Conant's girls water polo program made history Monday by topping visiting Palatine 6-4.
The victory completed a perfect 10-0 run for the Cougars against their Mid-Suburban West opponents to clinch an outright MSL divisional title, the first in the program's history.
But there was no ceremonial dunk in the pool for Conant coach Justin Bickus, as the Cougars are hoping to reserve that opportunity for an upcoming victory.
"One goal was to go unbeaten in conference" explained Conant's Carmen Rosas, who had 1 goal against Palatine and is just shy of the program's career scoring record. "The other goal is to get to state."
With Conant (21-5, 10-0) seeded No. 1 and Palatine (22-4, 8-2) seeded No. 2 in the upcoming Palatine sectional, another matchup between these two MSL West powers is certainly possible, and with even more at stake.
But first things first: Conant will meet Wheeling next week for the Mid-Suburban League championship.
Against Palatine on Monday, it came down slightly better management of possessions.
Both teams were able to mostly negate the scoring prowess of the top 2-meter sets -- Rachel Chumbook of Palatine, and Rosas -- with clever and unpredictable double teams.
That created some opportunities for the wing players on both teams, but Palatine goalie Kim Butler (7 saves) and Conant's Maddie Demaret (12 saves) weren't allowing anything easy.
Demaret (4 steals) managed to turn away a penalty shot taken by Chumbook.
"We love her intensity -- she's a beast," Rosas said, referring to Demaret. "We feed off her energy."
Though Palatine was understandably disappointed with the loss, the outcome still marked clear progress for the Pirates. Each time they win, they're creating a program record for victories in a season.
And losing by a single possession is a vast improvement over the first meeting between these teams, which Conant won 11-6 at Palatine.
To Palatine coach Mitch Tucker, the lesson from the outcome was clear:
"We were 1-for-9 on the power play," he said. "We just have to be better than that."
Palatine trailed 5-4 with less than a minute left, but Chumbook drew an ejection on a breakaway with 43 seconds left. With the Pirates on the power play, Conant's Angie Skittone managed to knock down Palatine's last shot at tying the game.
Then it was Skittone, who finished with a game-high 3 goals, putting in the game's final score with less than two seconds left as Palatine was forced to pressure Demaret in an effort to prevent Conant from running out the clock unchallenged.
Kaitlyn Claffey and Emily Weingart also had goals for Conant, while Caroline Wojtas and Caitlin McHugh scored for Palatine.
For Bickus, this year's Conant team is the logical continuation for a program that has steadily improved in the six seasons he's been head coach.
"I think it really started with Hannah Duke a few years ago," he said, "and player by player since then, we've just improved and kind of accepted the challenge."
He credited Rosas for keeping the expectation especially high this year.
"Every day in practice, she sets the tone for us," Bickus said. "I know this -- I wouldn't want to play against her."