LIBERTYVILLE — The teams in the doubles final at the girls tennis Stevenson Sectional on Saturday knew each other well, but not as adversaries.
Stevenson’s top doubles pair, senior Kaylin Dong and freshman Zoe Taylor, breezed through their side of the bracket Friday and Saturday morning. So did the Patriots’ other team of junior Vinaya Rao and freshman Katherine Harvey.
By Saturday afternoon, those were the only doubles teams remaining. It was the first competitive match between the Stevenson teammates.
“You can’t mimic that in practice, when there’s no coaching for something that truly matters for both teams,” Stevenson coach Tom Stanhope said.
Rain dampened the courts at the Vernon Hills Athletic Complex, forcing the match inside to the Libertyville Club. Dong said rain earlier in the week prepared her for the conditions Saturday.
“I probably had five private [lessons] indoors,” Dong said. “Indoors, it’s a completely different environment. It’s more about hitting solid and aggressive as players miss less.”
Stanhope added: “Basically, you are just hitting. You can turn the brain off and don’t have to worry about conditions. It’s all muscle memory.”
The level of play reflected the combined record of Dong/Taylor and Rao/Harvey this season: 56-0. A service break in the first set allowed Dong and Taylor to win 7-5. The same scenario unfolded in the second set, and Dong and Taylor won the match 7-5, 7-5.
Stevenson had sealed its fourth consecutive team sectional championship before the match was played. The players took away more than a doubles title.
“Zoe and I haven’t had that many close matches,” Dong said. “We know [Rao and Harvey] will be highly seeded at state, so to find what weaknesses we have to improve on is huge.”
On the singles side, top seed Kendall Kirsch suffered her first loss of the season in the semifinals. Kirsch (25-1) dropped a three-set match to Barrington junior Michelle Linden. No. 2 singles player Zoe Manion, a senior, also lost in the semifinals, falling 6-3, 6-2 to Palatine freshman Asuka Kawai.
Stanhope elected to default the third-place match, which would have pitted Kirsch against Manion.
Buffalo Grove hosts the state tournament beginning Thursday. Stevenson enters with Kirsch and Manion in singles and Dong/Taylor and Rao/Harvey qualified in doubles.
If the Patriots are to end the championship stranglehold shared by Hinsdale Central and Lake Forest, they need to last into Friday’s round of 16 with as many front-draw participants as possible. Hinsdale Central and Lake Forest tied for the team title last year, and the last school other than those two to win was Deerfield in 2006.
Kirsch, Manion, Dong and Rao all have state tournament experience. Harvey is a newbie, as is Taylor, who hopes to add a second state series medal this weekend to her first earned as sectional doubles champion.
“It’s exciting. I didn’t know how the season would go as it is my first year,” Taylor said. “I’m happy [Dong] is my partner.”