Created:Sunday, March 16, 2014 9:04 p.m.CDT
Updated:Tuesday, May 13, 2014 8:57 a.m.CDT

Around Town: Prairie Grove's Valerie Tarazi swims to age group state title

Valerie Tarazi of Prairie Grove, who will attend Prairie Ridge in the fall, is an accomplished swimmer who won an age group state title in the 200-yard individual medley Saturday.

Prairie Grove's Valerie Tarazi had a day to remember Saturday at the Illinois Swimming Age Group State Championships.

Tarazi won the 200-yard individual medley in 2:04.21 in the 13-14 age division at the University of Illinois-Chicago and made the finals in five other events.

Tarazi, 14, who will be a freshman at Prairie Ridge in the fall, was also second in the 100 breaststroke (1:04.19), third in the 100 backstroke (57.25) and 50 freestyle (24.04) and eighth in the 400 individual medley (4:29.25) and 200 freestyle (1:56.39).

Although Tarazi won the 200 IM, it's her backstroke that she envisions as her best shot for where she really wants to swim.

"I really enjoy the 200 IM, but I just really love the 100 back," Tarazi said. "It’s probably my ticket to the Olympic trials in 2016."

On Tuesday, Tarazi will leave for Orlando, Fla., to swim in the National Club Swimming Association Championships for 18 and under swimmers. And if she makes the time standard, she could swim later this summer at the USA Swimming Nationals in California.

"I was about half-a-second off in my 200 IM for getting nationals," Tarazi said. "I was close."

After that, Tarazi will head to Miami (Ohio) University, where she was invited to attend the USA Swimming Central Zone Select Camp on May 22 to 25. It is a development camp for the future national team and includes the top seven in her age group in the Central Zone.

That's a long journey from when Tarazi began swimming as a 3-year-old on the Crystal Lake Country Club team. She moved on to swim with the Sage YMCA Piranhas and for the last year-and-a-half with the Barrington Swim Club.

"[My parents] just put me in and I loved it," Tarazi said. "I just kept going."

As Tarazi progressed, she also got faster.

"I just always had a love for the sport," Tarazi said. "It was just my thing. I was kind of good at a young age."

The success was separate from her love of swimming. She would still love being in the pool and part of a team even if it took her longer to get from one side to the other.

"I love being with my friends for swim practices," Tarazi said. "It’s like we’re a big family."

Winning the 200 IM was important to Tarazi because it was her first state title. Part of winning is being prepared physically, but the most important part for Tarazi is having her head in the race.

"For me, it’s really mental," Tarazi said. "I wanted this state title really bad."

To win, Tarazi said she needed to capitalize on her strength in the last two strokes.

"Breaststroke I pulled ahead, and freestyle I really pulled ahead," Tarazi said. "I just had to bring it home hard."

Tarazi is undecided whether she will continue to swim on her club team or on her high school team, which co-ops with Crystal Lake Central and Crystal Lake South.

Based on this season's high school time standards, she had state-qualifying times in every event except the 500 freestyle. Her 200 IM time Saturday would have given her a fourth-place finish at state this season.

"I’m debating whether to stick with club or high school," Tarazi said. "In club we have a much stricter training schedule. I need that extra time in the pool."

Other area swimmers making it to the finals at the Age Group State Championships:

McHenry Marlins Aquatic Club – Cora Rafe (13-14): 16th in 200 backstroke (2:11.68), 15th in 100 backstroke (59.69).

Sage YMCA Piranhas – Ben Castro (10U): sixth in 100 Butterfly (1:10.33), 10th in 100 freestyle (1:02.26), 14th in 50 butterfly (32.10), sixth in 200 freestyle (2:12.88). Allison Buytendorp (10U): 14th in 50 freestyle (29.40), fourth in 100 freestyle (1:02.42), ninth in 200 freestyle (2:18.44).