Jackie Bukzin spent last offseason trying to add variety to her game and it paid off with a county title. Now, the Eastport-South Manor senior has her eyes set on a repeat.
Bukzin won her first Suffolk individual tennis tournament last season, after finishing in the top four in each of the previous four seasons, including second place as a seventh-grader.
“It felt great and it made me feel like all my hard work finally paid off,” said Bukzin, who will play for Amherst next season. “I don’t like hitting the same shot over and over. Then the opponent knows what to expect. You want to keep things unpredictable.”
She said the diversity in her shots made the difference in the postseason. Bukzin did not drop a single game in the Division IV tournament. From there, she moved onto the county competition, where she knocked off reigning champion Kimberly Liao of Commack in straight sets in the final. The result also qualified Bukzin for the state tournament, where she reached the quarterfinals.
While a number of elite high school players have opted to pass on playing at the varsity level to focus on private training and tournament play, Bukzin says she enjoys the team component.
“I really like representing my school and I love the atmosphere,” said Bukzin, who also competes and trains outside of school. “I like teaching and I’ve tried to take what I’ve learned in my experience and help the team.”
“She’s one of my captains and when we have practices, she loves to help her teammates out,” coach Danielle Caliendo said. “She’s almost like a second coach.”
While Bukzin looks to repeat as the individual county champion, Commack will look to defend its team title. The Cougars will be led by Emily Tannenbaum in singles and Julia Kinalis and Emma Matz in doubles.
Their top competition looks to be a deep and experienced Half Hollow Hills East team, which features the doubles team of Lauren Cherkin and Ariana Malik, which won the county individual title last season
Alexis Huber, Janelle Chen and Melissa Chen are among the 10 returning players for Hills East, whicht reached the county semifinals.
The Thunderbirds were knocked out of last season’s playoffs by Ward Melville, which will be led by Denise Lai, who took third in the individual county tournament.
Great Neck North returns a loaded lineup and will be among the favorites in Nassau.
“We have a good combination of senior depth and talented young players, so it’s a good blend,” coach Michael Kazin said.
One of those talented youngsters is Amy Delman, who took third in the county as a freshman last season. Delman is joined in the lineup by the freshman duo of Alina Lyakhov and Alyssa Ghassabian.
Great Neck North fell in the county title match to Friends Academy, which looks to be rebuilding this season.
Cold Spring Harbor reached the semifinals last season and will be powered in 2017 by the one-two punch of Maddy Richmond and Nicolette Loeffler. Madeline Clinton is back for Manhasset, which also was a semifinalist last season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Jackie Bukzin, Eastport-South Manor, Sr.
The reigning Suffolk individual champion also reached the quarterfinals of last year’s state tournament.
Amy Delman, Great Neck North, So.
Took third in the Nassau individual tournament and will lead a strong GNN team this year.
Lauren Cherkin, Half Hollow Hills East, Jr.
Combined with Ariana Malik to win the Suffolk doubles title last season.
Denise Lai, Ward Melville, Jr.
Finished third in the county tournament and helped the Patriots reach the final of the team tournament.
Ariana Malik, Half Hollow Hills East, Sr.
Was a county doubles champion and also helped Hills East reach the semifinals of the team tournament.