March 1, 2011
When the Big West discontinued its swimming and diving championships last year, UCSB and Cal Poly applied to compete in the Pac-10 Championships, which would only have five men's swimming teams. One-year was granted to the two institutions because of the teams' history of success.
Like most of today's collegiate swimmers, Kevin Ferguson was a superstar on his club swimming team throughout his childhood.
But for Ferguson to advance into the college ranks, he wouldn't be able to get by solely on his natural athleticism. It would take much more.
In May of 2007, University of California, Santa Barbara head swimming coach Gregg Wilson was attending the Grand Challenge Invitational swim meet in Irvine, Calif., for recruiting purposes, and spotted a long, lanky guy swimming in the 200 IM. Immediately, he turned to the swimmer's coach and asked, "Who's that?"
Wilson saw potential in the young swimmer, and later began recruiting Ferguson because of what he and his fellow coaches saw in him.
"When we recruited him, we said, 'Look, we think you have a future, but you're going to have to work harder,'" Wilson said.
Ferguson accepted the challenge, and decided that he would make the move from his hometown of Sacramento to Santa Barbara.
"I definitely think wherever you go, you make the best of it, and I think I could have been happy at a lot of places," said Ferguson, now a junior. "But considering where I am now, I'm really glad I came here."
Ferguson experienced a wealth of success in his first two years as a swimmer at UCSB. He was named Big West Freshman of the Year and won the conference crown in three events in 2009. In his sophomore year, he was the Big West Champion in five events. But he knew that to take the next step, he would need to refocus and train like he never had before.
"He had a great freshman year, he did very well," Wilson said. "We really started seeing him come on last year, but he had never put in the summer work. To make the jump to the NCAA level, I believe you have to have a really productive summer."
During the summer of 2010, Ferguson did just that, and returned home to do two things: work and train.
"I went in on my own a lot, and did a lot of weight training, a lot of sprint series and circuits and stuff like that, which I think really helped me," Ferguson said.
The hard work has paid off, and his coaches have certainly taken notice. After making the conscious decision to put in the extra time in the pool and in the weight room, he's become an even more important part of the team.
"I think his approach to swimming has changed; training and competing have taken the biggest steps. It's just a switch [that went off]," Wilson said. "We've seen it mostly this year, he's gone from a good swimmer to a very good swimmer."
At the Arena Invitational this year, Ferguson placed first in the 100 free, fourth in the 100 breast, and sixth in the 50 free. Competing at the Short Course Nationals, he posted personal bests in the 50 free and 100 back.
"This is the first year that I've been hands-on coaching him, and he's got a great, wonderful disposition," Wilson said. "He has endeared himself to our team, and has taken on a leadership role."
Ferguson has embraced this leadership role, and believes that it's a position in which he should be.
"I think one of the biggest changes was coming from being a freshman and sophomore to being a junior," Ferguson said. "With no graduating seniors, I'm put into a position of leadership, and I think that's where I belong."
According to Ferguson, what made this transition so easy is the fact that he and his teammates are all extremely close. Spending many hours throughout the week together, his teammates became a major part of his social life. To entertain his teammates and coaches during downtime and road trips, Ferguson often shows off his skills in magic.
"A couple of weeks ago, he put on a [magic] show for the team, and he was exceptional," Wilson said. "And he knows how to work the crowd. He's a performer. He had us just saying, 'Whoa!'"
After being given a magic kit as a child, Ferguson began to practice what has become quite a hobby.
"Just performing for people, just being on stage is almost like being on the block, or finishing a race, but finishing the race for like 30 minutes," Ferguson said.
The UCSB Gauchos hope Ferguson can create some magic as they aim for success at the Pac-10 Championships, and Wilson said that Ferguson will play a big role in that success.
"He's become a very important part of our program, both in the pool and out of the pool," Wilson said.