Archdeacon: Former UD teammates plan their marriage

Casey Nance shows off her engagement ring. She and Cassie Sant, former Dayton Flyers teammates, plan to wed next May 21. CONTRIBUTED
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Casey Nance shows off her engagement ring. She and Cassie Sant, former Dayton Flyers teammates, plan to wed next May 21. CONTRIBUTED

Dayton women’s basketball alumni Casey Nance, Cassie Sant to wed next May

Although her wedding is still 11 months away, Casey Nance has almost everything arranged. Most of it has been lined up for a good while.

She has the venue – The Oaks, an 1800s estate turned into a restaurant and events venue on Chippewa Lake west of Akron – and almost all the vendors. She has the DJ and the photographer and the videographer.

“Well, I’ve been dreaming of my wedding like every day since I was 15 years old,” the former Dayton Flyers women’s basketball standout said with a laugh. “I’ve thought about a lot of this for a long time.”

One thing though is different than originally planned.

Back when she was a teenager, she hadn’t seen herself marrying one of her college teammates.

On May 21 next year she’ll wed Cassie Sant, another celebrated former Flyer.

They are two of the most well-liked, well-rounded and well-respected student athletes ever to wear University of Dayton women’s basketball uniforms.

The 31-year-old Nance never missed a game in her four years at UD. She played in 131 – third all-time among Dayton players – and started 122 games. She was a co-captain as a senior and ended her Flyers’ career No. 2 all time in blocked shots and No. 10 in rebounds.

She was on the Dean’s List every semester she was a UD and in 2011 she had the ninth best GPA in the nation among all NCAA Division I basketball players. She graduated magna cum laude.

While at Dayton, she volunteered with Catholic Social Services, won the Erin Ritchey Memorial Volunteer Award given by the Montgomery County Board of Developmental Disabilities Services for her work with individuals with disabilities and received the Atlantic 10 Conference Sportsmanship Award for “outstanding community service.”

After graduation she worked for several years in the Cleveland Indians front office and now runs the non-profit Athletes vs. Crohn’s & Colitis, the organization founded by her brother, Cleveland Cavs power forward Larry Nance Jr., and Noah Weber, to raise awareness and help adolescents dealing with those medical issues.

She’d also going into her eighth year as the assistant girls’ basketball coach at Akron’s Revere High School, the same school where she twice won All-Ohio honors.

The 29-year-old Sant is just as accomplished and celebrated.

A much sought after recruit coming out of Fairmont High School – she was wooed by the likes of Iowa, Purdue, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Michigan State – she helped lead Dayton to 95 victories in her four years as a Flyer. She scored 875 career points and had 421 rebounds and after college went on to play professionally for two seasons.

Casey Nance (left) and Cassie Sant remain two of the most beloved players ever to wear a Dayton Flyers women’s basketball uniform. They were forces on the court, in the classroom and in the community. CONTRIBUTED
Caption
Casey Nance (left) and Cassie Sant remain two of the most beloved players ever to wear a Dayton Flyers women’s basketball uniform. They were forces on the court, in the classroom and in the community. CONTRIBUTED

She was a cum laude graduate at UD and while in school was involved, like many of her teammates, in everything from Habitat for Humanity to reading programs at schools and visits to Dayton Children’s Hospital.

Following her pro career, she was an assistant girls basketball coach at both Centerville and Fairmont high schools, worked as a graphic designer for Premier Health and Cleveland Clinic and for the past two years has been the graphic and video coordinator and the assistant recruiting coordinator of the UD women’s basketball program.

At one time, she too had not imagined marrying a teammate.

“Casey was actually the first female I ever dated,” Sant said. “I had always dated boys my entire life. She was the exact same way.

“With us, it just started off as a friendship and then developed beyond that. Both of us had never felt that deeper connection with someone until we were with each other.”

Since Nance is two years older, they were Flyers’ teammates for just two seasons and as their relationship began to develop, they said they tried to keep it to themselves.

“It’s something Casey and I kept hidden for so long,” Sant admitted. “In the beginning we weren’t very confident in ourselves. A lot of it had to do with fear of what our teammates might think, fear of what the community would think and worrying about how our parents and close friends would react.”

“We tried to keep it as private as we could,” Nance agreed. “During those times there was a lot of negative stigma surrounding a same sex couple and we just wanted to figure things out for ourselves.

“At the end of the day we knew we were at UD to do a job and that was to play basketball and win games. And from the get go we didn’t want our relationship to affect that. We didn’t want to hurt the team.”

And they did not.

Nance was on three NCAA Tournament teams with the Flyers and Sant was on four.

While they were at UD, then head coach Jim Jabir raved about each of them.

“Casey is a great human being,” he once told me.

And as he once described Sant: “Cassie is a great person with great character. She comes from a great family and is a great student. She’s a Dayton kind of kid.”

After Nance graduated, they went their own ways for a few years..

Nance began coaching and working with the Indians and Sant went on to play professionally in Italy and Australia.

“In the back of my mind, I kind of always hoped we’d get back together and once Cassie was done playing overseas, we started talking again,” Nance said. “We met for dinner just to see how our lives were going and it became clear it was not over.”

They recommitted and bought a home in Akron. Cassie left Premier Health to live up there and work at Cleveland Clinic.

It was only because of a “can’t refuse” offer from Shauna Green, UD women’s coach, to return to her alma mater and join the Flyers staff that Sant came back to Dayton in September of 2019. She said the UD community has been nothing but supportive of her through all this.

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the end of that first season, Sant returned to Akron and she and Nance began to work on their home, which included building a deck out back.

That’s where they were sitting one morning last August when she “shocked” Nance.

“We’d eaten breakfast out there and we were playing a board game called Mastermind,” Sant said. “I slipped the ring in the game – that’s how I proposed. She had no idea and we both started crying.

