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Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week: Popp making waves for CdM

Corona del Mar High girls' swimming Coach Doug Volding played poker on a recent night with his longtime friend, former El Toro water polo and swimming Coach Don Stoll.

Volding and Stoll enjoy getting together to play poker. They go way back, as they were high school water polo teammates at Long Beach Poly.

And now each can say he has coached a super-fast swimmer from the Popp family.

"Why didn't you tell me you had Popp's daughter?" Volding said that Stoll asked him on that night.

Stoll coached Craig Popp, who still holds the school record in the 200-yard individual medley at El Toro in the early 1980s. Popp went on to swim at Cal.

Now it is Craig's daughter, Meagan, who has been making waves in Orange County swimming since transferring to Corona del Mar High from the Chicago suburb of St. Charles, Ill., last June.

There are definite parallels between father and daughter. Meagan swims club for the Irvine Novaquatics, like her dad did. And Saturday night at Riverside City College, she is swimming the 200 and 500 freestyle events at the CIF Southern Section Division 1 finals, which she said her father also did when he was a junior.

"It just kind of happened that way," Meagan Popp said. "I'm kind of following in his footsteps."

Craig still lives in Illinois for now, running his orthopedic surgeon practice. Meagan lives in Newport Beach with her mother, Linda, who was herself a swimmer and gymnast growing up in Ohio. But Craig comes to California often to watch the family's only child swim.

"He always is supportive," Meagan said. "No matter how I swim, he always brings up the positives in my races. He always says to just have fun, and I think that's really important when you go to meets, just to relax and have fun."

Craig will be there Saturday night, when Meagan hopes to help CdM to another fast finish at CIF finals. Last year, the Sea Kings placed second.

Meagan Popp, the Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week, certainly has made her mark at CdM. Last week, she won two events and was on two winning relays at Woollett Aquatics Center as CdM won the Pacific Coast League for the first time in eight years. One of the event wins was the 100 backstroke, which Popp never swims in club. But she know CdM needed the points in the event. She finished strong, touching first in 58.45 seconds.

"I knew that the points were going to be close," Popp said. "I just wanted to make sure that my team had a good spot going into the last relay, into the breaststroke. I had many trials and tribulations throughout the season doing backstroke. I never do it during club season. I feel like I learned a lot, and I applied it all during that race at league finals, and it paid off."

Popp was in fourth place when she passed the spot where Volding sat during the final 25 yards. Yet, she somehow found a way to win the race.

"She can do anything," Volding said of his versatile junior. "She's a potential record-breaker in just about everything ... The strongest lineup had her in the backstroke. I just didn't have any idea she'd go a 58."

Popp also won the 500 free in the meet and set a school record in the medley relay with Nicole Lin, Stephanie Samudro and Maddie Musselman (1:47.93). She shared girls' swimmer of the meet honors with Samudro and Irvine senior Emily Jiang.

But Popp wasn't done setting records. At the Division 1 preliminaries Thursday morning, she swam school-record times in the 200 free (1:49.77) and 500 free (4:50.71). The former mark broke Ally McCormick's record from last year, while the latter topped Lexi Shue's mark from 2004.

Both times also were personal-bests for Popp, who appears primed to go even faster in finals. She qualified fourth for finals in the 200 free and third in the 500 free.

She's done it while balancing a challenging academic schedule. Popp took three Advanced Placement tests in six days, finishing up with U.S. History on Wednesday.

"It's been a busy two weeks," Popp said. "I worked really hard to study for all of them, so I was pretty confident going into them."

After Saturday night, Popp's junior high school swim season will be history. But she will be even more of a leader next year. Volding said that of his 20 varsity girls' swimmers, 18 project to return next year. CdM only loses Samudro and Marina Coskinas to graduation.

"She's a great kid," Volding said of Popp. "She just gets in the water and does it."


Meagan Popp

Born: March 18, 1997

Hometown: St. Charles, Illinois

Height: 5 feet 7

Sport: Swimming

Year: Junior

Coach: Doug Volding

Favorite food: Pizza

Favorite movie: "Frozen"

Favorite athletic moment: Getting an Olympic trial cut in the 200 breaststroke in 2011 at the Junior Nationals at Stanford.

Week in review: Popp won the 500-yard freestyle and 100 backstroke as CdM won at Pacific Coast League finals on May 9. Popp also shared girls' swimmer of the meet honors with teammate Stephanie Samudro and Irvine senior Emily Jiang.

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