COLUMBIA, S.C. - Jeff Poppell has been named the University of South Carolina head men’s and women’s swimming and diving coach, pending approval of the UofSC Board of Trustees, Gamecock Athletics Director Ray Tanner announced today.
Poppell comes to South Carolina from the University of Florida, where he was the head women’s swimming and diving coach during the last three seasons.
“I am excited to welcome Jeff and his family to the University of South Carolina and our athletics program,” said Tanner. “Jeff brings an outstanding coaching resume and a coaching philosophy that will greatly benefit our student-athletes. He knows what it takes to move our swimming and diving program to a championship level.”
“I’m both honored and thrilled to have been named the new Head Swimming & Diving Coach at South Carolina,” said Poppell. “On my visit earlier this week, I was absolutely blown away by the beauty of the campus, the highly ranked academic programs offered, as well as the strong commitment made by the Gamecock Athletic Administration to help build and sustain a championship caliber program at the University of South Carolina. We have a lot of work ahead of us in the future however I can’t wait to get to Columbia, meet the teams, and begin this exciting new journey.”
The Jacksonville, Fla. native, has been coaching for 27 seasons, including 13 seasons in the Southeastern Conference. He was the head women’s swimming and diving coach at Arkansas from 2006-12 as well as an associate head coach of the combined men’s and women’s program at Florida from 2016-18 and the women’s head coach from 2018-21.
The Gators finished second in the SEC Championships in all three seasons of Poppell’s tenure at Florida and had an overall dual meet record of 18-3. Prior to Poppell’s tenure as head women’s coach, the Gators finished 7th two years in a row (2017-18) at the conference meet.
This season, with only nine returning swimmers from last year’s squad, the Gators finished the SEC Championships with four individual medals, including Ashley McCool’s first-place finish on the 1-meter springboard. She was also named SEC Diver of the Meet.
The Gators would go on to finish 17th at the 2021 NCAA Championships, the highest finish for the program since 2015. Florida had the most NCAA qualifiers of any team in the nation this season.
At Poppell’s second SEC Championship in 2020, the Gators would reel in seven medals (six individual and one relay) and set 28 new personal-best swims and six new top 10 program swims over the five-day competition, falling short of first-place by just 28.5 points. For their effort at the conference meet, nine Gators (seven second team and two all-freshman) would earn all-SEC honors.
Due to the cancellation of the 2020 NCAA women’s swimming and diving championships, all 13 Florida invitees to the national meet earned College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) All-America honors. Florida’s honorees totaled 36 overall distinctions, led by Sherridon Dressel and Vanessa Pearl with three individual honors each. Taylor Ault, Leah Braswell, Kelly Fertel and Ashley McCool also earned multiple individual accolades. Bella Garofalo tied for a team-best four relay accolades with Dressel, appearing on UF’s 200 free, 400 free, 200 medley and 400 medley relays that earned All-American recognition after meeting the time standard set by the NCAA this season.
Poppell’s second regular season campaign was a special one, concluding 2019-20 with the program’s best regular season dual finish (8-1) since the 2007-08 season when the Gators posted an identical record. The team got off to one of the greatest starts by a Gator squad, beginning the season by winning their first eight duals, which marked the first time this decade reaching this feat.
In total, Florida had 22 swimmers and divers who would go on to win 171 events throughout the season, led by Dressel’s 27-win campaign. Freshman Talia Bates would make her presence felt immediately, producing the second-most event wins on the squad, producing nine individual wins as well as being a member of 10 winning relays.
Oct. 23, 2019 was a historic day for the Gators as they were voted the No. 1 team in the CSCAA Top 25 Poll after posting a 5-0 start, the first time the UF women’s program had been the top-ranked team since the 2010 National Championship squad.
Poppell instills in his team the importance of success in both the pool and in the classroom. During his time at Florida, the Gators would post a trio of new academic records, capped off by an NCAA Division I-leading 24 CSCAA Scholar All-America honors. The team would also set program records by placing 27 swimmers and divers on the SEC Winter Academic Honor Roll, as well as combining for a team GPA of 3.80 during the 2020 Spring semester. Six Gators would land on the conference’s First-Year Academic Honor Roll to cap off academic awards in Poppell’s second season.
During his first year as the women’s head coach in 2018-19, the Gators registered a 24th-place finish at the NCAA Championships to go along with the runner-up bid at SEC’s. His team ended the 2018-19 campaign with 31 top times on the all-time program swim list. Women’s swimmers and divers earned eight All-American honors, seven All-SEC accolades and two SEC All-Freshman nods. The Gators excelled outside of the water, tallying a team GPA of 3.54 and landing 17 on the CSCAA Scholar All-America team, 23 on the SEC Academic Honor Roll and eight on the SEC First-Year Academic Honor Roll.
The Gators finished the regular season ranked eighth-nationally with an overall record of 10-2, including a conference mark of 4-2. Poppell’s team showed up and performed at the SEC Championships, registering 13 top-ten program fastest times, highlighted by Pearl posting the fastest 200 IM and 200 breast time in Gator history. In total, seven Gators earned All-SEC accolades for their performance at the conference tournament.
Poppell sent 13 swimmers and one diver to the 2019 NCAA Championships at the University of Texas. Here, the Gators finished in 24th-place with 44 total points and received six All-American honors. Poppell led the charge on the improvement from the previous year, where the Gators finished 35th overall at NCAAs. The orange and blue earned spots in the A-finals at the national meet for the first time since 2016.
Poppell was hired as the head coach of Florida women’s swimming and diving team before the 2017-18 season.
