It seems like a quick backstroke sprint between the time Sarah Reierson was only a young swimmer to her competing in the upcoming state championship meet.

It seems like a quick backstroke sprint between the time Sarah Reierson was only a young swimmer to her competing in the upcoming state championship meet.

"I had a mandatory meet in Ashland that I ended up winning," says Reierson, a South Medford High senior, of her first competitive event at age 9. "I realized I liked swimming. I liked winning."

And winning is something she's done a lot of.

"She's loved water from the beginning," says her mother, Vickie, the Panthers' coach. "I've never had to make her go to practice or continue her work. After her first swimming lesson, she wanted to stay in and keep swimming."

This weekend, Reierson will be at it again, trying to bring home another state title in the Class 6A meet at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham. Preliminaries are today and finals Saturday for all classifications.

Last year, Reierson became the first Medford swimmer in more than 30 years to claim a state individual title when she won the 200-yard individual medley.

"I wasn't expecting it at all," says Reierson. "But I was able to pull it out."

She faces the challenge of duplicating that feat and also trying to win state in her specialty, the 100 backstroke.

She's also excited that the two relay teams she swims on, the 200 and 400 freestyles, qualified for state.

"To swim with the girls that I've been swimming with for the last four years is huge," says Reierson. "I'm glad they're coming. It can be like one last hurrah."

As for defending in the 200 IM, the main obstacle is faster competition. Her winning time in 2011 was 2 minutes, 7.03 seconds. That also is her personal best.

Reierson was the first swimmer since Medford split into two high schools in 1986 to claim an individual title. Sue Ross won in the 50 and 100 freestyles for Medford High in 1980.

Reierson's time of a year ago might not be fast enough this week.

"There's some pretty fast girls there," says Reierson. "It's anybody's race. I'll have to be three to four seconds faster than last year."

Based on seed times from district meets, three IM swimmers are ahead of Reierson, whose Southwest Conference-winning time was 2:08.36.

They are sophomore Sarah Kaunitz of Lake Oswego (2:05.19), senior Ellena Basada of St. Mary's Academy (2:06.93) and junior Blaise Wittenauer-Lee of Jesuit (2:07.33).

Meanwhile, Reierson's 100 back seed time of 59.12 seconds ranks her fifth. Basada (57.81) and senior Brooklyn Neubig of McMinnville/Sherwood (57.95) lead the way.

While a few seconds might not seem like much, they can be an eternity at this high level of competition.

To ready herself, Reierson has upped her commitment. She works with a personal trainer doing specialized core and strength work in addition to spending about 12 hours a week in the pool in practice and competing in weekend meets.

"She's determined to give it her all," says coach Reierson.

Sarah Reierson acknowledges the pressure she's under.

"I feel more pressure this year," she says. "The girls are faster. I obviously hope to win, but I want at least a top-three finish."

Vickie Reierson has no doubts about her daughter's ability to perform under pressure.

"Sarah's a quiet competitor," she says. "She handles the pressure well. She seems to swim her best under pressure, to rise to the occasion."

Sarah's ability to perform well in the individual medley is a testament to her versatility. The race requires equidistant legs in four disciplines: butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle.

"She's good in all four strokes," says her mother. "The backstroke is her best, but she's trained in all four. To do the IM well, you have to be trained and worked in all four events."

Her ability with each stroke is one of the reasons she's was an attractive recruit for the University of San Diego. She signed a letter of intent with the Toreros, a member of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, in November and hopes to one day compete in the NCAA championships.

"I'm excited to be part of a team all of the same caliber (swimmers) and who all have the same goals," says Reierson. "Ultimately, the goal is the NCAA championships. I think in four years, if I work hard, I can get there."

Before her college career arrives, Reierson also wants to take another crack at qualifying for the Olympic Trials. She's a little more than a second off the qualifying standard of 1:03.99 for the 100-meter backstroke.

She hit 1:05.65 at Senior Sectionals last July. The time qualified her for Junior Nationals last December.

There are several meets this spring for her to attempt to eclipse the qualifying time, including Senior Sectionals in March in Federal Way, Wash.

It's a step-by-step process, says Vickie Reierson, "constantly setting higher goals and trying to keep getting faster."

The goals may have gotten loftier and the competition faster, but one thing hasn't changed. Sarah Reierson still simply loves to swim.