“She ended up getting her parents on FaceTime and her brother Larry was super sweet and threw us an engagement party that night.”

Nance remembers the emotional impact of Cassie’s proposal:

“It was an amazing symbol of the next step. At that moment I thought, ‘Here’s where I am in life. This is the person I love and if you aren’t comfortable with it, that is your problem and not mine.

“It was a liberating feeling to have that weight lifted. I just wanted to go and shout it out from our yard.”

Casey Nance (22), of Dayton works for position in the low post as Stephanie Ford, of Miami, defends the low post. Dayton hosted the game and lost, in overtime, 69 to 66.
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Casey Nance (22), of Dayton works for position in the low post as Stephanie Ford, of Miami, defends the low post. Dayton hosted the game and lost, in overtime, 69 to 66.

Credit: Ron Alvey

Credit: Ron Alvey

Supportive families

Nance is from a storied basketball family.

Her dad, Larry Nance Sr. is a Cleveland Cavaliers legend. A 6-foot-10, first round pick out of Clemson, he played 14 years in the NBA with the Phoenix Suns and Cleveland.

He was a three-time NBA All Star who amassed 15,687 career points and over 7,000 rebounds and 2,000 blocked shots and won the first NBA Slam Dunk Contest in 1984, outperforming famed high fliers " Dr. J” Julius Erving and Dominque Wilkins.

Larry Jr. was a 6-7, first-round pick of the Los Angeles Lakers. After 2 ½ seasons , he was traded to Cleveland in February of 2018. Youngest brother Pete, also 6-10, plays at Northwestern.

Casey is oldest of Larry Sr. and Jaynee’s three kids and at 6-foot-5 she made quite a name for herself at Revere High, scoring 1,037 points and grabbing 1,113 rebounds in her career.

The 6-foot-3 Sant was just as prolific at Fairmont, where she scored 1,226 points and had 708 rebounds.

While they have many similarities – their lifelong ties to basketball, the embrace of their families, their love of dogs and a well-documented caring for others – they actually are an example of “opposites attract,” said Nance:

“I’m very outgoing and stubborn and Cassie is reserved and easy going. She’s just the sweetest, most thoughtful person. She has the kindest soul of anybody I know.

“She’s the calming force, the Zen, to the crazy storm that I am all about.”

Sant appreciates that side of Nance:

“I would lack confidence many times in college with basketball or whatever and she’d constantly remind me of my worth. She constantly challenges me and brings out the best in me.

“Plus she’s just so funny. She constantly has me laughing.”

Their families have seen how good they are with each other and have been supportive, Sant said.

But she said her parents were “completely caught off guard’' by her proposal to Nance:

“I figured they’d kind of know, but they had no idea. My mom though was just so happy for me. She said, ‘You know we love you so much and we’re going to support you no matter who you love.’

“And they love Casey to death. They were incredible through this and, I’ll admit, that brought me to tears when I first told them. It was just such a weight lifted off my shoulders.”

Nance said it’s been the same with her.

Initially, she said, she’d been “worried and uncomfortable,” but that her family “has been so, so, so supportive.

“A lot of kids don’t have the kind of conversations I had with my parents because they are afraid and worried about judgement.

“Some kids just aren’t as lucky as Cassie and I.”

Dayton’s Cassie Sant shoots against Xavier in 2012. Photo by Erik Schelkun
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Dayton’s Cassie Sant shoots against Xavier in 2012. Photo by Erik Schelkun

Pride Month

June is Pride Month, which began as a way to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan that became the tipping point for the Gay Rights Movement in the United States.

The parades, parties, workshops, concerts and memorials that are so much a part of Pride Month today are both a celebration of LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) communities and a way of remembering those lost. They’re also ways of creating awareness and understanding.

“Casey and I are not crazy, rub it in your face about this, but we understand and appreciate the importance of Pride Month and celebrate how far the LGBTQ+ community has come,” Sant said.

“It’s also a way to see how far we’ve come and have pride in ourselves. It’s a celebration of our love of self, as well as celebrating our love for each other.”

Nance feels the same: “It’s celebrating being comfortable in your own skin and not feeling like you have to apologize for just being the person you were born to be.

“The symbol of pride in general truly speaks to your ability to love yourself for who you are. I don’t think there’s a person who can’t connect with that message at some level.”

When they got engaged they shared the news on various social media platforms.

Cassie Sant (left) and Casey Nance and two of their dogs celebrate on the deck of their home in Akron after Casey accepted Cassie’s marriage proposal last August. The couple plans to wed next May 21. CONTRIBUTED
Caption
Cassie Sant (left) and Casey Nance and two of their dogs celebrate on the deck of their home in Akron after Casey accepted Cassie’s marriage proposal last August. The couple plans to wed next May 21. CONTRIBUTED

“Knock on wood, I have had no negative remarks,” Sant said. “Everyone had been supportive and open-minded. They’ve been happy for us. We’ve not had a falling out with any family members or friends.

“They know who we are and what we want in life.”

Nance loves coaching at her alma mater and will continue to run the nonprofit that means so much to her brother, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s, the inflammatory and often debilitating bowel disease, at age 16.

Sant plans to move to Akron and hopes to be able to do graphics work for UD athletics remotely. Otherwise, she’ll look for a graphics job in northeast Ohio.

One day the couple envisions having a family of its own – maybe through adoption Sant said: “My mom was adopted so that’s something close to my heart.”

In other matters of the heart, Nance thought about those wedding dreams she had as a 15 year old:

“Yes, it is different than the way I thought it was going to happen, but I would not change it for anything. This is going to be so beautiful and so fun.

“Best of all, we’re both with somebody we truly love.”