Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

May 1, 2013

Union's pursuit pays off with Blankenship

Senior key in Tomcats' title run

Rocky Stanley
The Independent

ASHLAND — In recent years, Nick Blankenship has watched area golfers such as Jared Flanery, Dagan Abdon and three of his Ashland teammates join the college ranks.

Now it’s his turn.

Blankenship signed this week with Union College, an NAIA school located in Barbourville, Ky. The Bulldogs compete in the Appalachian Athletic Conference.

“They actually were the first college to reach out to me,” Blankenship said. “Their coach (Eric Wyrick) stayed in touch. I knew they were interested, and that meant a lot. I think I can do well down there.”

Wyrick and assistant Anthony Carruba attended the signing at Ashland Blazer.

Blankenship, whose strong academics figured into his scholarship package, has been keeping tabs on Union’s golf team throughout his final high school year.

“They are getting to where they are competitive in their conference,” he said. “I think two of their players were in the top 100 in the country for NAIA.”

Union placed fifth among nine teams at the AAC men’s golf championships last month in Winchester, Tenn.

“I’m really excited,” Blankenship said. “Ever since I started playing competitive golf, this has been a goal. I watched the older guys like Jared and Dagan go off to college. Then it was guys off our team.“

Blankenship, who finished in the Top 25 of the state high school points list as a senior, becomes the fourth Tomcat golfer in three years to move on to the college level. Kelly Porter and Drew Rothenstine signed with University of Pikeville in 2011, while Jeffrey Meade is winding up his freshman year at Transylvania.

With that kind of firepower, Ashland has made four consecutive State Tournament appearances including three regional championships. Nick has been a part of them all, sharing the experience with father/coach Bob Blankenship.

“Nick got to play at state four years straight, that’s pretty rare,” Bob said. “I hope he understands how fortunate he was to be able to do that, and I think he does.”

The elementary school principal is retiring from the school system and from coaching, which will allow him time to travel to some of Nick’s college tournaments.

“This is an opportunity for him to continue playing,” Bob Blankenship said. “He and I have been doing this since he was about 3.”

Nick made his first birdie as a 6-year-old while playing at Diamond Links. He began competing on the old Tri-State Junior tour when he was 10.

“His first tournament was at Guyan Country Club (in Huntington) and it went to a playoff,” Bob recalled. “Nick was tied in his age group with a girl who ended up playing college golf. He won, thank God.”

Golf, Bob continued, has been a bonding experience for them through the years, even if father coaching son comes with challenges.

“It can be tough,” Bob said. “It was probably tougher on Nick than me. Overall, I enjoyed it. There are so many great memories. I told Union’s coach, ‘I’m glad you are coaching him, because the last four years he had to listen to me.’”

Nick won the Bellefonte Invitational last August as the Tomcats got off to a fast start and carried it through another regional title, despite losing three key players from the previous year. During the summer, Blankenship earned Player of the Year honors in the Eastern Kentucky Junior Association’s boys grade 11-12 division.

With a strong high school and junior golf foundation behind him, Blankenship is looking for continued improvement as he transitions to the college game.

“My dad and I both believe I have not reached my peak,” Nick said. “There are areas I need to improve. With the strict regimens ahead, I will be able to get there.”

ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at rstanley@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2671.