“Just happy to be here” isn’t an endearing term in sports. It’s used when a team has advanced much farther than anyone – even the squad itself – expected them to, but right before they’re smashed by a high-caliber opponent in a championship-level round.
And while Rye Neck’s doubles team of Diana King and Ekim Buyuk – both eighth graders – were visibly ebullient October 28 at the Section 1 Tournament in Ardsley, it was clear they never received the memo about rolling over.
The young Panthers squared off with Nyack’s Kristen Soeder and Clarissa Armada in the first round, and battled to a 3-3 score in the first game. What was an even contest turned from that point, however, as Buyuk and King secured nine straight games to move on to the quarterfinals with a 6-3, 6-0 victory.
Although the two alternated between No. 1 and 2 singles this year, it’s their differing skills that create a devastating doubles tandem. King possesses the raw power and athleticism, whereas Buyuk employs a game based on precision and finesse.
“We’re a perfect match,” Buyuk chirped after their first round win. “It has worked out so well. She hits these amazing, powerful serves, which force our opponents to send back weak returns, and then – bam! – I hit the winner where no one is.”
In the quarterfinals, Rye Neck was pitted against the tournament’s No. 2 seed – Rachel Buckner and Danelle Hardman of Hen Hudson. The Panthers were game, dueling to a 2-2 tie early in the first set, but ultimately fell to the more experienced team 6-2, 6-1 in a match much closer than the score indicated. With Buyuk rallying from corner to corner, and King displaying a net game beyond her years, head coach Mark Canno saw flashes of what the future may hold.
“If they stick together, I really think they can win Sectionals in a couple of years and maybe even compete for a State championship,” said Canno. “They improved throughout the year, and really enjoyed the experience. So many coaches came up to me today to compliment them.”
Buyuk and King weren’t the only local players representing the area at the Section tournament. Rye High’s Jessica Jahnke and Casey Berger, both juniors, competed on the strength of a run to the Conference III tournament finals. The Garnets squared off with Edgemont’s Kozue and Tomo Iwasaki in the opening round, and won the first set 6-2 before dropping the last two, 6-4 and 6-2.
Both the Rye and Rye Neck teams fell to Keio’s top-seeded, twin senior duo of Kaho and Shiho Sato in the Conference III tournament. With many senior tandems from this year’s draw set to graduate in June, next year’s Section tournament could very well belong to the Garnets and Panthers.