The IndyStar is proud to announce this year’s Indiana high school boys tennis Player of the Year: Sam Concannon from Culver Military Academy.
Concannon, an Indianapolis native, finished his senior year as the No.1 singles individual tennis state champion. He defeated North Central’s Steven Christie 7-6, 6-2. He is the first tennis player to win a state title for Culver Military and finished his high school career 87-7.
The player of the year is selected by IndyStar staff in consultation with the high school tennis coaches association and coaches from around the state.
Question: Being an Indianapolis native, why did you chose Culver Military?
Answer: I actually chose Culver for the opportunity it provided down the road for college and beyond. It wasn’t just me. My parents obviously offered the opportunity to go there. It was a difficult decision, but it’s one that I definitely don’t regret at this point. All the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had all kind of led to my success this year in athletics and in academics.
Q: What other sports have you played besides tennis?
A: I played soccer up until seventh grade. I played basketball my freshman and sophomore year of high school and then stopped last year to focus on tennis to see where that would take me.
Q: Is it true you feed off the energy of the crowd?
A: Absolutely. I think the state championship match was special for me because I do enjoy and feed off the energy of the crowd. I like to keep myself extremely focused on the task at hand. However, especially with a crowd and that much against me, quite a few adversities and then using their energy to fuel my own performance really drives me. That’s probably the most fun match I’ve had all year, and in my career actually. It was a lot of fun competing in that type of environment.
Q: Your coach said that the semifinal (a 7-6, (9-7), 6-3 victory against Leo’s Eli Steiner) was the toughest match for you mentally and physically. What was your thought process through the entire match?
A: It definitely was (tough). Obviously, coming off of last year where I went to the finals and lost, coming out this year, the expectation for me personally was to, at the very least, get back and put myself in a position where I would be able to win it. It was tough playing with that pressure through the whole year. Trying to go undefeated. Trying to win matches for my team and ultimately trying to get back to the same position I was last year and give myself the opportunity to be successful this year. I think I definitely felt the pressure early on in that match. I probably didn’t play as free as I wanted to. Mentally it was stressful, just trying to tough through that. Ultimately, I think I just told myself that this was supposed to be a great experience; I’m supposed to have fun doing this. It’s not supposed to be this stressful. After that I kind of loosened up and found a way through. A lot of that came from my experiences last year and just being mentally tough enough to get through it and keep myself focused on the ultimate goal.
Q: What difference do you see between your junior and senior year?
A: I think my junior year I didn’t really have any expectations. My sophomore year I think I lost in the regional individual final, which was okay. But I had never envisioned myself or had a goal of making it to individual state or even going to the state finals at all. I just tried to come out and play my best and see what happens. Then I was fortunate enough to win two really, really close matches in quarter and semi before getting to the final. So (my junior year) was a lot different in that the expectation or the pressure of getting to that goal, whereas my senior year I wanted to go out in the best way possible.
Q: What does it mean to you to have earned the first state title in tennis for Culver Military?
A: It’s definitely great. Here at Culver we have a rich tradition in athletics and many sports, so it’s definitely cool to win the first state championship. I hope it provides a stepping stone for the program … maybe kids will hear about it, and maybe more kids will want to go there to help build the program. Hopefully we can get more state championships in the future.
Q: Along with your contribution to CMA in tennis, you also have re-founded the chess club. Why?
A: In second, third and fourth grade I won state championships in chess here in Indianapolis. I hadn’t (played) in a while. For our senior year, we do a senior service project, and the kids up in Culver — and the Culver community in general — have never really had the experience of chess. So I thought why not combine what I’ve done in the past with the need for the community and try to make the best project happen and establish a chess club and keep it going so that the kids can reap the benefits.
Q: What are your college plans, and do you hope to keep playing tennis?
A: I do. I do want to play tennis in college. I’m kind of in the middle of my college search right now, actually. I’ll pursue business wherever I go. I’m looking at some D-I and D-III schools and haven’t made any clear decisions yet. Now that tennis season is over, my time has kind of freed up to explore that more thoroughly.
Q: What is the most significant lesson you will take away from attending Culver?
A: I think the biggest thing at Culver is really the development of leadership and character. I think the biggest thing that they have taught me overall is how to be a good person, how to become a better person and just become the best in everything that you do. That’s what I’ve tried to do in my four years there, and it’s really paid off. I definitely have to credit Culver with a lot of the success that I’ve had.
Follow Star reporter Jennifer R. Brugh on Twitter: @JenniferRBrugh.