamentally sound and playing consistently to prove to the coaches that I deserved to be out on the field,” Sassaman said.
“So for the first two years that I did not play, it was all behind-the-scenes working on myself especially in the offseason and the spring,” Sassaman said.
Head Coach Sandy Miller credits Sassaman’s perseverance as the key to her success.
Miller stated that she initially got off to a slow start but Sassaman stuck with it and showed out at the end of her sophomore year.
“She became a phenomenal player for us,” Miller said.
Sassaman went on to start every game of her junior and senior year seasons.
Needless to say, Sassaman was proud of her college athletic career.
“67 wins, and we topped it off with winning a PSAC championship my senior year,” Sassaman said. “We made nationals all four years I was here.”
The 2019 team reached the semifinals of the national tournament, but the Warriors lost to Saint Anselm on a penalty stroke in double overtime.
It was a bittersweet ending for Sassaman, but she preferred to focus on the positive.
“I just have to be happy that out of thirty-something teams in the NCAA, only four got to the place where we were at,” Sassaman said.
Off the field, Sassaman was a nursing major with an immaculate 3.82 GPA.
Her coach thought so highly of her that she nominated Sassaman to be one of the student commencement speakers.
“If she is not top-notch, I am not going to nominate someone,” Coach Miller said.
Sassaman herself credits former ESU Professor of Nursing Dr. Marcia Gasper and Dr. Nancy Greenawalt, Associate Athletic Director for Student Success, for her academic development.
Sassaman served as President of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) during the 2019-2020 academic year.
Each year, SAAC holds an end-of-the year holiday party for young children at the Monroe County Head Start in East Stroudsburg.
“It’s neat because these families, some of them being underprivileged, they don’t get to have a true holiday celebration at home,” Sassaman said.
“So we are able to provide that for them. It’s neat to see their faces light up when they see Santa Claus.”
Sassaman will work for the medical ICU (Intensive Care Unit) at the Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.
“I am going to look back at college and say that these were the best four years of my life. And part of that was because I was part of the ESU Field Hockey family,” said Sassaman.
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