By DAVID LESNICK
The Daily Inter Lake
Flathead senior Jamie Bouda and Glacier junior A.J. Popp have always set the bar pretty high regarding their swim seasons, and careers.
And for both, the higher the better.
“I have always been competitive,” Popp said.
“It takes hard work to get to where I am. I think that (we’re both that way).
“I have my goal to get to the Olympics and his is college,” she continued.
“We push each other (in practice).”
And setting a steady course for the two standouts is Flathead/Glacier head swim coach Major Robinson.
“I have a great relationship with both of them and together we have been able to accomplish all the goals we have set,” he said.
“Both of them are very hard working and very talented and it has been such a privilege to get to coach both A.J. and Jamie.
“I have tried to establish my system and my philosophy in Kalispell and having these two buy in and succeed has helped motivate and propel everyone around them to be as successful as they can be.”
Popp started swimming when she was 3 and joined a swim team two years later.
“I’ve always loved the water,” she said, “swimming in the lake. I’m good in the water. Land sports, I’m not good at.
“I wasn’t very good at first,” she admitted. “It has taken a lot of practice over the years. I always liked the aspect you compete for yourself at the same time you compete as part of a team.”
Bouda dipped his toes in the pool when he was “3 or 4 years old,” he said.
“I originally wanted to be a diver, but you had to pass a swim test at school first to do that. I moved to Montana when I was 5. There was no diving in Montana.”
But that didn’t keep him out of the pool.
He did club swimming first, eventually tried football, basketball and baseball before diving back into the water fulltime.
“I got bored with it,” he said of swimming.
“So I tried other sports.”
But the water won out.
“It wasn’t like I had taken any time off technique-wise or conditioning,” he said of his two-year break from swimming.
“The goal for me was to go to college on a scholarship.”
That became a reality in the fall when he signed an athletic/academic scholarship with the University of Wyoming. Michigan State was his other finalist.
“Not a day goes by,” he said of still thinking about Michigan State.
“I loved it there (on my official visit). A Big 10 school, sports there are crazy.
“I liked the recreation (opportunities) better,” he said of Wyoming.
“I felt more comfortable with the team. The coach was outstanding. Dave Denniston was a NCAA champ in the breaststroke events. That’s what I will do primarily (at Wyoming).”
Popp has a longer list of schools, which includes Princeton, UCLA, Utah, Duke, Colorado State, New Mexico and Stanford to name a few. She’ll make her decision in November.
“I’m trying to figure out my official visits,” she said.
“I’m still pretty frazzled over that.”
But for now, both are concentrating on state.
“I’m not happy yet,” Bouda said after a practice session at The Summit last week. “I’ve still got work to do.”
Bouda will be a favorite in his two individual events — the 50 freestyle and 100 breaststroke — this weekend at the state meet in Great Falls.
Popp will contend for a state title in the 100 and 200 freestyle.
“I want the state records,” Bouda said. “I want to win state, but winning state is not enough. I want the records and the team to do well.”
The state marks he’s aiming for is 21.3 in the 50 freestyle and 56.3 in the 100 breast. Bouda holds the school records in both — 21.09 for the 50 freestyle and 59.22 for the 100 breast. His best ever in those events are 20.8 and 56.4 at Junior Nationals last December in Iowa.
He also holds school records in the other six individual events — 100 (46.09), 200 (1:44.3) and 500 freestyle (4:50.1), 100 butterfly (52.3), 100 backstroke (53.9) and 200 individual medley (1:57.5).
Bouda has swam on three relays, but his name is not in the record column for any of those.
“It would be pretty cool to have all the school records,” he said. “If I had just one, or two (relay records), I would really be super impressed.”
It’s those state times, however, that he’s fixated on now.
“I want the state records,” he stressed.
Popp finished third at state in the 200 individual medley and fourth in the 500 freestyle as a freshman. She did not compete last year with the Wolfpack, instead focusing on her time with the KATS program.
She competed at Junior Nationals with Bouda, registering her fastest in both. She had a 1:52 clocking in the 200 free.
“The season has been good, I’m excited for state,” Popp said. “My goals are to place in the two races. I’m trying to place in the top three.”
She feels she has a realistic shot at winning both.
“It’s going to be a lot of work, but I think I can do it,” she said.
Popp broke all the individual school records at Glacier her freshman season and re-broke them all again this year.
She also has her name on the school records in two of the three relays — 200 and 400 freestyle relays. The one missing in the 200 medley relay.
“I’m really liking it,” she said of the high school season.
“It has a different feel (than KATS). There are more people and more people I know from other schools. It’s fun with the school spirit.
“Most of my goals were re-breaking my records and just having fun with the other swimmers.”
Now it’s just a matter of relaxing and completing the season on a higher note.
“If I think about it, I have a hard time,” Popp said of her state competition.
“So I’m just going there to have some fun with the swim team and enjoy the competition.”
As far as her competitors in the two events she’s entered at state ... “we’re all good friends,” she said. “We just get out (after the race) laugh and hug.”