SECTION XI CHAMPIONSHIP
As the final ball shot off Aimee Manfredo’s racket and whipped over the net, landing just inside the sideline, the Shoreham-Wading River senior clenched her left hand into a fist and exhaled an enthusiastic “YES!”
Over her six-year varsity career, every moment had been leading up to this.
At last, Manfredo stood alone as the top player in Suffolk County. After falling in the finals of the Section XI Championship last year as a junior, Manfredo delivered a near flawless performance over four matches this year. In the finals Monday afternoon at Smithtown East High School, Manfredo defeated the talented youngster Jackie Bukzin of Eastport-South Manor, 6-3, 6-2.
“I’m so excited and relieved,” Manfredo said afterward, clutching a bouquet of flowers that served as a fill-in trophy until she receives her hardware at the all-county dinner. “I got my scholarship [to Bradley University], I won the conferences and now counties. Everything just seems to be going for me.”
Manfredo became the third Shoreham girl to win a county title and first since Jennifer LoRusso in 1999.
“She joins an elite group of Shoreham-Wading River players who have won county titles,” said Shoreham coach Debbie Lutjen.
Catherine Galvin, who played at Clemson University from 1997-2000, was a two-time county champion for Shoreham.
Early in the season, Manfredo never gave much thought to the county tournament, she said. But over the last few weeks, as she knocked off one goal after another, the impending tournament suddenly came into focus.
“In the last week, I was like ‘Oh, I can actually do this,’ ” she said. “Now I’m going to do this.”
The finals were a rematch of the Division IV tournament finals. Manfredo and Bukzin were playing for the third time this season. Manfredo won a three-set thriller in the regular season and then won 6-1, 6-1 in the division finals.
Manfredo struggled a bit at the outset Monday, falling behind 0-2 in the first set. Once she got her first point, she kept rolling from there, attacking the net to keep Bukzin scrambling from side to side.
“She’s prepared hard for this,” Lutjen said. “She’s worked hard and obviously this was her goal. She really played awesome this tournament.”
After taking the first set, Manfredo quickly jumped ahead 2-0 against Bukzin, who’s only an eighth-grader. Bukzin was one of the only players this year in the county who could really challenge Manfredo.
“When I play Jackie, I have to remind myself, she’s a good player, she’s a tournament player, I need to make good shots,” Manfredo said.
With four wins in the county tournament, Manfredo improved her record to 23-0 this season heading into the state championship starting Nov. 3. For her career, Manfredo is 86-19.
In the semifinals Monday, Manfredo defeated Stephanie Chikvashvili of Half Hollow Hills East, 6-0, 6-0. On Saturday in the first two rounds, she beat Kayla Reidy of Connetquot, 6-1, 6-0, and Rini Halder of Whitman, 6-2, 6-1.
“She’s peaking at the right time,” Lutjen said.