Sierra Drake, of Desert Vista, swims the 200 IM during the Brophy Invitational swim meet on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012.

[David Jolkovski/AFN]

Swimming teams spend a lot of time with each other at invitationals on the weekends that seemingly drag on for hours and that doesn’t include the bus rides there and back.

The competitors are not in the pool the whole time so there is a lot of down time. Practices can also provide some drawn out moments as there is only so much room in the pool.

It’s a good time for the coaches to create some levity and often times the Desert Vista staff seeks out junior Bailee Blankemeier.

“She has that quiet, dry humor and some one-liners,” Thunder coach Shawn O’Connell said. “There are some times we purposely try and get it to come out because she is so serious. Sometimes it is just a look she will give you.”

What O’Connell appreciates more is Blankemeier’s progression as she and the Thunder have been doing some good things after competing in the Brophy/Xavier Invitational over the weekend.

“Bailee has really worked hard to put herself in position to be on pace to pass last year’s best times already,” O’Connell said. “She is making steady strides and if she finishes strong it will be a great year for her.”

Blankemeier was the Tempe City champion last year in the 100 butterfly and 200 IM and appears to be in line to do the same again, but she is more focused on the final meet of the year.

“I want to finish fifth at state in both events,” said Blankemeier, who has had some contact from colleges like NYU. “I’ve been able to knock some time off and just need to keep getting better.”

Getting better is something the Thunder has tried to do since giving Xavier a scare in a dual meet on Sept. 12. Desert Vista lost 102.5 to 83.5 in a meet where the Thunder was leading at the halfway point.

The Gators, who have won 13 straight state titles, haven’t been pushed like that in a long time.

While getting close is a bit of a hollow victory, the fact that the Thunder competed without holding back anything, something that might have been there in the past, against an intimidating opponent wasn’t lost on O’Connell.

“I was impressed with our performance as a lot of our competitors stepped up and won a lot of close races in the first half,” he said. “If a couple of the other close ones went our way in the end we might have done it. We got their attention. It’s a small victory, but we didn’t approach it like we were huge underdogs.

“We went after them and had a shot.”

A couple of other individuals who have really energized the Thunder this season have been the Ankeney sisters, as junior Emily and freshman Annabella have performed well.

“They are making a huge impact on our success,” O’Connell said of the sisters whose top event might be the 200 free.

O’Connell said that Annabella is showing some leadership skills already and brings a bit of an edge to the team.

“Against Xavier she was in her lane in the 200 when she heard the (Xavier) girls talking about taking it easy and using it as a warm up,” O’Connell said. “She got out of the water and whispered in Cece (Kowalski)’s ear and we blew them away.

“She’s a fighter and really has a drive that a lot of freshmen don’t have.”

Ankeney’s feistiness and Blankemeier’s focus, with a little dry humor mixed in, just might be what the Thunder needs to make a run at the top three at state in a month.

“We’ve talked about how tradition carries a reputation and getting past that is the mental game,” O’Connell said. “I think we’ve shown we can do that. We are not supposed to beat Xavier, but that doesn’t mean we can’t. That’s the challenge.”

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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