If Connor Hoppe had his way, his swimming career at Golden Valley High School would have lasted one day.
After his first practice as a freshman, he remembers getting into the car and telling his mom he didn’t want to swim anymore.
“I absolutely had no desire to swim,” Hoppe said. “It had been the first time I got back in the water in about two years. I didn’t know anybody on the team. I didn’t know my coaches. I told my mom I didn’t want to do it, but she told me to stick it out and see what happens.
“I did, and I’m very glad I did.”
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Hoppe finished his high school career by winning his second Sac-Joaquin Section championship and setting a national public-school record in the 100 breaststroke. Swimming also helped earn him a scholarship to Cal.
While Hoppe’s high school career ended, it seems to be taking off for Merced’s Mireya Ortega. She helped lead Merced to a fifth consecutive Central California Conference championship and set a school record in the 100-yard breaststroke with a time of 1 minute, 5.68 seconds at the section championships.
For their efforts, Hoppe and Ortega are the Sun-Star Swimmers of the Year.
Ortega emerged as one of the top swimmers in the CCC, winning the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke.
“This season was definitely fun,” Ortega said. “We did really good as a team. We had a great attitude. Coach Kit (Gratton) wanted us to really start strong because we started against Pitman and they were our main competition. We didn’t want to share the title.”
Ortega started swimming at the age of 5, and it always came naturally. She played other sports in middle school like basketball, soccer and volleyball but always felt more comfortable in the pool.
“I liked other sports, but I wasn’t as good,” Ortega said.
Ortega hopes to be more consistent next season. She’s practicing twice a day this summer with the Merced Skimmers and lifting weights three times a week.
“I want to break my own record next year,” Ortega said. “I want to continue swimming and hopefully make Junior Nationals.”
Ortega was at her best late in the season. She broke the school record – belonging to Hoppe’s older sister, Charis – in winning the frosh-soph 100 breaststroke at the section meet. She also placed sixth in the 200 IM (2:18.43).
Hoppe was the star of the meet. Not only did he break his section record in the 100 breaststroke, but his time of 53.06 set a national public-school record.
“It definitely is kind of weird where I am today from my freshman year, when I didn’t want to swim,” Hoppe said.
Hoppe originally was ruled ineligible to compete in the section meet after the section office was alerted he broke a rule by competing with his club team during the high school season. The decision was overturned four days before the meet, allowing Hoppe to defend his title.
“It was definitely crazy,” Hoppe said. “It was a little depressing. I really, really wanted to swim. I tried not to think about it, but it was always in the back of my mind. I tried to stay focused, but it was a distraction.”
After setting the record, Hoppe spent time signing autographs and posing for pictures with other swimmers.
“It’s happened to me before, but it’s pretty cool when someone asks for your autograph or to take a picture,” Hoppe said.
The next stop for Hoppe is Cal.
“I’m really looking forward to college,” he said. “I’m going to consistently train. I know I’m going to get better. I’m excited to see what I can do.”