Both Schaumburg and Prospect had their share of bumps in the road this season, especially in the nonconference portion of their schedules. But at the end of a long season, the Mid-Suburban League's two most successful boys basketball programs in recent history find themselves in a familiar position, prepared to battle for Mid-Suburban League supremacy.
The Saxons (16-9, 8-2) and Knights (15-9, 8-2) will square off at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Jean Walker Field House in the league's 43rd annual championship game.
"We've been working hard all season and just to be able to play in this game, it's an honor," said Prospect coach John Camardella. "It's special. Our conference has been doing it as long as anyone. That's the cool part is that it's such a tradition."
And it's two schools that are no stranger to this stage. Prospect has won a league-best eight title games and is playing in its fourth such contest in Camardella's six seasons as head coach. Schaumburg isn't far behind with six league crowns, including last season's 69-51 victory over Rolling Meadows.
The Knights won title games on their home floor in 2009 and 2011, something not lost on fourth-year coach Matt Walsh.
"We know how competitive they are and how hard they play," Walsh said. "In their gym, we know we're in for a real battle."
At certain points of the season, neither school was sure it would be representing their respective division.
Prospect entered the season talented but untested. Significant leaps in production from seniors Devin O'Hara (10 ppg) and Mike Houghton (10 ppg) and junior Bobby Frasco (13 ppg), who combined to average 8.9 points per game last season, have made a difference.
"Something that I was really happy with was they were able to utilize their talents to be successful," Camardella said. "The big key is not trying to be who we weren't and understanding where we have advantages."
That big advantage would be in size down low as Houghton, Colin Olson, Jake Young and Welby Malczewski all measure at least 6-foot-4, as are wing players O'Hara and Frasco.
Tommy Flahaven has shown growth in his first season as starting point guard while Kevin Kapka and Danny Thomas provide depth off the bench.
"Our team has dealt with different lineups all year and for the most part, we've responded very favorably," Camardella said. "It shows how much these guys are willing to sacrifice for the team. They're willing to play whatever role that the coaching staff asks of them."
And while Schaumburg had two of the most experienced players in the league back in Kyle Bolger (15 ppg) and Jimmy Lundquist (10 ppg), the Saxons started just 7-7.
But it's safe to say they've righted the ship with 9 wins in their last 11 games, including six straight in the division to claim their second straight outright West title and third overall.
"We have a real hardworking, unselfish group that has gotten to know one another and learned from some early season struggles," Walsh said. "We've steadily improved and just stayed with the belief in our system. We've gotten better both defensively and offensively."
Last Friday's 48-36 win over Palatine set up a rematch of 2009's title game in which Prospect prevailed 61-57 in overtime.
Cole Reyes (11 ppg) is a lockdown defender and on any given night, Walsh can get key contributions from Ryan Kase, Bobby Green, Carlos Sarasti, Brendan Parker and Josh Rahn.
"We have seven seniors that have provided great leadership and stuck to the script," Walsh said. "They trust one another and play for one another."