Connor Hoppe slapped the wall and immediately shot his eyes toward the Tokay High School scoreboard.
The groan from the large crowd that gathered around the pool deck told the Golden Valley senior all he needed to know.
Hoppe turned in the best 100-yard breaststroke of his high school career (53.06 seconds), but he entered the Sac-Joaquin Section Swimming Championships with the lofty goal of eclipsing the national mark of 52.92. Hoppe had to settle for a second consecutive title, a section record and national public school record.
He beat Maryland prep Andrew Seliskar’s time of 53.24 set earlier this year.
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“It’s definitely disappointing because I came into the race with one goal in mind,” Hoppe said. “At the same time, I have to keep things in perspective and look at the positive side. I wanted to break 53 seconds, but I still won the race and set a couple records. It was a good day.
“It’s just crazy that this was my final high school race. When I think back to how far I’ve come and not being able to crack a minute as a freshman, I’m proud of what I was able to do.”
The race capped an emotionally taxing week for the Cal-bound Hoppe, who also finished fourth in the 50 freestyle. The senior was ruled ineligible last week for violating the section’s rule on club swimming participation. Hoppe and his brother, Cameron, won their appeal of the ruling on Monday and were cleared to participate.
“It’s definitely been a crazy week,” Hoppe said. “From not being able to swim to the suspense of waiting for an answer.
“I’m grateful that I got this opportunity, and I’m thankful for everyone that helped get me here.”
Hoppe wasn’t the only local swimmer to top last year’s results.
Gregori’s Katelin Britton finished sixth and seventh in the 100 and 200 freestyle races. Britton swam a 52.13 in the 100 and went 1:53.11 in the 200.
Ripon’s Emma Lewis took seventh in the 50 free and was sixth in the 100 free consolation final. Teammate Corey Winter finished fifth in the 100 backstroke consolation final, and Zach Scudder was seventh in the 100 breast.
The Pitman girls placed sixth in the 400 free relay consolation final and eighth in the 200 consolation final.
Coach Kit Gratton said the Merced swim teams capped an excellent season with a respectable showing at the championships.
The Bears opened the day with a bang, finishing fourth in the 200 medley relay. The quartet of Brandon Villegas, Isaac Santana, Matt Cagle and Josh Fluetsch combined for a time of 1:38.39, three-hundredths of a second out of third. Golden Valley finished eighth.
The Merced boys also finished fourth in the consolation 200 free relay, behind Atwater’s second-place finish and eighth in the 400 free relay.
The Merced and Atwater girls were together in the 400 free relay, finishing third and fourth in the consolation race. The Atwater boys also turned in a sixth-place showing in the 400 free relay consolation final.
Fluetsch had two solid finishes in the 200 consolation and the 500 championship. Fluetsch was slightly off his school record pace from the day before, but still finished sixth in the 500. Santana finished eighth in the 100 breast and Villegas was eighth in the 100 backstroke consolation final.
“At this level, you sometimes have to overachieve on the first day just to make it to the second day,” Gratton said. “Our boys swam the lights out (Friday), but were more consistent (Saturday). We weren’t the only ones. There were plenty of teams that were a little more pedestrian with their times (Saturday).”