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Local swimmers ready for state championship

By Jeff Nations

If Randolph-Macon Academy's contingent of swimmers headed to this weekend's Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association (VISAA) state swimming and diving championships performs at less than optimum level, one thing the Yellow Jackets likely can't blame is a slow pool.

Held at Richmond's Collegiate School Aquatic Center, the VISAA meet will take place in the same pool that hosted the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb. That's no typo -- the same pool.

"I was almost afraid to ask," R-MA coach Michael Williams said of the unusual circumstances that led to a world-class pool being disassembled, shipped halfway across the country, then reassembled in Chesterfield County last year.

Regardless of how it goes there, the 50-meter competition pool -- where numerous world records have been set (albeit, in Nebraska) -- offers the Yellow Jackets a first-class opportunity to shine on the state stage.

Judging by last week's performances in the Delaney Athletic Conference meet, R-MA is ready for its big moment starting Friday and running through Saturday.

The Yellow Jackets will bring five swimmers to Richmond, and they won't be there just to soak up the Olympic afterglow.

"When we started swimming, I was just trying to figure out what we had," Williams said. "At the beginning of the year, I knew we had Tanner Blankenship. I knew we had Quinn Blankenship. I knew we had Cheng Qian. And I knew we had a little bit of depth."

Building a team around that trio, who each earned all-DAC honors this past week, has been a successful recipe for R-MA. At the DAC meet, the Yellow Jackets finished fourth in the boys competition and sixth in girls despite fielding one of the smaller teams. R-MA finished the meet with 16 personal or relay best times.

Senior Tanner Blankenship, named the DAC's Swimmer of the Year for the second straight year, headlines R-MA's six-swimmer contingent headed to Richmond. He posted a personal-best time of 54.69 seconds to win the DAC title in the 100-yard butterfly, and also won the 200 individual medley in 2:09.78.

Williams said if R-MA has a shot at winning a state title, Tanner Blankenship is the best one.

"With Tanner, it depends on how good his warm-up is and what kind of mood he's in," Williams said. "Tanner's pretty self-motivated. I don't have to say much to him."

Qian, a sophomore, scored a DAC championship in the 50 free with a winning time of 23.43, and took second in the 100 backstroke with a personal-best 57.11.

"You get a Tanner Blankenship maybe once in a lifetime, and you get a Cheng Qian maybe once in a lifetime," Williams said. "We just happen to have them both on the same team. It's a coach's dream."

Blankenship and Qian will also swim legs in the Yellow Jackets' 200 medley relay, after combining with Peter Jin and Cole Johnston to finish second in last week's conference meet. Those four will also form R-MA's 400 free relay this weekend.

Quinn Blankenship is the only girls swimmer for R-MA headed to states, but she could join her older brother as a factor. At last week's DAC meet, Quinn Blankenship won the 500 free in a personal-bests 5:48.57 and was third in the 200 IM with another personal best (2:30.21).

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com>


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