Sauter embracing new role as Sewickley Academy's top singles player
You might have trouble recognizing Sam Sauter just from watching him last year.
Not only did the Sewickley Academy sophomore tennis player grow roughly six inches from the end of last season, but his play has transformed as well.
After playing second singles as a freshman, Sauter moved up to the first singles spot this season and quickly proved he deserves to be there. He reached the final match of the WPIAL Class AA singles tournament last week, losing to Carlynton sophomore Luke Phillips 6-0, 6-3.
Sewickley Academy coach Whitney Snyder was pleased with Sauter's performance against who Snyder believes is the top player in the WPIAL.
“Luke is a great player,” Snyder said. “He's very strong. As Sam has proven in the past, he can play with Luke.
“Sam was a little impatient in the first set. He did a better job in the second set, but when you're down quickly sometimes it's hard to recover, especially against an excellent player like Luke.”
Reaching the finals was a big improvement from Sauter's performance last season. He didn't even reach the WPIAL tournament last year after being eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Section 3-AA singles tournament by Mars' Aaron Gruber.
Sauter reached the finals of the Section 4-AA tournament this season, where he also faced Phillips. The first match between the pair was much closer, with Phillips winning 7-5, 6-3.
The speed of the indoor court in the WPIAL finals put Sauter out of his comfort zone, he said.
“I've always started really well against Luke Phillips,” he said. “I started up 3-1 in the section singles and 3-1 the last time I played him, but he played a little better and I played a little worse. He rose his game to the occasion.”
Both finalists advance to the PIAA singles championships May 23, where they could face each other again.
Sauter hopes to challenge Phillips a lot more than he did in their most recent match.
“I have a couple things I want to work on,” he said. “I'm not too concerned about the match (last week), but I think it's going to be a couple small things that will make a huge difference. I'll be just as competitive with him.”
Since he was 12 years old, Sauter has been playing tennis for upwards of 10 hours each week, but it wasn't until the last three months that he feels like his current level of play really developed.
When the Panthers faced Mt. Lebanon earlier this month, Sauter pushed Class AAA quarterfinalist Dane Bendel to a third set and has felt himself playing better with other players at his clinic.
“It just finally started to click for me a little bit,” Sauter said. “As I get older and a little better physically, that always helps. I grew up a little.
“I'm able to focus better and pick out targets faster. I think the last couple months I've made some great progress, and I'm looking forward to the next few months.”
Sauter was asked to step into the first singles position for the Panthers while fellow sophomore Luke Ross, last year's WPIAL Class AA champ, spends the season on an exchange program in Florida.
As the year has gone on, he's grown more comfortable in that slot as he has been pushed by some of the top competition in Western Pennsylvania.
“At the beginning of the season I lost a couple of better matches that I wished I hadn't, but I don't think I could have competed even six months ago the way I'm competing now,” he said. “I think within a couple months or so that I'll really feel comfortable in the first singles position.”
It helps that he faces strong competition every day in practice from players like junior Brian Rosario, who reached the WPIAL quarterfinals this year.
“Being with the team is always a lot more helpful,” Sauter said. “Tennis can be a tough sport at times. You're pretty much on your own a lot. When you're on this team, it really gives you a lot of encouragement and motivation to not let your team down. It's given me a new perspective on how I want to work.”