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Warrior triple jumper among best in the nation

Ricky Blake was already one of the best triple jumpers in the state last season as a sophomore, placing fourth in the state outdoor championships in May.

Blake and his coach at Nansemond River, Franco Britt, were sure all the work he had put in during the ensuing seven months would pay off during this indoor season.

“Before this, we were looking to be one of the top two in the state,” said Britt about his standout junior.

“This” was a huge triple jump by Blake on Jan. 8 at the Southeastern Invite indoor meet in Hampton. “This” was a 48-foot-2 mark by Blake that was nearly three feet longer than his previous personal best and at the time was the top triple jump in the country this season at the high school level.

Since then, a senior in Pennsylvania, Carlton Lavong, surpassed Blake’s mark with a mark of 49-foot-8 on Jan. 9. According to a national ranking on milesplit.us, the next-best triple jump by a Virginia athlete, Dinwiddie’s Quintaze Jackson, is 46-foot-11.5 and Blake is the only junior in the top 12 in the nation.

Blake is a veteran track athlete, but somewhat of a newcomer to the triple jump. Blake’s been active in AAU track events since he was six years old. He’s been with clubs in Portsmouth and Suffolk, and even competed unattached, or without belonging to a team, from age 12-15.

He started out as a long-distance runner, running the 800 and 1,500 meters, but then moved toward sprint races. He was introduced to the triple jump at age 14 and quickly was jumping just over 38 feet. Within a year, Blake was past 43 feet.

“Ricky’s one of the best at the three phases of triple jumping that I’ve ever seen,” Britt said.

“At meets, other coaches call over their athletes and say, ‘that’s how you go through the three phases,” Britt said. “At the (high school) first meet I saw him jump, I saw his natural talent. Now with a little work, it’s just paying off.”

“Getting each phase right, getting the technique right, that’s what really gets it. And focusing, you’ve really got to be focused,” said Blake.

On Blake’s big jump at the Southeastern Invite, Britt said he was still two feet behind the board on his takeoff. Hit everything perfectly, and Britt thinks Blake could break the 50-foot barrier.

“That’s very rare. Last year, only two people got 50 feet,” said Britt.

Out of the two high school athletes who made jumps of 50 feet or more, one was Justin Hunter of Ocean Lakes, and he’s a senior this season. Hunter’s best jump this season is 46-foot-7, but mainly because of Hunter, Blake and Britt know they still have a ton to do leading up to the regional and state championships coming up in late February.

Practicing during the winter is sort of a day-to-day matter. On “semi-warm days,” said Blake, he can get out and practice on the football field.

Most days though, practice takes place in the weight room and the hallways of the high school. “Bound around the school” is the main part of Blake’s training.

Blake literally bounds, or repeats the first phase of his triple jump, all the way around the first floor of Nansemond River.

“He goes as high as he can all around the bottom part of the school. If he stays on his toes and bounds as far as he can, he’s guaranteed to get out there,” Britt said. “For Ricky’s it’s all about just putting it all together.”

There’s a lot of work in the weight room and on most days, a 20-minute run on the treadmill.

Plenty of schools knew about Blake before the last couple weeks, said Britt, but telephone calls and questions from college coaches have noticeably picked up since then. Blake’s also earned invitations from the Nike Nationals and National Scholastic Championships since then.

Unfortunately, the two national meets are on the same weekend. “We’ll have to put them in a hat and draw,” said Britt.

Before that, there’s plenty to focus on with district, regional and state championships.

“Now there’s probably more pressure on me, but I like it and I do better when I know I have to do something,” Blake said.

Blake is confident he’ll be ready for each meet. He knows he’ll have the same attitude for each one.

“My coaches always have told me, ‘go hard or go home’, if you don’t do that, you might as well not even come out for the meet,” Blake said.