Swimming: Richland's Blanchard is a flyer

February 13, 2013 

Andrew Blanchard is a lot of things to a lot of people: A son, a student, a brother and a friend.

But when the Richland senior steps into King County Aquatic Center this weekend for the final two days of his high school swimming career, he’ll be most proud to call himself a flyer.

“If you ask people, (the butterfly) is the hardest stroke to do. I built my body to be a flyer. It’s a fast-paced stroke, and it’s a hard one, but I’ve enjoyed doing it over the years,” Blanchard said.

Though he’s also qualified in the 100-yard backstroke as well as the 200-yard Intermediate Medley relay and the 400 freestyle relay, he’s looking forward to making one last splash for the Bombers’ program in his top event, the 100 butterfly.

“I could swim right now, I’m so excited,” Blanchard said, doing his best to explain the anxiety and anticipation in the week leading up to the Class 4A Swimming and Diving State Championships on Friday and Saturday in Federal Way. “Imagine adrenaline 24/7. You’re calm, you can talk, but 30 minutes before your race you go into a focused state. Before the race, you can feel your heart pumping before you’re even in the water.

“Whatever you’ve been training for the last six months is what you’re going to do in about 50 seconds.”

Blanchard, a three-time district champion in the 100 butterfly, has spent the last four seasons helping build statewide respect for the Bombers’ swim program. After five consecutive top-seven finishes at state — including third-place finishes in 2008 and 2011 — Richland has a team that can swim with the best of them.

“We stress tradition, and Andrew has been great for carrying things forward,” Bombers coach Kathy Piper said. “He’s grown up right before our eyes.”

For the last four years, few have been able to match Blanchard, who has followed in the footsteps of former Bombers greats Cody Roberts, Tyler Pickett, Nick Connors and Eric Blanchard, Andrew’s older brother. Connors won a state title in the 500 freestyle last season, but Roberts won three — one in the 100 backstroke and two in the butterfly — between 2008-09.

“Cody was a flyer like I am,” Andrew Blanchard said. “He was exceptional. He set a state record (47.81) his senior year that’s still holding. I wanted to get as close as I could to his time.”

Blanchard’s best of 52.34 is well off Roberts’ mark, but was nearly three seconds better than the next-best time in the area (Hanford’s Jeevan Philip clocked a 55.31).

Blanchard also has a chance to accomplish a rare feat at state — to make a top-eight finish in an individual event all four years. He has an astounding recollection of his state performances in the 100 fly. He can recite his finishing time in the state final, for each of the last three seasons, right down to the last tenth of a second.

“I like to memorize people’s times. I can look at someone’s time once and probably memorize it.,” he said with a smile. “My freshman year I took eighth place in 54.86 (seconds). Sophomore year I swam 53.70 for fifth. My junior year I was fifth with a 52.70.

“This year I hope to be third with a 51.50. That’s my goal.”

He doesn’t hold much hope of a state title though. Not with Eastlake’s Edward Kim in the water.

“You never know what can happen. (Kim) could have a bad start or get DQ’d (disqualified),” Piper said. “We just want to stay within ourselves.”

Blanchard hasn’t decided yet exactly where he will attend college, but he’s leaning toward Pacific University (Forest Grove, Ore.).

“They told me if I went there I’d be a strong asset to the team,” he said. “That would be exciting.”

More exciting is the prospect of finishing his high school career with another podium finish in the 100 fly.

“The stress relief is one of the greatest joys of being an athlete,” he said. “Working so hard for that long, and then achieving your goal. It’s like, ‘I finally did it.’ ”

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