After swimming a personal-best time in the 100-meter breaststroke Tuesday morning, Valerie Tarazi made sure to stay busy before the finals of the event at the USA Swimming Junior National Championships in Irvine, California.
“I was actually talking to one of my [future] teammates that goes to Auburn right before, and she kind of kept me distracted in the ready room,” Tarazi said. “We were just talking, and before you knew it, we were walking out to the blocks.”
Tarazi, competing in her fifth and final Junior Nationals, got off to a blazing start in Tuesday evening’s finals. When the Auburn-bound Tarazi touched the wall, she was excited to see another personal best.
Tarazi, 18, placed fifth at the William Woollett, Jr. Aquatic Center with a time of 1:10.01. Sixteen-year-old Kaitlyn Dobler of Portland, Oregon, won the event in 1:08.90. Tarazi entered the meet with a seed time of 1:11.17 and had the fourth-best preliminary time (1:10.20), before dropping almost two-tenths of a second in the finals.
She will swim in the 200 breaststroke on Friday and the 200 individual medley and 50 freestyle on Saturday.
Tarazi’s time in the 100 breaststroke didn’t qualify her for the Junior National team, but it was about the 10th-best time in the country for ages 18 and under, she said. The top two make it.
“I felt really good,” said Tarazi, a Prairie Ridge graduate. “What I’ve really been working on this year is learning how to control my speed on the front half of my race, so on the back half I don’t completely die.
“I actually had my best back half ever by over half a second. I was relaxed and had more energy at the end. I’m actually very happy. I went two best times in one day, and that’s crazy.”
Most of Tarazi’s summer training with the Glenview Titan Aquatic Club and coach Steve Iida has been for the 200 breaststroke. She feels that event is her best chance at making the Junior National Team.
Tarazi recently swam a personal best in the 200 breaststroke (2:35.01) at the Illinois Senior State Championships, setting the state record. She also has the record in the 100 breaststroke.
“I’m super confident,” Tarazi said. “My focus all summer has been the 200 breaststroke. I’m really excited for it, so we’ll see what happens.”
No matter what else happens this weekend, Tarazi is simply happy to be racing against the best swimmers in the country.
“It’s an honor just to be here,” Tarazi said. “Being able to race against the top swimmers in the country, they really do make me better. I think we are all in it for the same thing. We want to swim fast and have fun.”