For Immediate Release: October 23, 2006
Contact: David O'Brian (
Phone: 607-777-6478

Sario balances athletics and academics while playing for Finnish National Team

The start of the 2006-07 Binghamton women's basketball season is still a few weeks away. Junior guard Laura Sario, however, has already taken the task of balancing academics and athletics to a higher level this semester. Last month, she represented her native Finland in the European Qualification Championships. At the same time, she was keeping up with her academics at Binghamton through the internet.

Since arriving at Binghamton two years ago, Sario has been a fixture in the Binghamton lineup. She was named to the America East All-Rookie Team in 2005 and currently ranks first all time in school history with a .420 three-point field goal percentage. With three seniors having graduated last May, she is prepared to rise to the challenge of becoming one of the Bearcats' leaders this season.

Sario, however, has already risen to a major challenge this year.

"She Took the Initiative"

Before arriving at Binghamton in 2004, Sario had already been active in her nation's basketball program. She had competed for the Finnish Under-20 and Under-18 squads and also played a few games with the National Team.

The European Qualification Championships, which takes place every four years, is perhaps the most significant basketball-related event for the country of Finland. Eighteen countries take part in the event, with the top nine finishers advancing to the European Finals the following year (Italy will host the event in 2007). The top three teams in the European Finals advance to the Olympic Games (which will be held in Beijing in 2008).

Sario was not about to let this chance pass her by. She realized she had a solid chance of making the National Team. With the event starting in September, however, she did not want to miss a semester at Binghamton, both in the classroom and on the basketball court.

"I never questioned if I would want to try out for the team," she said. " But I wasn't sure if it would be possible for me to stay for the (European Qualification Championship) because of when (the event) started."

At the same time, however, there was another decision facing Sario. She would be one of the youngest players on the team, which meant that her playing time might not be significant.

"The toughest part of the decision process for Laura was figuring out how much she'd be playing," Binghamton head coach Rich Conover said. "She did not want to miss a semester if she was just going to be sitting on the bench."

Conover, however, was impressed with the way Sario was going about the process of making her decision.

"Laura was really on top of this process," he said. "She brought it up with us last spring and she took the initiative every step of the way."

Sario not only made the National Team but put herself in a position to play significant minutes. With her position on the squad more secure, she went about the process of signing up for classes that she would keep up with online during the time she was in Europe.

"We Were Happy to Help Her Out"

A key person in helping making Sario's desire a reality was Associate Professor Dennis Lasser, who works in the School of Management and is also the director of the Zurack Trading Facility. As the athletic department's faculty representative to the NCAA, he has known Sario for two years. In addition, Lasser also knew some professors within his department who he thought would be willing to work with her.

"Laura is the type of student who I thought could balance her studies with her schedule, so I contacted some professors who would be willing to help her out," he said.

Although Sario's situation was unique, Lasser emphasizes the significance of the European Qualification Championships as the key factor to his assisting her.

"We don't generally set a program here for students to do what Laura did," he said. "But it's rare that someone has an opportunity to compete on their country's national team. This was a unique case and we were happy to help her out."

Like Conover, Lasser was also impressed with Sario's early preparation for this semester.

"It was important that Laura came to us early," Lasser said. "That showed that she was serious about balancing the two (academics and athletics)."

Binghamton Assistant Athletic Director Alicia Goode was also involved with Sario's academic endeavors. Having also known Sario for two years, Goode knew what kind of a student she was before deciding to study online.

"Laura is a very good student," she said. "The School of Management (which she is enrolled in) has a very demanding curriculum. She has balanced her schoolwork and athletics well since she got here."

What impressed Goode the most about Sario was the way she took responsibility not just before the semester, but also during the month she was away.

"I was in contact with Laura's professors before the semester started and she had already taken the initiative to set the process in motion," she said. "Once the semester started, it was entirely up to Laura to stay on top of her classes and keep in touch with her professors. She was very proactive once the school year started."

"She Knew What She Had to Do"

Before heading to the European Qualification Championships, Sario and the Finnish National Team had already traveled to Sweden and Turkey to play exhibition games during the summer. The squad also played several games back home in Finland.

During her initial time on the team, Sario noticed the striking differences between her workouts with the National Team as opposed to those at Binghamton."

"We practiced twice a day every day," she said. "We worked on individual skills in the mornings and had team practices in the evenings. Practices were shorter than in Binghamton but were more intense."

Just as the practices were different, so too was the style of play.

