In water polo, the Mid-Suburban West has decisively been the stronger of the league's two divisions.
Though a combined Prospect-Wheeling team did win an overall MSL title when those programs were still combining into one team, no single East Division school had ever won an overall conference crown in either gender.
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Somebody had to be first, and it turned out to be Wheeling.
It was anything but easy, and Conant's girls water polo team made sure of that in a nutty overtime game that finished 11-10 in favor of the Wildcats on Thursday at Conant.
Wheeling held a 1-goal lead with 40 seconds left in regulation after junior standout Theresa Godlewski got free near the middle of the pool and made a long shot. And after that, the Wildcats were able to deny Conant on its next possession.
So Wheeling had the ball with 10 seconds left, and needed only to avoid a turnover and run some time off the clock.
That's when it got nutty.
Conant did manage to force a clutch turnover, then quickly called timeout.
But now the clock was showing 15 seconds remaining.
After a lengthy discussion about how much time should actually be left, Conant was awarded the ball with six seconds to play, still trailing by 1.
Rather than run a play near the goal mouth, the Cougars opted to leave their fate with all-conference junior goalkeeper Maddy Demaret. She approach mid-pool and fired a shot that glanced of the underside of the crossbar and into the goal as time expired to send it to OT.
"She did that a bunch of times for us last year," said Conant coach Justin Bickus, "but that was the first time this year."
In the first period of OT, Conant's Carmen Rosas and Sam Wooley scored first to put the Cougars up 10-8.
Again Godlewski answered, and Wheeling trailed by 1 heading into OT period No. 2.
Godlewski tied it up with another goal, then drew an ejection which led to a power-play goal from Argelia Diaz to put Wheeling ahead by 1 with 1:33 left.
This time, Wheeling (17-7) was able to protect its advantage -- and make history.
"That game was like a metaphor for who we are, a microcosm of our whole season," said Wheeling coach Bob Savitt. "We just kept battling."
Godlewski finished with a game-high 7 goals. On three occasions to start periods, she won the swim for the ball and either scored or drew an ejection which led to a goal.
In addition, she was one of Wheeling's main help defenders against Rosas and drew frequent double teams herself.
All of which made her turnover near the end of regulation which gave Conant new life much easier to take.
"I was like, 'You guys, I'm so sorry,' but everybody said, 'Relax, without you we're not even here right now.' "
Demaret was stellar in denying Godlewski and her teammates throughout, and Rosas finished with a team-best 5 goals for Conant.
Diaz had the primary assignment of slowing down Rosas for the entire game, and in the game's latter stages senior co-captain Emily Sowa joined that effort.
"We're such a small team," said Sowa, who scored once, "but we're really close. I think that helps us."
Conant (23-6) is the top seed in next week's Palatine sectional. After making their first appearance in the MSL championship game, the Cougars are looking forward to a chance to earn what would be the program's first appearance in state's Elite Eight.
"We'd had a good week of practice, and we sure played hard," said Bickus. "It hurts to lose, but if you've got to lose, it's OK if it's Wheeling. Our teams know each other well, and Bob's a great guy."
Wheeling goalie Jenna Pink had a nice game which included a face-save on a hard shot by Wooley in the fourth quarter as the Wildcats were trying to draw even. Senior co-captain Rachel Ropski quickly checked on her teammate, who dispelled all worry with a quick smile.
Bonus: No harm done to Pink's new braces.
"I'm used to it," Pink said. "It kind of goes with the territory, you know?
"Ever since we clinched the division, I think everybody was looking at things with more confidence. We just started to really believe."
• The Mid-Suburban League girls water polo all-conference choices were announced Thursday at Wheeling. They are:
Barrrington: Sam Gavars (sr.)
Buffalo Grove: Rachel Rabs (sr.)
Conant: Carmen Rosas (jr.), Angie Skittone (sr.), Maddy Demaret (jr.)
Elk Grove: Dominika Struk (sr.)
Fremd: Samantha Barry (sr.), Samantha DiCanio (sr.), Emma Hoffman (jr.)
Hersey: Natalie Curtis (sr.), Jill Hoffman (sr.)
Palatine: Rachel Chumbook (sr.), Caroline Wojtas (jr.), Kim Butler (sr.), Caitlin McHugh (jr.)
Prospect: Mary Schiavone (sr.), Niki Neumann (jr.)
Rolling Meadows: Maggie Feikes (sr.)
Wheeling: Theresa Godlewski (jr.), Rachel Ropski (sr.), Emily Sowa (sr.)