For the second straight year, Stevenson showed it does not mind bringing some drama into the North Suburban Conference girls swimming meet.
Once again the Patriots trailed Lake Forest by 5 points going into the final event, the 400-yard freestyle relay.
And once again, Stevenson ended up with the NSC championship trophy as it won the last race and the meet by a deceptive 338-311 final score when Lake Forest's 400 relay was disqualified Saturday afternoon at the Patriot Aquatic Center in Lincolnshire. Libertyville took third with 213 and Erin Falconer won the 100 and 200 frees for fourth-place Mundelein.
"We've been in that situation before, where it's come down to the last relay," said Stevenson's Cheryl Xiang, who led off the 3:31.87 finish with Ashlin Ruiz, Riley Kirby and Julia Wawer. "There is pressure, but we were a lot more excited to do the best we can."
And when the Patriots touched first, coach Karl Milkereit literally breathed a big sigh of relief as they won their sixth NSC title in the last nine years.
"I knew it was going to be close," said Milkereit, whose team beat Lake Forest by a point last year. "The 200 free relay, I thought we were going to get that one but they touched us out. But I knew we had an advantage in the (100) breaststroke."
That's where Leah Bloodgood, Yuka Kuwahara and Danielle Fang finished second, fourth and seventh respectively behind winner Jenn Kordik of Mundelein (1:07.78). And it was also a day where the Patriots didn't swim their usual events but got a pool record from Wawer in the 500 free (4:57.66) and nearly another by Xiang in the 200 IM (2:06.57).
"It was definitely all about the team and what can we contribute to the team and overall points," Xiang said after just missing the pool mark of 2:05.79.
"I'm really proud of the girls because we did really well today," said Wawer, who came right back from the 500 with a 24.02 lead leg in the second-place 200 free relay. "That was rough. Definitely rough."
But Wawer, who normally swims the 100 and 200, smiled and said "that's definitely exciting" about breaking the 500 pool record of 4:58.99.
Libertyville got off to a strong start as Morgan Dunleavy won the diving title and the 200 medley relay of Meredith Robbins, Macey Neubauer, Staci Herchenbach and Sophia Lex swam an NSC record 1:49.55 to edge Stevenson (1:49.63). Neubauer then came back two events later with a second-place personal-best by two seconds (2:09.9) in the 200 IM.
"We've been focusing on (the 200 medley) a lot in practice and I'm really happy we got that chance," Neubauer said of the NSC record. "It was good because it got us all hyped up."
And one of the biggest highlights was Libertyville junior Jordan Rule coming out of the third of five 100 backstroke heats to drop nearly four seconds off her seed time. Her 59.46 set a school record and hit the state qualifying mark as she finished third behind Lake Forest's Haley Nelson and Ruiz.
"It looked like she had that kind of capability," said Libertyville coach Erik Rogers. "In the last week we've worked on her flip turns and I think she hit two of the best flip turns I think I've ever seen."
Falconer continued on track for another big postseason with her wins in the 100 (51.91) and 200 (1:51.58) frees.
"I did pretty well considering it's the last week before I start my taper and that's the hardest week," Falconer said. "I'm happy with my swims. I just wanted to race and get a feel for the water before sectionals and state." Warren took fifth with Paige Wells taking second in the 50 free (24.29) to Lake Forest's Daria Pyshnenko (23.92). Vernon Hills was sixth as Lilly Hemesath finished sixth in the 100 breastroke and swam on two fifth-place relays.