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Originally published Friday, November 9, 2012 at 10:57 PM

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Relays bolster Newport title chances | 4A Girls Swimming

All three of the Knights' relays had strong performances in the prelims as the school pursues its first team championship since 1982.

Special to The Seattle Times

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FEDERAL WAY — Eric Bartleson got a visit from a familiar face at work Friday.

It was Jack Ridley, Newport's legendary former girls swimming coach, who came bearing gifts.

He handed Bartleson a large Hawaiian shirt in red, Newport's primary school color, as a symbol of good luck for the Class 4A state swimming and diving championships.

"I was talking to him last week and I asked him if he had any red and gold Hawaiian shirts," Bartleson said, "so he dropped it by today. He was going to give me grief if it didn't fit."

Ridley's Knights won six straight state girls titles between 1976 and '82. Newport hasn't won one since.

After a strong performance Friday at the King County Aquatic Center, Bartleson's Knights are in position to bring back the glory that has belonged to KingCo counterpart Skyline in recent years.

Newport and Richland appear to be in the best shape in the team race heading into Saturday's finals, with Skyline, Mount Rainier and Cascade still in contention.

Newport swam to eight top-five finishes in the preliminaries, including all three relays. The Knights capped the qualifying with the fastest time in the 400-yard freestyle relay.

Newport shined most in the relays and in the 50 free, where Lorea Gwo and Elisa Fang swam the fastest times. Gwo's time (23.64 seconds) was a personal best by more than a half-second and was followed by Fang (23.82) and Federal Way's Kenna Ramey (23.83).

"It's all a blur," Gwo said. "I've never swam that fast in my life. I still can't believe it."

Skyline, state champion the past three years, started perfectly with the top qualifying time in the 200 medley relay, but wasn't able to finish better than fifth the rest of the night.

Maria Volodkevich led the Spartans by qualifying sixth in the 50 free and 100 free and anchored the top-qualifying relay.

Richland, seeking its first state championship, had perhaps the most impressive night of the 4A teams individually as Lisa Bratton qualified first in the 200 individual medley and second in the 100 backstroke, and Nicole Weinman qualified second in the 500 free and third in the 200 free. The Bombers had two top-five finishes in the relays but qualified 16th in a third.

"We're excited for the 400 free relay on the end," Richland coach Kathy Piper said. "I like to save things for the end. It comes down the end. You'll always have to finish the meet. We're pretty solid. We got everybody through and we're just going to keep our heads buried tomorrow and stay focused and race."

Gwo capped the day by anchoring Newport's top-qualifying 400 free relay.

"I feel good about the first day," Bartleson said. "We got some great swims. The relays are all where I thought they would be and are ready to come back tomorrow. ... The 50 freestylers, that was a great swim."

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