Asked for her absolute favorite memory from the 2017 high-school swim season, recent Valencia High graduate Nikol Popov could’ve picked her CIF title in the 200-yard individual medley.
She could’ve picked her crown in the 100 breaststroke, too.
Instead, the University of Tennessee recruit pointed to a moment outside the pool. In fact, it came moments after her prep career had technically ended.
On May 13 at Riverside Aquatics Complex, Popov watched from the pool deck as the Saugus High boys team, which featured a few of her club teammates, made a furious surge toward the finish in the 400 free relay.
It wasn’t so much the drama that Popov soaked in as it was the nostalgia.
“I’ll miss the team and the atmosphere of high-school swimming,” Popov said. “I learned so much through it and have great memories and met a lot of great people.”
That, in a sense, embodies the 2017 All-SCV Girls Swimmer of the Year’s senior campaign, one defined by pure enjoyment and camaraderie.
As a junior, Popov skipped high-school swimming as she trained for the U.S. Olympic trials. She missed competing with the Vikings, especially on days she showed up to the Santa Clarita Aquatic Center for Foothill League dual meets or league finals.
The sacrifice was worth it, she said. It was necessary. But it amped her up all the more for one final run.
She wasn’t the only one who felt the energy, either.
“She’s happy to be back, and we’re obviously excited to have her,” Valencia junior Julia Wolf said of Popov after the Santa Clarita Valley Relays in March. “She’s a great girl and a great swimmer.”
Said Valencia coach Kathy Rosenast, “Her return did a lot for the team. Obviously her ability and her talent helped us, but her leadership and role modeling played a huge role for the younger kids. She’s really an All-American girl: beauty, brains and talent.”
Besides the two individual titles – the fourth and fifth CIF crowns of her career – Popov teamed with Wolf, Kaila Wong and Sonaly Wintermute to form a fearsome foursome in the relay department.
At CIF, the group took second in the 200 free relay and fourth in the 200 medley relay, both setting new all-time Foothill League records.
Valencia finished third at CIF as a team.
“It was so much fun,” Popov, who also set the Foothill League all-time record in the 200 IM (1:59.52), said afterward. “I love this meet. It’s always a great energy on the pool deck. … It was good to win some events for Valencia. It’s kind of sad because it’s senior year and my last one, but it’s good.”
Popov will now take her talents to Tennessee, where she looks forward to competing in the Southeastern Conference.
“It’s going to be tough and kind of scary,” she said. “But I’ll try and ride off of that and use that crazy energy toward my swimming.”
All-SCV girls swim team
Victoria Kirshner, Santa Clarita Christian, senior
The SCCS swimmer capped her Cardinals tenure with the fifth and sixth Southern Section crowns of her four-year career. At the CIF-SS Division 4 finals, she won the 50 free in 24.18 seconds and the 100 free in 52.86. Both times would have slotted her ninth in the respective Division 1 races. She’ll leave at the end of the month for the Merchant Marine Academy in New York.
Reagan Nibarger, West Ranch, freshman
The lone freshman on our All-SCV Girls Swim Team, Nibarger made a name for herself at Division 1 finals. She finished eighth in the 50 free and ninth in the 100 free. She was also part of two strong relays: the 200 free and 400 free, both of which finished second in consolation finals at CIF. At league finals, Nibarger took second behind Valencia’s Julia Wolf in both sprint freestyle races.
Alexa Skorus Neely, Canyon, senior
While Neely didn’t have as spectacular a CIF showing as she did last season, she still made her mark among the best swimmers in the country at Division 1 finals this year. The Cal Berkeley-bound senior took fifth in the 200 individual medley and 15th in the 100 breaststroke. At Foothill League finals, she took second in both the 200 IM and the 100 breast.
Sonaly Wintermute, Valencia, sophomore
Wintermute was a key contributor to Valencia’s third-place team finish at CIF finals. She finished sixth in the 100 butterfly and ninth in the 200 freestyle. She was also a member of Valencia’s second-place 200 free relay and fourth-place 200 medley relay, both of which set new all-time Foothill League records. At Foothill League finals, Wintermute doubled in the 200 free and 100 fly.
Julia Wolf, Valencia, junior
Wolf took a giant step forward this season, winning her first individual CIF title. Her 22.97 in the 50 free edged out Santa Margarita’s Anicka Delgado by .01 seconds for the CIF-SS Division 1 crown. Wolf also took fourth in the 100 free and second in the 200 free relay. She helped Valencia take fourth in the 200 medley relay. At league finals, she broke Abbey Weitzeil’s meet record in the 50 free with a 22.53.
Kaila Wong, Valencia, senior
The University of Alabama recruit did not repeat as a CIF champ in 2017, but she made Valencia a force to be reckoned with in Division 1. The 2016 100 breaststroke champ took fourth in the event this year and served as a quarter of Valencia’s two all-time Foothill League record breaking relays. She took sixth in the 50 free consolation final. At league finals, she took third in the 50 free and 100 breast.
Canyon – Mackenzie Krestul, junior
Golden Valley – Irene Chang, junior
Hart – Brooke Helgeson, junior
Saugus – Viviana Raker, freshman
Valencia – Christina Taylor, senior
SCCS – Lauren Froerer, sophomore
Trinity – Rachel Rackerby, sophomore