Lakeridge High School water polo coach Aukai Ferguson is on the move.
With the departure of former Newberg girls and boys coaches Cari Blanchard and Jake Kinne, the Tigers found their new leader for both squads in Aukai Ferguson, a seasoned coach with decades of experience and a passion for growing the sport.
Longtime coach Jim McMaster will continue to lead the Newberg High School teams, while Ferguson will be in charge of the club side.
"I'm good friends with Matt Bayha, the development coach at Newberg," Ferguson said. "We had coached together almost 20 years ago at another club, so I was familiar with their situation having lost Cari Blanchard and Jake Kinne as their club coaches. They were going through the interview process and it was moving a bit slow for them. My situation at my previous club was rather complex with the pandemic, so I saw the Newberg position there as something that would be appealing for me personally."
On the deck, Ferguson will be working primarily with the high school-age club players, but he and Bayha will collaborate in working with the younger athletes as well. They hope to grow the program and add participation in polo, which has dipped in recent years as more sports options have become available in a growing Newberg community.
"I saw the Newberg position there as something that would be appealing for me personally."
— Aukai Ferguson
"I've been coaching now for 30 years," said Ferguson, who has coached high school teams for more than a decade (most recently at Lakeridge High School in the 2020-21 school year) and served as men's coach at BYU-Hawaii in the early 2000s. "I've been involved with a whole bunch of different water polo clubs and high school teams … (and) I've been involved with Olympic development for water polo as well."
Ferguson grew up in Hawaii and met his wife, Heidi, there while both were involved in professional and Olympic-level water polo programs based on Oahu. Both their children — a son and a daughter — played water polo through the Olympic development program, so Ferguson said they are "a water polo family."
Ferguson's philosophy as a coach is slightly different than McMaster's, but they both have a strong desire to compete and win at the highest level.
"Jim McMaster is a bit more of a task-master than I am and I've known Jim for over 20 years," Ferguson said with a laugh. "We coached together back in 1995 at Olympic development. I've always admired him and he's always gotten the most out of his players talent-wise. The way we differ is this: today's kids have a lot more distractions and a lot more opportunity to be distracted. It isn't a farm community where you say, 'Hey, you want to be champion? Come play water polo.' There are just a lot more options now for kids in sports and I'm dedicated to growing the program while making it even more fun while they're learning."
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