The Mid-Suburban League's top two girls swimming and diving teams are set to meet Thursday in Palatine, and it figures to be quite a battle.
Fremd will host the meet starting at 4:30 p.m., and it will take the following format: four swimming events, followed by diving and senior night recognition, and then the rest of the swimming events.
The Vikings edged Barrington for both the divisional and overall MSL titles last fall by winning both the dual meet and the conference meet, both of which were held at Barrington.
But much has changed for these teams since Fremd ended Barrington's long run of MSL championships last season.
Both teams, clearly, are better than last year, which only adds to the intrigue.
Barrington's top two swimmers are sophomore Kirsten Jacobsen and senior Mekenna Scheitlin, and they are among the top swimmers in the state.
Jacobsen is the defending state champ in the 500-yard freestyle and continues to improve. In Barrington's invitational on Saturday, she won the 500 free in 4:57.04 and the 200 free in a pool record 1:51.62. She's also got terrific sprint speed so is a big plus on relays.
Scheitlin is an elite sprinter and finaled in the 50 free at last year's state meet -- but she's also extremely versatile and can provide winning points across a wide range of events for coach Jim Bart.
A strong supporting cast for the Fillies has also stepped up. Andrea Vega is an order of magnitude faster than last season in the sprint freestyles, Emma Barnett and Olivia Hoffman are extremely versatile returning state qualifiers and, as usual, Barrington has been bolstered by a strong varsity-ready freshman class.
The latest rankings from Swimming In Illinois put Barrington as the fourth-best team in the state, behind only Fenwick, New Trier and Downers Grove North. Fremd, meanwhile, doesn't crack that list's top 20. But those rankings are intended to measure championship meet strength, and not dual meets.
So for Fremd, the question is whether its excellent depth is enough to overcome Barrington's edge in top-end ability.
Key to the Vikings' season has been the freestyle improvement from Saki Takumiya. A state meet qualifier last season in the backstroke and 200 IM, her development in freestyle sprints has elevated Fremd's relays.
A strong core of versatile swimmers -- among them Grace Kneller, Erica King, Loretta Stelnicki, Julia Portmann, Grace Grzybek, Samantha McCarthy and Shae Taylor -- means Fremd has a chance to grab a great deal of points with consistent second- and third-place finishes as well as strong relay depth.
In diving, give Fremd a slight nod with the 1-2 punch of Sarah McTague and Sydney Plichta on their home boards, but Barrington senior Tiffany Soto qualified for state last year and will certainly figure in the top three.
The interesting thing this year, both teams have much larger long-range goals than a dual meet, or even a conference championship.
Barrington placed ninth in last year's state meet but has an honest shot at grabbing a trophy this time around.
Fremd's state meet performance was a disappointment last fall, but the Vikes have enough improving, experienced competitors to make some waves Nov. 22 and 23 at New Trier.
Fremd coach Andrew Kittrell looks as this dual meet as a stepping-off point to the regular season -- and a signal that the postseason is about to begin.
"For us, it is the last time of the year where all 65 members of our team will get to compete in the same venue, as well as the last time our seniors will compete in our pool for their high school career," he said. " I always tell the girls that this is a terrific meet against a classy and tough opponent. My staff and I have had many opportunities to see just how tough and talented our kids are, but I enjoy this last opportunity to hold up the reflection of how much heart they have.
"I know on Thursday that they will compete with their head, and finish with their heart. And as a coach, there is absolutely nothing else I can ask."
Prospect wraps up East: Visiting Prospect made its Mid-Suburban East championship official with a 135-53 victory over Buffalo Grove at Olympic Pool in Arlington Heights on Tuesday.
The Knights finished 5-0 against their East competitors in dual meets.
Macey Berkley won the 200 IM and 100 breastroke for Prospect, which swept the relays and also had victories from Dana Liva (diving), Betsy Rozow (100 back), and Samantha Berkley (100 fly).
Buffalo Grove had double winners in Sarah Morosan (50 free, 100 free) and Alexa Jedryka (200 free, 500 free).
Wheeling d. Elk Grove: The host Wildcats picked up a victory in their final MSL East dual of the season.
Wheeling had individual wins from Adrienne Rozmus (200 free, 500 free), Theresa Godlewski (50 free, 100 free), Emily Zieger (100 breast) and Shannon Richards (100 back), and the Wildcats also won the 200 medley and 400 free relays.
Elk Grove got victories from Simona Kurta in the 200 IM and 100 fly, and from Hannah Niemi in diving.
Hersey d. Meadows: Sarah Petro won the 200 IM and 100 back, and Katherine Gorey won the 200 free and tied for first place with Meadows' Erin Pletch in the 100 free as the visiting Huskies completed a 4-1 record against MSL East foes with a 119-65 victory.
Bailey Rowley was a winner for the Mustangs in the 100 fly (1:04.38), but Hersey was able to win all three relays and also got wins from Lenna Fotos (50 free) and Hannah Bovino (diving).