The ultimate prize looms in two weeks when the best of the best girls swimmers and divers will converge on New Trier High School for the state finals.
In the meantime, don't tell these girls that doing well at the conference meet isn't important.
Times were dropping like crazy -- as expected --and there were many tighly contested races during the North Suburban Conference championships held at Stevenson High School on a dreary Saturday afternoon.
In the end, the hosts didn't disappoint in winning at least a share of the conference title for the second year in a row.
The Pats amassed 358 points to outdistance Warren, which was second with 281. Libertyville finished third (229) while Mundelein was fourth (168).
Senior Iza Pelka helped lead the charge for Stevenson by winning two individual events and taking legs on two winning relays.
"This is like step 1 of the championship season," said Pelka, who's looking for a fourth trip to state in this her senior year. "Representing your school and doing well at conference is so important. And it serves as a precursor of what you're about to do."
Pelka first won the 100-yard butterfly in 56.88, followed by a victory in the 500 freestyle in 4:59.29.
She then joined forces with Ashley Carollo, Madeleine O'Donnell and Lucy Stevens to swim a 1:37.54 in the 200 freestyle relay. In the final event of the meet, Pelka joined Carollo, Sasha Kokhan, and Jennifer Xiong to win the 400 free relay (3:35.38).
"We focus so much on details and specifics in our training and how we race certain events," said Pats coach Kevin Zakrewski. "But I like where we're at. This time of year, you just want to race as fast as possible."
Besides Pelka, other event winners for Stevenson included Elizabeth Cao, Stevens, Natalie Wess, and Kokhan in the 200 medley relay (1:49.64). Carollo also touched first in the 100 backstroke (56.26) and 50 freestyle (24.59) as Stevenson won 7 out of 12 events.
Warren has been making plenty of noise this year, as evidenced by the Blue Devils' dueal meet win against Stevenson a couple of weeks ago. The value in that victory was key, as it means Warren shares the overall conference crown with the Pats.
Senior Megan Wong has been a big part of Warren's surge, which has a lot to do with its energy being off the charts.
"My legs are burning but I just wanted to finish strong for the team," said Wong, who's also looking for another ticket to state next week. "We were so pumped after beating them (Stevenson) a couple of weeks ago for the first time. So far, we're pretty happy with where we're at, heading down the stretch."
Wong came from behind in the final leg to overtake and edge out Stevenson's Wess and win the 200 IM (2:13.44).
Libertyville's Alex Eastmond, too, has been opening some eyes this season.
Only a freshman, Eastmond picked up a couple of conference titles after winning the 200 free (1:56.25) and later the 100 breaststroke (1:06.95).
Safe to say, it was well worth the discomfort for junior Sophia Goushchina, who became the first conference champion in girls swimming at Lake Zurich after she won the 100 freestyle in a season-best time of 53.25 seconds.
"I was surprised at how I felt. My legs were so numb but it was well worth it," said Goushchina, who looks to qualify for state next weekend for the second year in a row. "Conference is important because it gives you a good idea of what you might expect (next week) at sectionals and what you need to work on."
Goushchina also picked up a second-place medal in the 100-backstroke (58.07).
Mundelein senior Maggie Franz is also looking to go out with a bang this fall. She took home the conference title in diving earlier in the day after accumulating 412.05 points.
"Some of the girls are pulling through, and some are getting there," said Mustangs coach Rahul Sethna. "Conference is always a good race to see where you're at time-wise as you make the final push for state. We got off to a good start today with Maggie winning diving, and Angela (Bowes) and Molly (Mishler scored some good points for us today."