|2004. 1.18 Ann Arbor News
Koba puts on quite a 'Sho'
Elite Japanese transfer leads Pioneers to two victories
Sunday, January 18, 2004
BY COREY ROEPKEN
News Sports Reporter
They often don't know what he is saying.
More often, he doesn't know what they're saying.
But one thing is clear - the Pioneer High School boys swimming team is ecstatic Sho Koba is around.
Koba, a sophomore freestyle specialist, moved to the United States from Japan in March when his father was transferred for his job with Toyota. The culture shock Sho has found since arriving is just as big as the impact he is having on the two-time defending state champion.
One of the top junior swimmers in Japan, Koba is one of the better sophomores Pioneer has ever had, coach Denny Hill said. He showed just how good he is on Saturday during a tri-meet with Dexter and Toledo St. Francis De Sales. Koba won one individual event and anchored two winning relays as the Pioneers defeated Dexter 126-60 and St. Francis 130-53. Dexter, led by outstanding swims from returning state champion Bryan Vessels, beat St. Francis 93-90.
"(With Koba) now we have a shot at beating Holland. Before he came, we didn't have a chance," Hill said. "They are still ahead of us, but now we're not so far behind."
Koba speaks little English, and his teammates cannot have extended conversations with him. That has not kept them from embracing him as one of their own. After Saturday's meet, senior Craig Pfister walked out of the locker room with his arm around Koba, who was all smiles.
"He gets the basic idea of what you're saying, but after that you have to use small words," Pfister said. "We often wonder what he's thinking, but he has a good sense of humor."
Koba opened the meet with a time of 21.67 seconds in the freestyle portion of the 200-yard medley relay to give Pioneer the victory. Four events later, he won the 50 freestyle in 22.23 seconds, more than three quarters of a second below the Division 1 state cut. His split on the anchor leg of the 200 freestyle relay was 21.84 seconds.
"He's a huge addition to the team," Pfister said. "We're very happy to have him."
Koba did lose a race on Saturday, and it was Vessels who beat him. Both set the water on fire with their performances in the 100 freestyle, but it was Vessels' 48.2 that was just ahead of Koba's 48.28. Both times are 1.8 seconds faster than the Division 1 state cut.
"That helps my self-esteem a lot going into the rest of the season," Vessels said.
Vessels also won the 100 backstroke by more than 4 1/2 seconds. He said his goal is to repeat his Division 2 state title in the backstroke and finish in the top three in the 100 freestyle while leading the Dreadnaughts to a top-five team finish.
Corey Roepken can be reached at (734) 994-6812 or e-mail at email@example.com