When it comes to wrapping up a boys swimming and diving season, the three-step process officially got underway on Saturday afternoon when Lake Forest hosted the North Suburban Conference championships
And depending on how you look at it, Stevenson passed with flying colors.
Both Stevenson and Lake Forest will host sectionals next Saturday, with trips to the state meet at Evanston Township High School on the line.
"This is rehearsal for crunch time," said Stevenson coach Doug Lillydahl, whose team won the conference title for a third straight time. "The energy is great, and there's some really good racing. And we always love to win titles."
Stevenson collected 426 points to outdistance runner-up Libertyville (250). The host Scouts finished third (197), followed by Mundelein (161), Warren (136), Lake Zurich (85), Zion-Benton (46), and Waukegan (34).
Junior Topher Stensby, the reigning 50-yard freestyle state champ, picked up four conference titles on Saturday.
He first opened the meet by swimming anchor on the 200 medley relay, joining Jack Zhang, Joseph Song and Beno Maya to win in 1:37.67.
Stensby then won his main event -- the 50 free -- in 20.84.
"We're trying to get him under 20 seconds so he can put on a show for us," said Lillydahl.
Stensby also won the 100 free (46.50) and finished his day by swimming the second leg of the winning 200 free relay, pairing with Song, Daniel Ng and Guo to erase a 14-year old NSC record with 1:27.00.
Junior Nathan Gates (2.00:57) edged out teammate Zhang (2:00.67) to win the 200 IM; Zhang later won the 100 backstroke in 54.65.
"The swims have been good, and even without everyone tapered, we've dropped a lot of times, which we're really excited for," said Gates, whose time in the 200 IM was a personal best. "This is always a competitive meet and basically a final bookmark before tapering."
Ng also picked up conference titles in the 200 freestyle (1:45.15) and 400 free relay, where he joined Guo, Niccolo Comini and Zhang in 3:16.73.
Also winning conference titles were junior Max Ryaguzov in the 100 butterfly (53.78) and junior Ethan Ross in the 500 free (4:49.51).
"Conference is important to see where you're at. It's always great to win another conference title though," said Ross.
Stevenson had 11 swimming events victories before Libertyville's Billy Bennett (59.83) and Austin Stevenson (1:00.28) finished 1-2 in the 100 breaststroke.
"I'm still shaking, but this is awesome," said Libertyville coach Amanda Pechauer, right after she did the honors of presenting medals to the top six finishers. "But that was a great race. We're just trying to stay in the game and be ready (for the state series)."
Sean Coughlin swam anchor on the second-place 200 medley, where paired with Austin Stevenson, Bennett and Lawrence Wang to touch in 1:38.26.
Only a freshman, Wang also picked up varsity medals with personal bests in taking fourth in the 100 fly (54.88) and fifth in the 100 backstroke (58.36).
"We're all swimming faster times. I need to improve on my techniques, like starts and turns," said Wang. "It's fun racing in this meet. Everyone's so much faster -- but it get you to swim faster."
Stevenson also swam the third leg of the second-place 200 free relay with Bennett, Nathan Valley and Coughlin (1:28.55). Senior Danny Less was second in diving with 320.30 points.
Mundelein got the meet off to a great start when senior Kyle Ehemann won diving with a score of 336.85.
It was the first time the Mustangs have produced conference champs in both girls and boys diving. Maggie Franz also won the event in November.
"It's definitely a big shout out to our diving coach, Bill Owens. He's done a great job with them. They've been real steady and consistent," said Mustangs coach Rahul Sethna.
Junior Jake Garcia was one of many who dropped a ton of time Saturday, finishing with a sixth-place medal after dropping 12 seconds in the 500 freestyle (5:12.15). Garcia also dropped two seconds on his first leg of the 400 free relay, where he paired with Logan Bradshaw, Jack Long, and Patrick McInerney to touch in 3:34.90.
Sethna said Matt Alore, Shane Stanley, Cale Sethna and Jeff Boudreau were fully tapered for the meet.
Warren saw numerous times drop, but had one of its top point-getters, junior Brian Tabourot, swim a couple of events before being sent home ill.
Coach Chris Bertana and the troops were left to perform something he referred to as the "Blue Devil Shuffle."
"Hopefully Brian will be ready to go for sectionals next week," Bertana said. "This isn't easy. It's a three-step process, ending with state. But it's always good to know where you stand in the conference. We just want to hold our own. The score doesn't matter -- just swimming fast is the goal."
Tabourot led off the 400 relay, pairing with Taylor Vander-Jeugdt, Austin Edmondson and Leo Forney in touching third in 1:42.83.
Forney, Vander-Jeugdt, Edmondson, and Jeremy Gunter picked up a fourth-place medal in the 200-free relay (1:34.87).
Lake Zurich had solid representation as personal-best times were dropping like flies.
Junior Jonathan Wu picked up a fifth-place medal in the 100 butterfly.
"It feels great to win a medal. Everyone is swimming at such a high level, and it pushes you," said Wu. "We're just trying to show we belong. The conference meet represents athletic spirit and good friendly competition."
Andrew Jarcik picked up a fifth-place medal in the 200 freestyle after touching in 1:51.29. Jarcik also took fifth in the 500 free after touching in 5:07.46.
The following athletes also earned North Suburban Conference sportsmanship awards: Collin Robinson (Lake Forest), Sean Coughlin (Libertyville), Spencer Guercio (Stevenson), Jeremy Gunter (Warren), Shane Stanley (Mundelein), Nick Olzewski (Zion-Benton) and Trevor Janis (Waukegan).