By Paul Hines
MT. VERNON — A pair of Lady Rams tennis players embark on a new experience starting Thursday.
Gauri Kaushal and Catie Raney head to north to the Chicago area for the opening round of the girls tennis state finals. Both are making their first appearance at the annual postseason competition and represent Mt. Vernon as a doubles team.
“I did enjoy playing with Catie a lot,” Kaushal said. “I think our season went really well, and it's absolutely a new experience going to state.”
Mt. Vernon coach Randy Knox said the doubles team is at their best in pressure situations.
“They've played really well in close matches, and that's one thing I've really liked about them. The pressure of a close match doesn't seem to bother them. They just go out there and play,” Knox said. “They've done real well, beat some good teams in close matches.”
The Mt. Vernon doubles team opens action Thursday against the Belleville East duo of Savannah Martin and Rebecca McIsaac. Martin and McIsaac enter the state final after winning the doubles title in the O'Fallon sectional. The top 32 state finals teams receive a seed. The team from Belleville East was in the 17-32 range, according to ISHA.org.
“We are Southern Illinois, and we're going to a big city to see all these big players,” Kaushal said. “So I want to learn from what they do and how they play and their style of play.”
Kaushal, a senior, and Raney, a freshman, weren't paired together to start the season. Jade Knox was part of the top doubles team to start the season, but a back injury to Knox brought Kaushal and Raney together. The two have gelled and finished with a 13-3 record this season.
“They've really done a nice job of working together,” Knox said. “It helped the experience Gauri had because it's her fourth year playing on the team. She'd played in the South Seven and the sectionals.
“Catie has gotten better and better as the year has gone along. I think it helped her playing No. 2 to start the season and helped her gain more confidence.”
Kaushal and Raney qualified for the state competition after placing second at the Carbondale sectional. The Lady Rams team lost to the top-seeded team from Centralia in the final.
“I really enjoyed playing with her,” Raney said. “We became a lot closer. So I really enjoyed that.”
The state finals are a double elimination tournament format.