In the 2017-18 campaign, Poppell coached Caeleb Dressel to his seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth National Championships in the 50 free, 100 free, 100 fly, and 200 free relay. Dressel set a new American, NCAA, US Open and UF record in the 100 free with a mark of 39.90 which surpassed the mark of 40.00 he set in the previous year. Dressel was named the SEC Swimmer of the Year and the CSCAA Swimmer of the Year, both for the third straight season. Under Poppell’s guidance, the Gators totaled 33 All-American honors from 11 different athletes. Under the tutelage of Poppell, Florida collected 10 First-Team All-SEC accolades as well as two second-team nods. Poppell helped Sherridon Dressel and Brooke Madden to achieve All-American Honorable Mention accolades.
In the 2016-17 season, Poppell helped coach Dressel to his fourth, fifth and sixth National Championships in the 50 Free, 100 Free and 100 Butterfly. His mark of 40.00 set UF, NCAA, American and U.S. Open records. Dressel took home his second-straight Co-CSCAA Male Swimmer of the Year award as well. Along with Dressel, Mark Szaranek won the 200 IM National Championship, the first of his career. Newcomer Maxime Rooney became Poppell’s first SEC Male Freshman of the Year after his performance in the pool. A total of eight athletes took home 31 All-American honors. Poppell coached 11 of the women’s swimmers and two divers into qualifying for the NCAA Championships. Seven of those 13 were making their NCAA debut and 11 of the 13 will return for competition this coming season. Under his direction, Autumn Finke was named All-SEC Second Team and Emma Ball earned a spot on the SEC All-Freshman Team.
Through four seasons at Gulliver Preparatory School and Gulliver Swim Club from 2012-16, Poppell’s challenge was to build winning programs from the ground level up. He quickly helped launch the program to an elite status after several swimmers established themselves as top national talents, including Jana Mangimelli, who placed 5th in the 200-Meter IM at the 2013 United States World Championship Trials and US National Championships, clocking a time that ranked her among the Top-25 in the world.
In 2014 and 2015, he led Gulliver Preparatory to consecutive 2A FHSAA High School State Swimming Championship titles in girls swimming after winning the school’s first-ever state championship in swimming in 2014. In 2015-2016, Poppell guided Gulliver Swim Club to its first-ever Silver Medal Award, which recognizes the Top-100 swimming clubs in the United States.
During his six years as the Head Swimming Coach of the University of Arkansas from 2006-12, he guided the program to its best performances in school history, which included a top-five finish at the SEC Championships and a No. 17 national ranking in the College Swimming Coaches Association of America national polls. The Razorbacks swimming and diving program began Poppell’s second season ranked in the Top-25 national poll and was ranked for five consecutive years.
Poppell coached 16 athletes who individually qualified for the NCAA Championships and helped ten of these women earn NCAA All-American honors. One of his swimmers, Yi-Ting Siow, a three-time Olympian, became the first Razorback swimmer to win back-to-back SEC titles, claiming the SEC championship title in the 200 breaststroke in 2009 and 2010. Siow’s fourth place finish in the 200 breaststroke at the 2009 and 2010 NCAA Championships represented the highest NCAA Championship finish for a swimmer in Razorback history. Her time of 2:07.73 was just seven-hundredths of a second behind the SEC record held by 1999 NCAA champion and 2000 Olympic silver medalist Kristy Kowal of Georgia.
During the 2010-2011 season, Chelsea Franklin finished seventh in the 1650 freestyle at the women’s NCAA Championships, earning All-American honors for the first time with a time of 15:59.05, which still stands as the Arkansas school record in the event. The 2009 NCAA Championships were highlighted by five different Razorback swimmers qualifying individually for the meet with four of the swimmers earning NCAA All-American status by finishing in the top 16: Yi-Ting Siow and Leah Pierce in the 200 Breaststroke, Katie Kastes in the 400 Individual Medley and 200 Butterfly and Stephanie Carr in the 1650 Freestyle. The 2008 NCAA Championships featured freshman Katie Kastes’ 9th place finish in the 200 Butterfly with the 6th fastest time recorded in the meet.
Coach Poppell had 10 swimmers qualify for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha, Nebraska. In 2009, Poppell served as the Head Women’s Coach for Team USA at the World Maccabiah Games in Israel. He was also a USA Swimming National Team coach from 2005-08, during which, he coached three swimmers who competed at the 2009 FINA World Swimming Championships in Rome, and two who competed in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. He guided two of his swimmers to three gold medals, one silver, two bronze, and three meet records at the Southeast Asian Games.
Prior to the University of Arkansas, Poppell spent 13 years with the Bolles School and Bolles Sharks in Jacksonville, Florida, one of the country’s most prominent high school and club swimming programs. At the 2006 Spring U.S. National Championships, he led the Bolles Sharks to a Top-5 team finish where the Bolles men’s 4x200 freestyle relay team won the U.S. National title and Omar Pinzon became the U.S. National Champion in the men’s 200 backstroke.
As a student-athlete at University of Georgia, Poppell was a four-year letter winner and team captain for the Georgia Bulldogs’ swimming team. He qualified for the NCAA Championships twice and was an Honorable Mention All-SEC and academic All-SEC honoree. He earned one gold, one silver, and two bronze medals while competing for the United States at the 1993 Maccabiah Games in Israel. To this day, the Bulldog program remembers his contributions to the team with the annual presentation of the Jeff Poppell Award for Leadership.
A 1993 graduate of the University of Georgia, Coach Poppell and his wife, Joanna, have two children, Jack and Jenna.