Prospect's prospects for winning the Mid-Suburban East boys swimming and diving took a turn for the better on Friday.
The Knights, considered the visitor as Wheeling hosted the meet in the pool both squads share at Wheeling High School, pulled out a 95-91 verdict against last year's fourth-place finisher at the Mid-Suburban League meet.
Prospect needs a victory against Hersey on Thursday at Olympic Pool in Arlington Heights to complete an unbeaten run through the MSL East. Hersey, too, is unbeaten against its East foes.
If Prospect wins once more, it would be the program's first MSL East crown since the 2002-03 season.
With Wheeling and Prospect going head-to-head, this much was certain: a couple of terrific teams wanted to retain bragging rights for their own pool.
Prospect won the way it usually does -- no weak spots in the lineup, three quality individuals in every event and in each relay, two solid entries.
They needed all those familiar strengths plus a 1-2 finish in diving from Stephen Schmit (207.45) and Anthony Liva (178.10).
That's because Wheeling's top-end swimmers are just that good.
The Wildcats' Kyle Noel won the 200 IM in 2:05.85 and took second in the 100 free (51.57). Jake Noel won the 100 fly (55.41) and the 100 back (54.67). Bryce Maczko won both the 200 free (1:52.79) and the 100 free (50.32).
And Wheeling got a nice boost from sophomore Nate Reiff, who finished second in the 100 breast in a lifetime-best 1:04.31 after a nice race with winner Nathanael Ginnodo of Prospect (1:02.01). Reiff also won the 50 free in 23.48 and has made a big difference in Wheeling's lineup after missing some time earlier in the season due to injury.
"We're making some strides," said Wheeling coach Tod Schwager. "We've just been steadily trying to build full depth into our lineup, but it takes time."
Wheeling won the medley relay as Kyle Noel, Reiff, Jake Noel and Maczko finished in 1:42.02. And Jake Noel, Justin Loquercio, Kyle Noel and Maczko took top honors in the 400 free relay (3:27.09).
Prospect coach Alfonso Lopez chose to stack his 200 free relay, and the strategy worked. The Knights' Michael Morikado, Jake Holycross, Carter Mau and Ginnodo won in 1:32.71.
Mau's performance typified what's made Prospect so difficult to beat this year. He's adapted his role to what the team needs, and his success is helping round out the lineup by supplying sprinting speed.
"He's really done about everything for us in the past," said Lopez. "In a way a I feel bad about it -- you coach somebody to be a distance swimmer for his first two years, and then you say, 'Wait -- now we need you to do this.' But he's responded really well. As he's grown, that sprint speed has really started to show."
Especially on that 200 free relay against Wheeling. Mau had the third leg and split 22.5 -- more than a second faster than his time in the individual 50 free -- and helped the Wildcats gain the upper hand.
"Sprinting is very different from distance," said Mau, "but now I love it."
Prospect followed with a 2-3-4 finish in the 100 back from Sam Gabriel (55.63), Ryan Lakner (59.84) and Apurva Belsare (1:05.22). Then came the 100 breaststroke, where Team Ginnodo -- Nathanael and younger brother Isaac -- combined with Jack Gabriel for a 1-3-4 finish.
That kind of depth is tough for any opponent to battle, and it was too much for Wheeling on this night.
Justin Loquercio had a terrific meet for Wheeling, winning the 500 free (5:17.94) and taking second in the 200 free (1:53.79).
If Schwager and Co. can find a few more to join their elite core, watch out, because in this case, time is one Wheeling's side. The Noel brothers and Reiff are sophomores, and Maczko is a junior, so the Wildcats figure to make it rough on future MSL East foes for the next couple of years at least.
For Prospect, also a young team, the focus is on the opportunity at hand.
For a senior like Mau, it's all that matters.
"After we won our first two (East Division) duels, I think everyone realized we had the chance to do something pretty special," he said. "Now we're just trying to follow through with it."
Hoffman Estates d. Schaumburg: It came down to the last relay at Schaumburg, where the Hawks' quartet of Andrew Hobar, Bartoz Widelak, Jacob Pasaye and Joe Smiley won in 3:57.10, a little over a second ahead of their competitors to lift Hoffman Estates to a 93-92 victory.
Widelak won the 50-meter free (26.08) and the 100 fly (1:06.41) and Pasaye did likewise in the 200 IM (2:27.14) and 100 back (1:07.09).
Schaumburg's Dan Skiroock won the 200 free (2:10.46), Evan Wahlen won the 400 free (4:38.71) and Sam Thomas won the 100 breast (1:18.87).
The Saxons' Matthew Sigler (188.35) and Adam Maslowski (183.70) supplied a 1-2 finish in diving.
Buffalo Grove d. Elk Grove: Brandon Hausfeld led a 1-2-3 sweep of the 100-yard backstroke in favor of visiting Buffalo Grove as the Bison earned a 112-74 win.
KC Lotzer won the 200 IM (2:11.88) and the 100 fly (56.71) and also had a leg with Hausfeld, Chris Schulstad and Zach Augustyn on the winning medley relay (1:49.30).
Elk Grove's Colin Williams won the 200 free (1:53.11) and 500 free (5:04.64) and joined Chris Doruff, Alex Pauls, and Bobby Hlavin on the winning 200 free relay (1:34.91). The Grens also won the 400 free relay and had a winner in diving as Joseph Kraemer (204.00) edged BG's Josh Opperman (185.40).
Fremd d. Conant: The visiting Vikings improved to 3-1 against MSL West competition with a 108-76 victory.
Winners for the Vikings included Nick Pappas in the 100-meter free (58.38), Andrew Mueller in the 200 free (2:14.40), Nick Seroni in the 100 back (1:07.53) and Joey Carlisle in the 100 breast (1:16.83).
Conant victories included Kaz Morita in the 50 free (26.50) Connor Schmitz in the 400 free (4:55.13).