DeKALB – From Lombard to Sterling, Coal City to Richmond and almost everywhere in between, the best in northern Illinois athletics was honored Wednesday at Shaw Media's Most Valuable Athlete Awards at the NIU Convocation Center.
Prairie Ridge senior Valerie Tarazi earned the Female Athlete of the Year award, while Jack Jessen of Willowbrook was the Male Athlete of the Year. Each was awarded a $1,000 scholarship.
"It means a lot," Tarazi said. "I was struggling swimming last year, I really didn't have a great state meet. It as after Olympic trials and I wanted something to take my mind off swimming and track was the way to do it. I sat down with the coach and said I want to do this for fun, but I want to be very good at it – I'm very competitive."
Tarazi earned a pair of medals at the State Swim Meet, and just came shy of medaling in the discus, taking 10th at the Class 3A State Track and Field Championships. She'll swim for Auburn next year. She said she was gunning to win the Northwest Herald's top honor, but was surprised to win over such a larger field.
Jessen went 51-0 this year as a wrestler at 182-pounds and is committed to Northwestern to continue his wrestling career. He was also a bruising running back for the Warriors, rushing for 2,050 this year ad 24 scores. He helped the Warriors reach the quarterfinals of the Class 6A playoffs.
"To be honest it never really crept into my mind at all," Jessen said. "I did it because I love the sport. I did it because I wanted to help get Willowbrook back on track, get it back to being the school know it's supposed to be."
MVA winners were selected in 24 sports. In addition to Tarazi and Jessen, one other MVA was awarded a scholarship, going to Providence Catholic golfer Tyler Roat.
The event was hosted by Pro Football Weekly General Manager Hub Arkush and featured a speech by former Bears cornerback Charles Tillman.
Tillman talked about the work student-athletes put in every day, and how many people underestimate the effort..
"I salute all you all," Tillman said.
Other MVA winners included senior Kaneland cross country Matt Richtman, a 3A state champion.
"It's definitely very special," Richtman said. "Just being out here with so many other athletes from so many different schools, it's such good competition. It's really exciting to compete against them and receive this award tonight."
Glenbard East senior and Ohio State recruit Kolie Allen won for girls tennis.
"I'm really grateful for it all," Allen said. "There's so many people that accomplished so many great things and to be chose I'm just super grateful. It feels good for all my hard work paying off."
Bolingbrook senior bowler Alex Acosta said he was glad to have won, taking second at the state tournament by just two pins.
"It feels good," Acosta said. "I haven't really won that much, and this year, my senior year, was tee best I've done throughout my four years."