These Wolverines Can Swim

It’s not an uncommon sight to see Taka and Hiroki Kaneko bowing to the pool after finishing a swimming race. The brothers, who moved with their family to Rye from Yokohama, Japan, in 2008, have maintained the respectful tradition of their native country while enhancing the already-talented roster of the Westchester Aquatic Club Wolverines.

Taka, a seventh-grader at Rye Middle School, and Hiroki, a fifth-grader at Osborn, are just two of the 20 Rye residents on Carle Fierro’s 163-member Wolverines. The team, part of the Metro League, is comprised of some of the youngest swimming talent in not just Westchester, but the entire nation.

Taka and Hiroki Kaneko

Taka and Hiroki, along with Midland third-grader Connor Popp, are among the most talented and accomplished on the roster for their ages.

The Kaneko brothers didn’t speak a lick of English upon their arrival, but fellow swimmers welcomed them with open arms while Fierro instructed the brothers using body language. “Swimming made them happy even though they could not understand the language,” said their father, Junichi Kaneko. The brothers have since passed the ESL.

Now 12 and 10, both Taka and Hiroki began swimming in Japan when they were 3. The boys love the sport because they see the rewards of their hard work. Taka is currently ranked No. 1 in Metro in the 100-meter backstroke, 100 IM, and 200 breaststroke. Hiroki is No. 1 in Metro in the 100 IM for his age bracket, and is part of the Wolverines’ 200 freestyle team that’s ranked fourth in the United States. They both excelled in the recent Speed Florida Gold Coast Winter Championships in Plantation, Fla.

Connor Popp, 8, the youngest in a family of three athletic siblings, began swimming competitively at Rye Golf Club when he was 5, and has won the high-point trophy in his age group for three-straight years. He first swam to emulate his older brother and sister, but quickly made a name for himself. Popp was a member of Badger Swim Club for two years and won the Metro Region 6 & under championships in 2009. Last November, he was part of the Wolverines’ 200 freestyle relay that smashed the old Metro record by almost three seconds. According to the USA Swimming Database, their record time of 2:09.37 was the fastest in that event nationwide in the past five years. Popp also has several top ten rankings in Metro Swimming.

Connor Popp

In addition to swimming, Popp plays local and travel baseball, travel lacrosse, tackle football, and is on two basketball teams – a CYO and AAU travel squad. His long-term goal is to be an Olympic swimmer or a professional football player.

The Kaneko brothers and Connor Popp are just a handful of Wolverines making their hometown proud. The other Rye participants are Caroline and Catherine Appleyard, Martina Cappellano, Isabel Castro, Kelly and Kevin “KJ” Delane, Holly and Noelle Johnson, Dillon Kelly, Eric Krieger, Leo McCordick, Barry, John and Margaret Mitchell, Charlotte and Kenny Nixon, Katie Popp, and Sawyer Turcotte.

— Melanie Cane

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