Compilation photo of CWRU student-athletes Sahil Dayal and Hannah Kassaie
Sahil Dayal and Hannah Kassaie

CWRU student-athletes Sahil Dayal and Hannah Kassaie honored with Elite 90 awards for academic and athletic excellence

As any student can attest, earning a 4.0 GPA is no easy feat. Doing so as a student-athlete can be especially challenging, demanding exceptional time management, discipline and dedication to both academics and sports. 

Sahil Dayal and Hannah Kassaie had the skills needed to make it possible. Members of Case Western Reserve University’s Class of 2024, both were honored with prestigious Elite 90 awards for their prowess on the tennis court—and their unparalleled academic excellence. 

The Elite 90 Award is an accolade founded by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to honor those who reach the pinnacle of competition while maintaining the highest academic standards. It is presented to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average participating at the finals site for each of the NCAA’s championships. Eligible student-athletes are sophomores or above academically who have participated in a sport for at least two years with their school—and all ties are broken by the number of credits completed.

A legacy of excellence in men’s tennis and academics 

Photo of Sahil Dayal and his coaches and teammates posing with his Elite 90 trophy

As a double major in biology and economics on the pre-medicine track, Sahil Dayal had his plate full as an undergraduate student—but he never failed to make room for athletic excellence in his schedule. His recent recognition with the Elite 90 award for Division III Men’s Tennis marked his third consecutive year as the winner, making him the first men’s tennis player at any NCAA level (Division I, II, or III) to garner the award three times over a career. Dayal was presented with the award during the warmups of the men’s tennis quarterfinal match against Bowdoin College May 21 in St. Louis.

“I knew no other men’s tennis competitor had won it three times, so throughout this academic year I was motivated to achieve that feat,” Dayal explained. “I am very proud of this achievement, as it is the culmination of all the early morning practices, lifts, runs, weekend matches—and devotion to my academic life.” 

While being a student-athlete restricted Dayal’s schedule, that didn’t mean there wasn’t time to relax or enjoy time with friends. Rather, it meant he had to be intentional in his unaccounted moments. 

Dayal found that being roommates with some of  his teammates proved helpful, since they had a “big group of high achievers” that allowed for strength in numbers when it came to pursuing academic excellence.

“I learned early on that when I am on the court, all of my focus needed to be there, and when I was studying, all of my focus was on my work,” Dayal said. “That allowed me to better compartmentalize my time so I could pursue excelling in both.” 

Soon, Dayal will attend the University of Cambridge in England as a graduate student pursuing a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) in Medical Science. Despite being across an ocean with a five-hour time difference, he plans to remain connected with his teammates who he considers his best friends.

“We are a group bonded for life, and that’s something really special,” Dayal said. “I wouldn’t have been able to achieve this designation without my amazing teammates and coaches, whose constant strive for excellence produced an amazing four years of success for our men’s tennis program at CWRU.”

Dominating the women’s tennis court and the classroom

Hannah Kassaie and her coach pose with her Elite 90 trophy

If anyone were to question Hannah Kassaie’s dedication to her studies and her sport, they need only look at her track record: she not only graduated a full year early from CWRU, but she earned the Elite 90 Award for the NCAA Division III Women’s Tennis Championship in two consecutive seasons. She collected her most recent honor prior to the NCAA Individual Championship matches May 25 in St. Louis. 

With this achievement, Kassaie became the second Spartan student-athlete to win multiple of the award, joining only Dayal. In total, eight CWRU student athletes have won the award since it was first given out in 2009-2010. Kassaie was also recently honored with the 2024 ITA Sally Ride STEM Award, which was created to honor a female student-athlete who demonstrates zeal, dedication and perseverance toward her tennis training and competition. 

In the classroom, Kassaie studied nutrition on the pre-medicine track—a subject area she found easy to connect to her athletic career.

“I’ve always been interested in how food can affect performance and health,” Kassaie noted. “The nutrition department has amazing professors and has tons of interesting classes—from sports nutrition classes focused on performance to plant-based diets courses that were more focused on health and disease, so I had a lot of fun learning about different aspects of nutrition that interested me.” 

Because she has a passion for both tennis and nutrition, practicing and studying didn’t feel like a chore—it made things more enjoyable. She also believes her teammates played a role in her success, as their dynamic was so strong that they pushed each other to do their absolute best—on and off the court.

“Our team is so close, and our times together are always filled with lots of laughs,” Kassaie added. “Having such a great group of friends as teammates was amazing. We’re really like a family, and I’ve created a group of lifelong friends.” 

Now, Kassaie is taking a gap year to complete genetics research at the Centre of Excellence for Medical Genomics at the Faculty of Medicine at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand. 

“Genetics is a field that I’ve always found interesting since I was young, and I’d love to improve my Thai, so I’m excited for this experience,” she said.  In 2025, she plans to attend medical school at CWRU.

“In the future, I hope to be able to help patients holistically with exercise and nutrition,” she said. “Preventive and functional medicine are fields interesting to me and since tennis and nutrition have played an important role in my health and life, I hope to be able to use my experiences to help others as well.” 

Learn more about the Elite 90 Award.