SWIMMING: Prosser's Rankin ready for state

Tri-City HeraldNovember 5, 2012 

Hailey Rankin would be a college swim coach’s dream pupil.

The Prosser senior has a 3.97 grade-point average, and her marks in the pool are just as impressive. She clocked Class 2A state-qualifying times this season in all but two events and won district championships in the 200-yard freestyle and 100 butterfly.

But barring a change of heart, Rankin expects to be finished with competitive swimming after this weekend’s WIAA state meet in Federal Way.

After fighting through burnout last year and working her way back from knee surgery this summer, Rankin is ready for a new chapter. She stopped swimming with the Tri-City Channel Cats after her surgery in June.

“Every year, I’d do morning practice with the high school team and afternoon with year-round,” she said. “I just wasn’t really that determined this year, especially with my surgery. I’m focused a lot more on school, not just swimming. It opened up so much free time to focus on school and friends. That’s what helping me cope, knowing that my life won’t be over.”

But Prosser coach Kerry Warden doesn’t want this to be Rankin’s last lap. Former Mustangs swimmer Mackenzie Gant got an offer from Seattle University two years ago, and Warden believes Rankin has an even bigger upside with her strength and power in the water.

“I wish she would give college a shot,” Warden said. “I think she would regret it down the road. She’s super talented in every stroke.”

Warden has tried to broach the subject of swimming in college a couple times.

“It’s just been a hard year for her,” Warden said. “I told her: ‘I want you to open your mind to swim in college again. Just pretend this year didn’t happen. Just entertain that for the next few weeks.’ It’s a lot more fun to swim with swimmers of your caliber. It’s so hard to train alone. She has for most of her high school career because no one can keep up with her.”

If state really is Rankin’s farewell to swimming, she can leave with her head held high.

In her first state meet in 2009, she finished fourth on the 200 medley relay with older sister Hanna and fourth in the 200 individual medley.

The next year, she was third in the 500 free and earned her second consecutive sixth-place finish in the 100 breaststroke.

Her junior year was her best yet. She was second in the 100 fly to Hockinson’s Julia Sanders and led in the 500 free before Klahowya’s Kelsey Crane overtook her in the final 50.

But Rankin, who is seeded third in the 100 fly and fifth in the 200 free ahead of this year’s meet, says the pressure to succeed at state has felt more intense each season. And this time, even though she will be with her teammates in the 200 medley and 400 free relays, she won’t have an older mentor to help her overcome her nerves.

“My freshman and sophomore years, I had Mackenzie Gant there. She was like my older sister. I followed her around like a puppy dog,” Rankin said. “Then last year, I had Natilee Ruiz (of Othello). We were teammates on the Channel Cats. She’s the sweetest person. But now I’m gonna have to do everything on my own. It’s kind of scary.”

One thing that’s a little less scary is the condition of her left knee.

Since she was little, Rankin had trouble straightening her leg. As it turns out, the cartilage had come off her knee, perhaps from hitting it on something. The pain eventually became severe enough to require surgery that hopefully would regrow the cartilage.

She didn’t know whether she would be able to do the 100 breast or 200 IM after her surgery, but she attempted each event once during the regular season. She qualified for state in both, but once was enough.

“During practice sometimes, when I flip turn, it’s like I overextend it, and it’s the worst shot of pain,” Rankin said. “I don’t want to screw it up even more, so it’s a reminder that I need to rest. It’s fine while I’m racing. It’s usually the aftermath. I’m sore, but I stretch a lot. I’m doing everything I can to keep it together until state. Then it can fall apart.”

After state, her next big goal is to pick a college. She was accepted to Kansas, her dream school and her father’s alma mater, and she also has applied to the University of Washington. She hasn’t decided on a major yet, but without the demands of competitive swimming, she will have time to figure it out.

“Finally I’m at peace,” she said. “Finally I’m ready to be done and move on to something else.”

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