Leslie Calabrese of Naperville Central didn't notice that the girl two lanes down was almost even with her in the 500 freestyle race until the last 50 yards.
But after spotting Wheaton co-op's Amanda Stiegal catching up, Calabrese turned on the afterburners and sprinted to the finish line, touching just ahead of Stiegal 5:14.59 to 5:14.70
"I didn't realize anyone was so close," Calabrese said. "So I just put my head down, didn't take any breaths and pushed it home. I needed a win for my team because we were a few points behind at that time."
The Redhawks received clutch swims from a number of people as they went on to win the DuPage Valley Conference meet for the first time in six years Saturday at West Chicago by a narrow 306 to 304 score over Naperville North. Wheaton co-op was third with 209.
Naperville Central's Julia Roller, a three-time state qualifier and scorer, won both the 200 IM and the 100 butterfly and joined Kamryn Gallowich, Jessica Sanford and Erin Stevens on the winning 200 freestyle relay team.
"Our goal has been to win the DVC," Roller said. "We tried to put it out there today and everyone contributed. These weren't our best times but winning was important."
The Redhawks also earned first-place medals in the diving and the 100 breaststroke.
Molly Schatz and Sophia Heiser finished 1-2 in the varsity diving with 381.70 and 379.15 points, respectively.
In fact Naperville Central had the top three point totals, and six of the top nine when all three levels of competition, freshman, junior varsity and varsity, were combined. Redhawks freshman Sydney Dusel had the highest point total on the day with 382.95.
"We have a lot of great divers on the team," said Schatz, a senior who has won the DVC varsity championship three straight years.
Taylor Campbell, who is fast developing into one of the top breaststrokers in the state, won the 100 breaststroke with a time of 1:07.53, just ahead of Naperville North's Rachel Prorok who touched at 1:07.53. Prorok finished sixth at state in the event last year.
"I see swimming as a team sport and I was motivated to put up as many points as I could for the team," Campbell said. "All the girls were behind the blocks in my lane cheering me on the whole race, and that really helped. They were chanting my name and that really motivated me."
"Today was about the racing and we needed them to place high for the team," said Naperville Central coach Sue Welker. "We've worked hard to get that team feeling. And the girls have been thinking like champions. The mental training is very important for this kind of victory."
Amy Novak of Naperville North won both the 50 and the 100 freestyle races and the Huskies' Devin Jacobs won the 200 freestyle.
The Huskies' winning 200 medley relay team was made up of Michelle Law, Prorok, Anna Williams and Novak, and the 400 freestyle relay team, which closed the meet on a high note for Naperville North, consisted of Jacobs, Sarah Thomas, Novak and Law.
Maya Skorupski of host West Chicago, who finished sixth at state in the 100 backstroke, won the DVC championship in that event.