"The game (in Europe) is more physical," Sario said. "You are allowed to play harder, especially under the basket. I think the flow of the game is faster, and the game is more simple here, maybe because teams don't run as many plays as in the (United) States."

One event Sario took part in during the summer was the Baltic Sea Tournament, where she squared off against a team from Latvia. On that squad was current Binghamton teammate Laine Kurpniece, who was impressed with how prepared Sario was for the upcoming academic semester.

"(Laura) knew it was going to be tough but when I saw her she already had all of her text books," Kurpniece said. "She was really looking forward to the (European Qualification Tournament) and she also knew what she had to do to keep up with her classes."

As her stay with the Finnish national team progressed, so too did Sario commitment to staying on top of her school work.

"It was a challenge but I think it was all about making the decision to put the extra effort to stay on top of my classes," she said. "I did the readings and was able to get online when we travel so it was possible to return assignments and stay updated with school work."

Besides getting the chance to represent her country, Sario has little doubt that her experience will help her this coming season at Binghamton.

"Practicing and playing against some great players has been a great chance for me to improve as a player," she said. "I think this experience will pay off next season."

Staying in Touch

In late August, the rest of the Binghamton women's basketball team came back to campus and began preseason workouts and conditioning. As they got ready for the season, they kept a careful watch on what was going on over in Europe.

"We all were able to ask her how it was going through the internet and E-mails," senior guard Shea Kenny said. "Laine (Kurpniece), Juta (Jahilo) and Lauren (Regan) were pretty consistent at checking up on her games."

"When her team played in the (European Qualification Championships), I saw that she was getting some good minutes," said Regan, a redshirt freshman guard. "She started some games and even led her team in assists against Serbia."

Jahilo, a junior forward who also comes from Finland, was especially impressed with the fact that Sario was able to contribute on a National Team where most of the players were older.

"We have a lot of experienced players on our women's national team, she said. "There are not a lot of opportunities for younger players. Laura proved herself right away and is on her way to be one of the leaders in the future."

Besides keeping up with Sario's games, the squad also made a conscious effort to keep her informed about how the preseason was developing.

"We all let her know how practice was going," Kenny said. "Everyone kept in touch with Laura, and kept her up to date on what was happening on and off the basketball court."

"I e-mailed with Laura quite a bit and spoke with her on the phone a few times," Conover said. "She always had a very positive outlook on the situation. Both her Finnish team and her Binghamton team are very important to her. She was disappointed that she could not be in two places at once."

Lasser also remained closely connected to Sario's progress while competing in Europe. He came away suitable impressed by how she handled the process.

"I believe that Laura did an incredible job of keeping up with her academic workload," he said. "Particularly when you consider her surrounding environment during the tournament. She showed a great deal of maturity throughout the experience."

Returning to Binghamton

Finland did not qualify for the European Finals but the experience was rewarding for Sario on many levels. Besides getting a chance to represent her country in a prestigious event, she returned to the Bearcats on Sept. 25 and showed a visible improvement in her game.

"Laura is a lot more confident having played and practiced against the players she did," Conover said. "We think her experience will really help her this season because we are asking her to step into a leadership role."

"Since Laura has been back, I've noticed her all-around presence on the court has changed," Regan said. "She is much more confident with her shot and is even faster than last year."

While she has always had the team's respect on the court, the way Sario was able to manage her athletic and academic careers has only enhanced their opinion of her.

"I think the opportunity Laura had was one she could not pass up," Kenny said. "I admire her for taking it in with open arms, and accepting the challenge it was on and off the court."

"I can not imagine going nearly a whole month without stepping foot in a classroom," Regan said. "Laura is a great example of the type of dedication a student-athlete needs to have to be successful."

The respect Sario gained from her endeavors extended beyond the basketball court.

"This was an incredible opportunity for Laura and I was happy to do anything I could to facilitate it," Goode said. "Still, she did the majority of the groundwork on her own for implementing this innovative academic option for the fall semester."

With the European Qualification Championship over, Sario now turns her attention to the Bearcats. She relishes the opportunity of becoming one of the team's leaders.

"I'm excited about this season," she said. "It's going to be a big challenge for me but I am excited to get more responsibility."

Above all, Sario has deep gratitude for the university for helping her pursue such a unique opportunity.

"Binghamton was really supporting and helpful," Sario said. "I would not be able to do this without all the help I have got from the school. I am thankful for everybody who helped to make this opportunity possible for me."


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