Without divers and without one of his top swimmers who's out with illness, veteran Homestead boys swimming coach Mark Gwidt didn't think there was much of a realistic chance for his Highlanders to take the North Shore Conference Relays on Dec. 20.

But behind wins in three of the first four events and with a depth-laden effort that saw several junior-varsity swimmers contribute, the Highlanders did just that, claiming five events and having all 12 of their relays finish in the top three as they edged five-time league champion Cedarburg for the title.

"Right away, I thought we were behind the eight ball," Gwidt said. "We don't have the divers, and Chris Eckhardt has had some health issues, so we're being careful with him. I had to completely redo the lineup, and when I was done, I looked at the lineup, and I thought it could be good, but it all depended on what the other teams were doing. It just turned out that everything fell into place."

"And once we got that fast start, the kids started to believe. They got excited, and then I reminded them that we couldn't make any mistakes, that we needed to finish in the top three of every relay. Then Cedarburg got a DQ (in the opening-event 100 medley relay), and that was a big help. Helped even out the fact that we had no divers."

It didn't hurt Homestead swam cleanly the rest of the way.

The Highlanders, who hosted the Metro Swim Officials meet on Dec. 28, scored 78 points for their winning total as Cedarburg, which has claimed eight out of the last nine North Shore titles, was second with 74 and Whitefish Bay a distant third with 53. Though not the official conference crown (that will be decided in February), the last time the Highlanders won a North Shore title of any kind was in 2011.

The fast start was everything.

It began with a victory in the 100-yard medley relay behind Luke Appazeller, Joshua Gottlieb, Cameron Boulier and Alex Krol (57.15), and that was followed up by a victory from the 200 free relay team of Gonzalo Morales, Joey Pietrowiak, Tyler Wendt and Samual Johnson (1:38.22). After a third in the 400 medley relay, the Highlander 400 individual medley relay team of Tyler Gao, Wendt, Morales and Zach Teplin (4:10.08) was back in the winner's circle.

The Highlanders also closed well, claiming two of the last three relays, including the 400 free relay team of Pietrowiak, Morales, James Guskov and Teplin (3:35.74) and the 200 medley relay of Ethan Padgett, Phillip Zuccaro, Gao and Johnson (1:50.79).

Meanwhile, seconds went to the 800 free relay of Guskov, Joshua Churchill, Ethan Padgett and Hunter Allen (8:29.92); the 300 backstroke relay of Drew Horter, Churchill, Padgett and Danilo Rosich (3:07.46); and the 300 butterfly relay of Teplin, Zuccaro, Wendt and Rosich (2:51.65).

"I thought the kids raced very well," Gwidt said. "Starting out this season, I knew I had good swimmers. Still I thought they needed to race and compete harder, but tonight they did a really good job of competing, of really racing for the team. They really brought it for this meet."

Gwdit was pleased with the depth the Highlanders showed, as in both the 100 medley and 100 free relays, junior varsity kids did the heavy lifting.

"That's what the conference relays are supposed to be about," he said. "You get everyone to participate."

He was also very happy for the seniors who participated, including Guskov, Krol and Morales.

"No senior on this team had ever won a conference title, so this is a really nice," Gwidt said. "This was a really good effort. The guys had fun, and it should give them some confidence. We don't know what will happen at the conference meet, but for now, the future looks bright."