For the first seven games of his college soccer career at Maryland, freshman Michael Sauers came off the bench as a reserve, and that suited him just fine.
"It's funny, because I wasn't really expecting to play at a big-time school like Maryland," the Glen Arm native and Archbishop Curley graduate said. "But once they recruited me, I was like, 'Wow, I'm going to take advantage of this.' The first thought that came to mine and my parents' heads were, 'How much playing time am I going to get?' I knew I'd have to work hard."
That approach has paid dividends for Sauers, who will try to help the No. 5 seed Terps (16-3-5) get past No. 8 seed Virginia (13-5-5) in Friday night's second of two NCAA tournament semifinals at PPL Park in Chester, Pa.
Sauers has scored three goals in the team's past five games, including the game-winner in last Saturday's 2-1 quarterfinal win against No. 4 seed California. He ranks fourth on Maryland in goals (five) and is tied for fourth in points (11).
Coach Sasho Cirovski cited Sauers as an example of a young player who did not pout while sitting on the bench for most of September.
"Mikey Sauers was a kid who wasn't playing a lot, and he didn't start for a little bit," Cirovski said. "And then he took a deep breath and moved into the starting lineup."
Sauers began at left back, but his prowess at creating offensive opportunities helped convince Cirovski to move him to midfielder. The shift helped Sauers feel more comfortable in his first foray into the college game.
“I think I have more of an offensive mentality than a defensive one,” he said. “I’m not the worst defender — I can get the job done — but with my technical skills, the position [switch] has been good.”
Cirovski has said he's willing to accept freshman mistakes as long as rookies don't repeat them. Sauers, though, said youth is no longer an excuse he can lean on.
"There aren't really any nerves in play," he said. "Being young, you have to step up at this stage and play your role."