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Double up: Rao, Harvey give Stevenson another state doubles title

BUFFALO GROVE — Stevenson girls tennis coach Tom Stanhope knew he had a pretty good No. 2 doubles team when he paired junior Vinaya Rao and freshman Katherine Harvey, but he wasn’t quite sure how great their potential was.

On Saturday, the duo showed it was limitless.

Rao and Harvey completed their stampede through the state tournament by winning the doubles title with a 7-6 (4), 6-4 victory over Hinsdale Central’s Stephanie Dolehide and Erika Oku. Rao and Harvey (40-1) didn’t lose a set the entire tournament.

“They were our No. 2 team, so no, I didn’t think they would win the state championship or we would have put them at No. 1,” Stanhope said with a laugh. “But we knew we had a good No. 2 team, and they did get a lot of work at No. 1 doubles, and they had success with that.”

Rao and Harvey came in with the No. 2 seed. They faced added pressure when the No. 1 seed, Stevenson’s other doubles team of Zoe Taylor and Kaylin Dong, lost in the fourth round. Rao and Harvey weren’t fazed one bit, and they left the state tournament with some unexpected accolades.

“It still hasn’t clicked that we’re good enough to win state,” Rao said. “We both knew we were good enough to play with some of the higher doubles team and that confidence helped us throughout the tournament.”

“I didn’t expect to win state,” Harvey said. “About three games before we won, it hit me that we were in the finals.”

The state championship match was close in the first set, but once Rao and Harvey adjusted to Oku and Dolehide’s game plan, they had an easier time.

“They had a lot of variety and they mixed it up, like staying two back and then coming in and volleying,” Rao said. “Our game got kind of messed up by that, but we were able to pull through.”

Rao and Harvey had a lot to work through to start the season. They hadn’t played together before, and Harvey had very little experience playing doubles.

“I didn’t know what to expect coming into Stevenson tennis,” Harvey said. “I was so used to USTA tournaments. I didn’t play much doubles, but I’ve gotten a lot of practice now.”

Rao became a kind of big sister to Harvey. From there, it was all about learning how to play together.

“It was just figuring out her behavior on the court, how she plays and knowing how to pump her up when she’s down,” Rao said. “I was able to keep her calm and that’s when she plays her best.”

If you include the boys tennis team, Stevenson has now won three straight doubles state championships. Kendall Kirsch and Alexxis Kiven won the girls title last fall while Andrew Komarov and Harvey’s brother, Colin, won the boys title in the spring.

“Our school is definitely proud of us and it’s an inspiration for the other players,” Rao said. “It sets the tone and tells other teams they have to be afraid of Stevenson’s doubles teams.”

While there’s potential for a repeat, the duo realizes they might not get the chance.

“We could go play singles or we could play doubles again,” Katherine Harvey said. “We’ll do whatever works best for the team.”

Taylor and Dong rebounded from their fourth-round loss by reeling off five straight victories to win the consolation title (fifth place). That helped the team rack up 40 points, good for second place behind Hinsdale Central (49).

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