In last season's Mid-Suburban East boys swimming race, it came down to the last dual meet of the year, hosted by Prospect. Buffalo Grove pulled out a tight victory in that meeting to claim the division crown.
By quirk, the same two teams met in their MSL East season openers Thursday, again hosted by Prospect.
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Apparently, Prospect had been looking forward to the opportunity.
"I really challenged our guys after last year," said Prospect coach Alfonso Lopez. "I told them, 'This is what we need from you heading into next year.' They've really embraced the idea of working hard throughout the year, and they showed up ready to go for the season."
The evidence was everywhere at Wheeling on Thursday, where Prospect cruised to a 121.5-64.5 victory against Buffalo Grove.
Though the Knights lost some key seniors from last year's team, their real story is how many top performers are back -- and how many of them took a big step forward.
"I'd say we've got three or four guys that really are at another level, compared to last year," Lopez said. "Again, that's their decision, their commitment showing up. We've also had some younger guys step up and become important varsity contributors. And then you add to that a couple of freshmen who are making a difference, and it all adds up."
Tying it all together is the strong brother connection on the Knights' roster. Oldest to youngest, there are three Ginnodos (Nathaniel, Isaac and Asher); a couple of Gabriels (Sam and Jack); a pair of Morikados (Michael and Alex), a duo of Cullitons (Tyler and Matt) and a tandem of Jarosz's (Ryan and Alex).
Against BG, each Prospect victory in the individual events came from a brother.
Nathanael Ginnodo took the 200 IM (2:07.63) and 100 free (52.08), and Isaac won the 100 breast (1:06.38).
Sam Gabriel won the 100 back, and Jack Gabriel took third in the 500 free as Prospect went 1-2-3 with Alex Morikado (5:24.67) and Alex Jarosz (5:35.54) leading the way.
Michael Morikado won the 200 free (1:54.72) with brother Alex second, and Michael Morikado won the 100 fly (55.80).
"Our goal is to try to win the MSL East," said Nathanael Ginnodo, the lone returning state qualifier on the team and a team co-captain. "That's where our focus has been. We know it's always a close meet with BG, so we're happy with how it turned out."
Buffalo Grove had a bright spot in Zach Augustyn, who won the 50 free in 23.66. But that race and diving, won by Josh Opperman (158.90), were the only wins for the Bison.
A disqualification in the 400 free relay only added to the disappointment for coach Tim O'Hagan. Asked how he thought the meet went, he said, "Not as well as we would have liked. We had some mental mistakes -- we have some guys who are still finding themselves. We'll get there."
Plenty of teams will have trouble matching Prospect's depth this year, and Lopez is still experimenting with dual meet lineup options.
With a varsity-ready freshman like Nick Partipilo, solid sprint freestylers in co-captain Carter Mau and Jake Holycross, the team's top asset against the remaining foes in the MSL East may end up being its versatility.
"I think it will take a while before we really figure it out," said Lopez. "In some ways, we're the same team we were last year, a lot of the same kids.
"The main difference is, they're more serious about it."