Sports Editor

All-County Girls Swimming:

Player of the Year: Karen Valido (GHS, Soph.)

All-county team: Gateway: Sydney Kochensparger, Sheila Caraballo. St. Cloud: Peighton Burge, Kaylin White. Harmony: Amelia Wagner, Kaley Smith, Elly Clark, Shayla Whaley, Rachel Nel. Osceola: Bailey Castillow.  

The Validos are keeping the title of “County’s top female swimmer” in the family.

Last year, sophomore Gateway’s Jenny Valido, Osceola County’s only swimmer to reach the Class 3A state meet, was Osceola News-Gazette Girls Swimmer of the Year.

She transferred to Trinity Prep for this year, and Karen Valido, a sophomore this year, took over the family’s torch for the Panthers — and the swimmer of the year title.

GHS Karen Valido with medals

Gateway's Karen Valido won conference titles in the 50 and 100 freestyle and also qualified for the regionals in the 100 backstroke.

Valido won the 50 meter (26.02 seconds) and 100 meter freestyle (57.29, a nearly four-second victory) events at the Orange Belt Conference championships, and swam anchor on the runner-up 400 free relay.

She was the only Gateway swimmer to reach the regionals, and swam the 100 freestyle (55.93, 19th) and backstroke (1:04.15, 21st), which she said is probably her favorite event.

Despite all that, she said she “left a little bit” in the pool this year, especially in the postseason.

“I didn’t swim all that well at districts, and the backstroke run could have been better at regionals,” Valido said.

Gateway swimming Coach Vonnie Kochensparger saw things a little differently.

“Karen works hard and has really improved this season,” she said. “She was undefeated in duel meets.  She swam every event and was and had a key role on the relays. She won her freestyle races and the medley 400 free relays were runners-up.

“In regionals, she ended up just a few hundreths of a second shy of the school record she set last year at districts (55.86) in the 100 freestyle.  Karen had a great opportunity to shine on her own this season and demonstrate how she could dominate the conference with her ability.”

Valido holds the Gateway girls’ school record in the 100 freestyle and backstroke, and is primed for more in the next two years.

“I want to drop my time in the 100 freestyle, and start focusing on the next steps,” Valido said, noting swimming collegiately is the plan and trying to qualify for the Olympics is a long-range goal — she has swam Junior Olympic races in the 100 freestyle and the 200 and 400 free relays.