By Gabriel Stovall
FAYETTEVILLE, Ga, — You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who’s surprised at Donna Blaum’s domination in a swimmingThe Starr’s Mill sophomore swimmer nabbed gold medal in the recent GHSA state swimming meet in the 50 free, 100 fly and 400 medley relay.
And the fact that her coach, Robin Huggins didn’t do much gushing about those first two accomplishments should not be taken as anything other than met expectations.
“With Donna it was just ‘congratulations,'” Huggins said when asked about her initial response after Blaum’s individual state honors.
“She’s a very, very humble young woman,” she added. “But we knew with her that it was just a matter of time before she’d get there. Both of her races definitely were hers. They were her races to lose.”
But she didn’t. In fact, she dominated them in similar fashion as she had when swimming those events in other meets with her club Southern Crescent Aquatics Team.
When Blaum emerged from the water as the top swimmer in her two individual events at state, however, she was elated, but also not surprised.
“It didn’t surprise me that much that I won in those events,” Blaum said. “I swim year around, and I have won those events in other state meets. So it was just a matter of finally being able to do it on the high school level. It just made me feel like all the hard work really paid off and that it wasn’t for nothing.”
Now that 400 medley relay? That’s a different story.
The Lady Panthers’ relay team made up of Blaum, freshman Kylee Bogumill, junior Sarah Thinney and senior Johanna Goldblatt exceeded even their coach’s expectations when they took home the gold as a team.
The team came into state seeded fourth and was “gunning for top three,” Huggins said. So you could imagine Blaum’s feelings when the team came away with a state crown.
“Couldn’t have been any sweeter,” she said. “They had considerable time improvements from Friday to Saturday. They made great exchanges. Donna led off, Kylie swam second and increased the lead. Sarah swam third but Johanna, our senior anchored it and brought it home. It was especially sweet for Johanna, being our senior and all.”
When it was all said and done, the emotions could not be contained.
“It was joyful,” the coach said. “It wasn’t happiness. It was just joy. There’s a difference. Because it was somewhat unexpected, it just made it sweeter. We were taking pictures and squealing like a bunch of little girls. It was just great to stand in the shadows of their limelight.”
It was just as satisfying with Blaum, also. In fact, Blaum will tell you that the relay win holds an even more special place in her heart than her two individual golds.
“Honestly, the relay team was more exciting and surprising,” Blaum said. “Two of the people on the team were club swimmers as well and swim year round, but it was really because Sarah Finney, she does not swim for a club team. But she pulled an amazing time. We were just surprised, and just really proud of everyone.”
Proud, but not satisfied. In fact, Blaum said that winning state this year put a taste in her mouth that can only be satisfied with, well, more winning — setting herself among the elite of Georgia high school swimmers.
Blaum’s posted time of 23.26 seconds in the 50 free was a little more than a second behind the state record time of 22.69 set by former Woodward Academy and current Virginia swimmer Caitlin Cooper. Her winning time of 54.66 in the 100 fly was a full two seconds behind Kathleen Hersey’s 52.44 state record time, set back in 2008.
And don’t think for a moment that these record times are not in her view.
“I’m pretty motivated now,” Blaum said. “I’ve got two more years to get stronger and faster for high school and to chase state records. That’s really what I want to do.”
Huggins doesn’t believe its farfetched to see more success from Blaum or any of her other swimmers. The first-year Starr’s Mill coach lauded the commitment and dedication of her entire team — many of them juniors or underclassmen returning next season — pointing out that swimmers put in just as many hours — if not more — as athletes in other sports.
“These kids are in the water five days a week for the most par,” she said. “Most of them are swimming for other club teams like SCAT, which is the big one. In addition, to practicing with their club teams, they still come in to the high school before school on one of the mornings to do something like explosive mechanics, and they get in the weight room.
“They probably spend as much time, or more time, at it as someone playing football or baseball.”
In other words, the swimming pool takes on a different connotation for full-time swimmers, than recreational swimmers. So that means no rushing to the hotel swimming pool for fun on family vacations for Blaum.
“I like to go to the beach or lake, but I really don’t get into the pool for fun,” Blaum said with a chuckle.
She comes from a swimming family. Her father did it, and she’s been doing it almost as long as she can remember. It was middle school when she decided she could be good enough to make it her full time sport.
And, as far as she’s concerned, she’s not even close to being done competing — or winning.
“I hope to do well in club swimming meets during the school offseason,” she said. “I want to keep competing the way I am now. Winning was really, really exciting. It was a great experience, and I hope to do it again a few times.”