| By Brian Coleman

Eastport-South Manor’s Jackie Bukzin captured the Suffolk County singles title on Monday afternoon, upending defending champion Kimberly Liao of Commack 6-2, 6-3 at Suffolk County Community College in Selden.

The junior was playing in her fifth Suffolk County tournament and with an added variety to her game and a more mentally strong attitude, she would not be denied on Monday. 

“There is a big difference,” Bukzin, a semifinalist last year, said of her tennis from a year ago. “Last year, I didn’t have a good frame of mind. This year I came in with a really good attitude, and I think that made the difference today. I played really well, and was able to add a lot of variety to my game, like slicing and coming to the net, which is a really big weapon in women’s tennis.”

Eastport-South Manor's Jackie Bukzin beat Commack's Kimberly Liao in straight sets to win the Suffolk title.

Both players struggled with their serves early as the match opened up with three straight breaks of serve, and it was Bukzin who would snag the first hold to open up a 3-1 advantage. She would break one more time for 4-1, and found the rhythm on her serve to finish out the first set 6-2.

The second set started the same way as the opener as the return games of both players were able to reign supreme resulting in five consecutive breaks to open up the second. And once again, it was Bukzin who managed to secure the first hold, doing so for a 4-2 lead, and then proceeding to break Liao for the 5-2 lead.

Bukzin was broken serving for the match at 5-2, but regrouped in the ensuing game to break back, and capture the first county championship of her career.

“Both of us struggled with our serves. I knew mine wasn’t going to be as strong so I knew I would have to return really well, and I feel that’s what really helped me,” Bukzin added. “I think the real key was staying calm in the match and staying mentally tough. If I had broken down I wouldn’t have had the same result.

After winning the first set, I told myself if I could that one, I could win the second set, so I just tried to stay focused.”

Bukzin and Liao both qualify for the New York State tournament, along with Ward Melville’s Denise Lai, who defeated Rose Hayer of Mercy 6-1, 6-1 in the third-place match.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Bukzin said of playing in the state tournament. “I’m hoping I can make a deep run, and represent Suffolk and Eastport-South Manor really well.”

Half Hollow Hills East’s Ariana Malik and Lauren Cherkin capped off their dominant run through the doubles draw with a 6-0, 6-4 win over Smithtown East’s Olivia Faulhaber and Hailey Stoerback in a rematch of last week’s Suffolk County Division I final.

“We tried to take advantages of their weaknesses and stick with our strengths,” said Cherkin. “We had beaten them in the regular season and lost to them in the Division I finals, but we were confident heading in and knew we would beat them today.”

Malik and Cherkin only recently began playing doubles together but quickly found the chemistry starting with the Division I run, and it continued all the way through the county tournament.

The toughest match of the tournament for Malik and Cherkin came against Hills East teammates Alexis Huber and Gina LaRusso in Monday’s semifinal, a hard-fought 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 victory. The duo of Huber and LaRusso rebounded in the third-place match, defeating Center Moriches’ Gabrielle Vaillant and Katelyn Vetack 6-1, 7-5 to qualify for the state tournament. 

Brian Coleman

Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at brianc@usptennis.com