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Jericho’s Jia Zhang repeats as Nassau girls badminton champ

Jia Zhang of Jericho serves during the Nassau

Jia Zhang of Jericho serves during the Nassau County girls badminton singles final against Stacy He of Great Neck North at Bellmore JFK High School on Saturday, May 14, 2016. Zhang won 19-21, 21-18, 21-20, to repeat as county champion. Credit: James Escher

Jericho’s Jia Zhang had been here before, this time with a No. 1 seed and last year’s championship to prove she belonged back in the Nassau individual girls badminton championship match.

Still, as she faced a six-point deficit midway through the third set against Great Neck North’s Stacy He, Zhang wondered if she had enough to pull off another title. She reminded herself that the match was within reach, kept her composure and used a late six-point rally to win her second consecutive singles championship, 19-21, 21-18, 22-20, at Bellmore JFK on Saturday.

“I kind of just felt a little pressure, and then I gave up a little bit,” Zhang said. “And then I told myself, be persistent. I can do this.”

After falling into a couple holes, the junior got within 18-16. He, a sixth seed, answered to make the set 20-16, and then Zhang fired back. She took six consecutive points for a 22-20 set and a 2-1 match win.

“I just kept telling myself I can do this, so I did,” Zhang said.

The third set went to the point of exhaustion, with both players taking time to catch their breath in between serves. Zhang said it played into her strategy.

“I was so tired that time and then I was trying to do diagonal [hits], so she’d have to move a little bit and make her tired even more,” Zhang said.

Her coach, Mark Burkowsky, credited Zhang’s planning and ability to alternate between power and finesse to create late opportunities and the comeback, which he called an amazing feat.

“You didn’t see a young girl, a junior, get frazzled out there,” Burkowsky said. “She kept her composure on the court.”

He came into the match expecting to be pushed to the edge of her abilities because Zhang had a good reputation after last year’s win.

“Before today I said to myself, just play two rounds with her because she’s very strong, a very strong girl,” He said Saturday. “It’s very hard to beat her.”

Still, the senior won the first set, kept the second close and had a lead late in the third.

“First round, I played pretty good because each birdie went where I wanted,” He said.

After the close finish, Zhang got an ovation, received her first-place plaque and quietly took her seat in the stands. She had more hardware, tangible proof of her belief in herself.

East Meadow’s Rachel Polansky and Stephanie Tavel took the doubles championship 11-21, 23-21, 21-18 over Port Washington’s Mia Frocarro and Megan Malley.

“We’ve been playing together for three years, so I think we just play well together,” Polansky said.

The pair managed to stifle Port Washington runs in the second and third games, learning from their opponents’ first-set tendencies and taking 8-of-10 points to close out the third set and the title.

“We were having fun, we were in a good mental state and we came back strong,” Tavel said.

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