It’s no stunner that the Rye Neck girls’ tennis team is atop the standings with a league record of 4-0. They were among the elite squads in 2009. The twist this season – get ready to eat your heart out, M. Night Shyamalan – is that the Panthers’ top two players, Ekim Buyuk and Diana King, aren’t even in high school yet.
And while Rye Neck’s neophyte eighth graders aren’t quite “unbreakable”, they’ve been pretty darn close so far in 2010. Buyuk and King rotate between first and second singles, and led the way in the Panthers’ 5-2 defeat of visiting Croton-Harmon September 29. Buyuk kept her undefeated mark intact against the Tigers, besting Hannah Moy 6-2, 6-3 in a first singles duel.
“It’s a little intimidating when I get on the court and say, ‘Hi, I’m 12, nice to meet you’,” said Buyuk. “But it’s a great feeling knowing you can beat a 15-year-old.”
Buyuk’s strength is her ground game. Both her forehand and backhand are to be reckoned with, and she takes delight in hitting approach shot winners. The most frightening aspect of her game is that she’s only been playing for two years.
“I saw Ekim on the modified team last year and thought she might be able to make varsity and contribute as a third or fourth doubles player this season,” said head coach Mark Canno. “But she went from a solid modified player to a spectacular varsity athlete in one year after she put in the work this summer.”
While Buyuk seemingly came out of nowhere, King was on Canno’s radar in 2009. She possesses a serve that explodes off her racquet, which was put to good use in a 6-1, 6-3 defeat of Croton-Harmon’s Kyla Dayer. The eighth grader is 4-2 this year, her only two losses coming in out-of-league play against Briarcliff’s powerhouse team.
“My serve is the strongest part of my game,” said King, who is also a softball standout. “I need to work on consistency, but I play a lot against my older brother and I think that helps me continue to improve.”
King admitted she was nervous about playing with and against older students, but said the transition was smooth because she had two classmates with her. Yes, the Panthers have a third eighth grader on their roster. Pascale Eenkema Van-Dijk was a doubles player for the modified team in 2009, and Canno thought – at best – she could be a substitute for varsity in a year’s time. Yet there she was against Croton-Harmon, teaming with Alexandra Tartaglia as Rye Neck’s second doubles team. The duo won their match 6-3, 6-3.
“Pascale has a great head for the game,” said Canno of his pint-sized player. “She always hits the right shot, and – pound-for-pound – she might have the best feel for the game on the team.”
Although Rye Neck’s youngsters are making waves, Cassie Swinghamer and Sage Reisner guide the team. Swinghamer is the captain and only senior on the team, and Reisner is a junior in her third year with varsity.
“Cassie has played really well this season,” said Canno. “Sage is a great net player, and both of those girls add so much off the court for this team.”
In the Croton-Harmon contest, Swinghamer dropped a hard-fought third singles match 6-2, 4-6, 6-4. Reisner and Alyssa Vinzons lost a three-set duel in first doubles, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4. In third doubles, Madden Edwards and Brittany Brescia won a pro-set 10-3, and Sara Wright and Kayla Guagnini teamed to win their fourth doubles match 10-5.
“Sage is the only girl from our top seven last year to return this season,” said Canno. “The younger kids have stepped up and dedicated themselves. They never seem nervous, and are always ready to play more experienced athletes. Their upside is tremendous and the sky is the limit.”