Coaches in prep sports are always hopeful that their student-athletes can be peaking when state tournament time rolls around.
With that in mind, it’s little wonder why veteran Harper Creek High coach Corrin Popps is one very happy mentor heading into Friday’s and Saturday’s MHSAA Girls’ Swimming & Diving Championships.
Thanks to a late-in-the-season surge, specifically at the SMAC East championships a couple weeks ago, the Beavers will have competitors in 11 of the 12 events at this weekend’s Division 3 finals at Eastern Michigan University.
In total, the Beavers will have 10 athletes competing in Ypsilanti.
“This is probably the best and largest group Harper Creek will have at state since the format changed from Class A and Classes B-C-D to Divisions 1, 2 and 3 in 2000. We’re pumped up, we’re really excited … and we’re hoping we can do a great job again at state like we did at the SMAC meet, with all of our girls living up to their potential all at the same time,” Popps said.
“I mean, at the SMAC meet, I’ve been coaching over 25 years, and it had never happened before that every one of my kids — every one of them — went the fastest they ever had all at one time. All 23 girls were on the same page. It was an amazing, profound experience. We had several state qualifiers come out of that meet, we’re now seeded highly in a number of events for state with several opportunities to earn (top-16) all-state medals … and now all the girls have to do is follow and keep that momentum going.”
Harper Creek’s highest seeds are a couple of fourths: The 200 medley relay unit of sophomore Kara Popps, senior Tabea Niemarkt, junior Courtney Gilmore, junior Madison Vaive, senior Brianne Pajak, junior Whitney Durham and freshman Sophie Marshall that goes in with a 1:55.02 (four of those seven will race in the event); and coach’s daughter Popps in the 100 backstroke, where she goes in with a best of 1:00.37 that came at the SMAC meet (which broke the 1999 school record by two seconds).
Then, there’s the sixth-seeded 200 freestyle relay of Vaive, Popps, Durham, Marshall, senior Audra Knapp and Gilmore (1:44.28); and junior Nicole Gilbert in 1-meter diving (Gilbert finished seventh at state last year, 10th as a freshman, and was second at Tuesday’s regional at East Grand Rapids).
“The first event is the 200 medley relay, and I’ve just got a feeling that if they get off to a great start, it could get those dominoes falling forward. If that first group starts out fast, then hopefully everybody will get it into their heads that they can go fast, too,” Popps said.
“And if that happens, this could be one of Harper Creek’s best state meets ever.”
Also for the Beavers, who finished 22nd last year at state, Niemarkt is seeded 13th (2:20.53), Gilmore 26th (2:24.63) and Knapp 32nd (2:25.62) in the 200 IM; Vaive is 18th in the 50 free (25.61); sophomore Aubrey Greenfield qualified again for diving; Niemarkt is 10th (1:02.77) and Pajak 21st (1:04.39) in the 100 fly; Vaive is 22nd (56.48) in the 100 free; Marshall is 25th (5:42.06) and Durham 27th (5:42.73) in the 500 free; Gilmore is 17th (1:13.79) in the 100 breaststroke; and Popps, Durham, Marshall, Niemarkt and Knapp are 15th (3:54.54) in the final event, the 400 free relay.
Aside from Harper Creek, student-athletes from Lakeview and Marshall are also in this weekend’s state meets (Battle Creek Central in D-1 and Albion in D-3 have no state qualifiers). Following is a look at Lakeview’s and Marshall’s state-meet entrants.
At Oakland University, coach Kyle Lott’s Spartans – once again winners of the SMAC East – have four girls competing in six events.
Lakeview’s seeds are 16th in the 200 medley relay (1:53.48) with sophomore Jenny Reimer, junior Brooke Rowe, sophomore Anna Moore and junior Mina Kukuk; 27th in the 50 free (25.34) with Kukuk; 30th in the 500 free (5:22.80) with Kukuk; 14th (59.94) with Moore and 33rd (1:02.20) with Reimer in the 100 back; 16th (1:09.31) with Rowe in the 100 breaststroke; and 24th (3:50.04) with Kukuk, Rowe, Moore and Reimer in the 400 free relay.
Lakeview finished 21st at state last November.
MORE DIVISION 3
Coach John Hamlin’s Redhawks have six swimmers in four events.
Marshall’s qualifiers: Freshman Taylor Kams, sophomore Anna Sitar, junior Jessica Bush, senior Gabi Graves, sophomore Brooklyn Tobias and junior Monica Lubis, 27th seed in the 200 medley relay (2:02.00); Bush, Tobias, Karns, Graves, Lubis and Sitar, 25th in the 200 free relay (1:47.51); Karns 36th (1:05.78) in the 100 back; and Bush, Graves, Karns, Lubis, Sitar and Tobias, 19th in the 400 free relay.
The Redhawks finished 23rd at state last season.