Whether it was completing a grueling swimming workout before most people were awake or carefully monitoring every calorie she consumed, Valerie Tarazi was committed.
Whatever it took for Tarazi to perform at the highest level, she did it.
But sometimes, even the most self-motivated athletes sometimes find a little extra incentive. For Tarazi, there was a moment at the Northwest Herald Most Valuable Athletes Awards in 2016 when she was a finalist for Female Athlete of the Year.
Tarazi, then a sophomore at Prairie Ridge, learned about Dr. Steven Rochell’s $2,500 donation to the Female and Male Athlete of the Year winners’ schools. She wanted to do something for Prairie Ridge.
Tarazi was well on her way to becoming one of the best girls swimmers in area history. She finished her swimming career in November with eight medals from the IHSA Girls Swimming and Diving State Meet.
“I wanted to be a female athlete who wasn’t just good at one thing,” Tarazi said, “but was good at as many things as possible. PR’s done a lot for me. They’ve been very flexible with me missing so much school, with me training so hard for swimming or track, whatever it was. I really wanted to give back in any way possible. I thought this was a great way to do it.”
Tarazi improved in discus and shot put as a junior. This spring, as a senior, she was the Fox Valley Conference discus champion and qualified for the Class 3A state meet, where she made the finals.
Tarazi reached her goal last week when she was named the Northwest Herald Female Athlete of the Year. On Wednesday in DeKalb, she learned that she also was selected as the Female Athlete of the Year – in addition to Girls Swimmer of the Year – at the Shaw Media Most Valuable Athletes Awards, which honored athletes from all nine Shaw Media markets across northern Illinois.
Two other local athletes were named winners for their respective sports during ceremonies at the Northern Illinois University Convocation Center. Prairie Ridge quarterback Samson Evans won the honor for football, and Jacobs’ Noah Melick took the award for boys soccer.
Tarazi was runner-up in the 100-yard breaststroke and third in the 200 individual medley at the state swimming meet. She took 10th in discus, one spot from a state medal in track and field.
In true form, she found a pool in Charleston while she was competing in the track and field state meet and got in a swimming workout.
“Swimming will always be my main sport,” said Tarazi, who will swim at Auburn. “Track was something I did to take my mind off of swimming. Something I wanted to do for fun. I happened to be good at it and continued to develop and do pretty well. I will always be a swimmer. I still think the state swim meet is the most intense competition you will ever go to. I loved doing track. I wanted to compete.”
Tarazi swam for Crystal Lake co-op, a team comprised of swimmers from Crystal Lake Central, Crystal Lake South and Prairie Ridge.
“[The year] was absolutely amazing,” she said. “I had the most fun out of all my years. I took every moment and I tried to enjoy it, and my goal was to have fun. I had a blast. I’m super-proud of everything I accomplished, but I created memories that can never be replaced.”
Evans directed Prairie Ridge’s vaunted option offense to back-to-back Class 6A state championships. He rushed for 2,101 yards and 37 touchdowns and fought through an ankle injury late in the season. In his three years as quarterback, the Wolves were 13-1 in the playoffs.
Evans is the only player to be named Northwest Herald Football Player of the Year three times. He and offensive lineman Jeff Jenkins left for Iowa last weekend to start summer school and play for the Hawkeyes.
Melick was a repeat winner as Northwest Herald Boys Soccer Player of the Year and also was selected as Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association Player of the Year. He scored 33 goals, had 19 assists and helped the Golden Eagles repeat as Class 3A sectional champions.
“We knew we were going to be a little bit underdogs since we lost eight or nine seniors,” said Melick, who will play at Wisconsin. “We thought we were going to have to fight harder than we did the year before. We had a pretty slow start, then we kind of took off.”
The postseason brought some thrilling wins, as the Eagles won their regional in overtime, their sectional semifinal with a goal in the 77th minute and the sectional championship in a penalty-kick shootout.
Jacobs’ first sectional title came in 2001, then the Eagles played in back-to-back supersectionals.
Melick is preparing for Wisconsin by playing in a Premier Development League with numerous high-level college players. His FC United club formed a PDL team last year.
Melick thanked a long list of coaches throughout his career, starting with his Arsenal club coach, Dean Smith, who helped him reach this point.
“Basically, most of my life I’ve been with a local club, and my coach (Smith) was trying hard to get me college exposure because he knew I had the ability to play (NCAA) Division I,” Melick said. “[Jacobs coach A.J.] Cappello has been a huge help. I want to stay close with him because he’s done a lot for me. A lot of coaches pushed me so hard that, to the point where I couldn’t go back, I had to keep training because I knew I had the ability.”