Another year, another pair of state medals for Valerie Tarazi.
The Prairie Ridge senior earned state medals in all eight individual events in which she qualified over four years competing for the Crystal Lake co-op girls swimming team (which combines swimmers from Crystal Lake Central, Crystal Lake South and Prairie Ridge).
This year she finished third in the 200-yard individual medley and runner-up in the 100 breaststroke last month at the IHSA state meet. In her illustrious high school career, Tarazi earned one first-place medal, three seconds, one third, one fifth, one sixth and one ninth.
She set the pool record (1:01.64) in the 100 breaststroke in a preliminary heat at the state finals at New Trier. In all, she set nine pool records in 2017 at five locations. For her career, she holds the Crystal Lake co-op team record in eight of 11 events.
Tarazi will swim in college at Auburn. She chose the Tigers over 18 other Division I programs she visited.
For her accomplishments this season, Tarazi was selected as the Northwest Herald Girls Swimmer of the Year, her fourth consecutive year winning the award.
She recently spoke with sports reporter Sean Hammond about her senior year, favorite pro swimmer and superhero powers.
How did you get into swimming?
Tarazi: I got started when I was 3 years old at Crystal Lake Country Club and my brother was doing swimming, so I wanted to go swimming, too.
What did you like about it?
Tarazi: I just love being in the water, and I love competing. Ever since I was super little, I loved competing.
When you were entering high school, did you ever think you’d have eight state medals when it was all said and done?
Tarazi: It was always one of my goals. I kind of was inspired by (former Barrington swimmer) Kirsten Jacobsen. I swam with her at Barrington Swim Club. She won seven of (a possible) eight state medals. She won seven events (in the 200 freestyle and the 500 free between 2012 and 2015). As a freshman coming in, she won two events her freshman year. So I wanted to be like her and I wanted to get as many individual medals as I could. That was my goal, and I would say I’m pretty successful at it. So I was pretty happy with that.
Last year in your Swimmer of the Year Q&A, you mentioned how you always encounter some sort of chaos at the state finals (ripped suit in 2014, ripped cap in 2015, car accident on the way to the meet in 2016). So was there any chaos this year?
Tarazi: I was waiting for it and waiting for it. The only thing that went wrong was on Friday night after the meet was over, I went to go cool down and my goggles snapped. But that was the only crazy thing that happened. So I was really happy about that.
What are you going to remember most about your senior season?
Tarazi: I had a new coach (John Valentine) this year. Coach John was great; I absolutely loved having him. He made it super fun. But setting the pool record at New Trier when they’ve only ever held the state meet at two pools ever, that was super cool to look up at the board and know that I came this far.
What will you miss most about high school swimming?
Tarazi: I’m going to miss the high school state meet. I would say it’s arguably the best state meet in the country. When you’re a true state champion, you’re a true state champion. There’s no classes. The environment of it is absolutely crazy. I’m going to miss that.
Who’s your funniest teammate?
Tarazi: Iliana Portincaso. I just look at her and I laugh at everything she does. She just makes practice fun. I’ve really enjoyed swimming with her these past three years.
Who is your favorite pro swimmer?
Tarazi: I really look up to Matt Grevers. He’s from Illinois. He swam at Lake Forest. At Olympic trials in 2016, he ended up in eighth place after the semifinals in backstroke. They only take the top two for the Olympic team. He could have easily made the Olympic team in the finals, but he knew that he wasn’t in his top shape. He decided to give another kid a shot and scratched the event. The next summer he came back and won world championships. I think it’s so cool that he bounced back like that.
Being from Illinois, have you ever met him?
Tarazi: I have. I have swum with him kind of a lot because I go to Arena Pro Series and nationals and stuff like that.
Who is your biggest hero?
Tarazi: My dad (Marty Tarazi). My dad does so much for me, anything to make my life easier, and he’s always there to cheer me on and support me. So I love him for that.
What is something people wouldn’t know about you?
Tarazi: When I was 10 years old I played on an all-girls hockey team, and we won state.
What team were you on?
Tarazi: The Yellowjackets. I played for three years.
Do you have any nicknames?
Tarazi: I go by Val a lot, but a lot of people call me Tar because of Tarazi. It’s kind of funny because one of my friends at Barrington couldn’t pronounce my last name, so she just started saying Tar. Then it was Val-Tar. That’s kind of what happens.
Do you have any hobbies outside sports?
Tarazi: Outside of sports, I like to draw and color. But sports is my life. I like lifting, shot and disc is kind of what I do for fun.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Tarazi: Probably being able to read people’s minds.
What’s your favorite meal?
Tarazi: I’d say anything from Kyoto. I go there at least once a week. I get sushi or hibachi. I’m always there. My picture is hanging on the wall there. I love that place. They’re great to me.
If you were stuck on a deserted island, what three things would you bring with you?
Tarazi: Probably a swimsuit, a boat and an unlimited supply of sushi.
What’s the coolest place you’ve ever visited?
Tarazi: I’d say Turkey. That was an awesome place. Istanbul.