The last four Mid-Suburban East girls water polo championships have been won by either Prospect or Wheeling, and that was reflected by the intensity of Tuesday's divisional opener at Wheeling.
Prospect worked hard for an early advantage, surprising the Wildcats with a 4-1 scoring edge in the first period. But the defending divisional champs ultimately were able to pull out a 9-8 win in regulation.
The difference down the stretch for Wheeling was senior Kat Dobrowski, who scored all of the Wildcats' goals as they earned a 3-0 edge in the fourth quarter.
Having Dobrowski participate at all is satisfying for Wheeling coach Bob Savitt, who has watched her recover from surgery to mend a torn labrum and become one of the league's top players.
"I kind of get goosebumps thinking about what she's been through, and where she is now," said Savitt. "I felt like the difference tonight was just how badly she wanted to win."
Prospect certainly isn't without standout field players, either. Distinguishing themselves were Kallie Shields, who led the Knights with 4 goals, and Mary Schiavone, who had 2.
A defining trait of this Prospect group is how much the players enjoy the game. Even as Wheeling called three timeouts in the last half of the fourth quarter, the Knights were listening to first-year coach Kelli Lussow's advice and allowing for a light-hearted laugh or two.
"I absolutely love that about this team," said Lussow. "We play with intensity, but these kids are having fun. That's important.
"It's disappointing that we lost, but we've made crazy improvement already since the start of the season, even from our last game. Ultimately, playing like we did against Wheeling tonight is like a win for us."
Schiavone excelled as Prospect's top defender, while Shannon Richards filled a similar role for Wheeling (2-3, 1-0).
Rachel Ropski had 2 goals for the Wildcats, and Richards and Theresa Godlewski had 1 apiece.
Danielle McCallister and Kaitlyn Tomasetti scored for Prospect, and Knights goalie Lauren Broz made 10 saves.
The decisive goal came when, with 27 seconds left, Godlewski flipped the ball to Dobrowski, who rocketed a shot into the upper corner.
Dobrowski also disrupted Prospect's final possession by forcing a turnover.
Fremd 12, Palatine 8: Mandy Borre scored 4 goals and Jena Teragawachi had 3 to help the visiting Vikings to an MSL West victory.
Palatine's Rachel Chumbook had 6 goals, 5 steals and an assist, and goalie Kim Butler stopped 15 shots.
Barrington 17, Conant 5: Sam Gavars scored a team-best 6 goals to lift the Fillies in MSL West action at Barrington.
Carmen Rosas had 4 of Conant's goals.
Hersey 11, Rolling Meadows 1: Katie Lindholm led the way with 5 goals to help the host Huskies in the MSL East.
Schaumburg 15, Hoffman Estates 6: Ashely Johnson led the way for the host Saxons with 5 goals in MSL West play.