By Caitlin Mangum
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Freshman swimmer Cole Cragin has been a natural fit on this year’s Longhorn team. The Friendswood, Texas native appears at home in burnt orange both in and out of the pool.
Yet, he almost did not step foot on the Forty Acres.
“I actually was not interested at all in UT originally,” Cragin said. “I wanted to get out of Texas. This was my last trip. It was kind of a last minute thing, but when I finally did come, I just knew that this was where I was supposed to be.”
After this change of heart, Cragin found himself back in Austin a few months later when he set a new national high school record of 46.75 in the 100-yard backstroke during the 2009 Texas UIL State Championships at UT's Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center. If he were to swim that time today, Cragin would currently rank second nationally in the event.
“Setting the high school record was probably the biggest point in my career and it is really cool that I did it in the pool I now swim in every day,” Cragin said.
However, Cragin’s career highlights do not end there. He was a four-time All-State selection, three-time Texas UIL Class 4A Swimmer of the Year and six-time Texas UIL Class 4A State Champion in high school.
Cragin also swam for the 2008 U.S. Junior National Team and was named the 2009 National High School Coaches Association (NHSCA) Swimmer of the Year.
Despite all of his early accomplishments, Cragin found the transition from high school to college to be a difficult one.
“It was kind of a hard transition, especially balancing school and swimming,” Cragin said. “It took me awhile to adjust. It is totally different, even training, because everyone is fast all the time. You cannot just take a set off or coast to a win. You just always have to be on your game.”
But according to Texas Assistant Coach Kris Kubik, Cragin has been able to take these difficulties in the wake of transition and use them as a motivator.
“Cole was an amazing high school swimmer in a state where swimming is well received, and he is used to swimming and performing in front of big audiences in terms of our state high school meet each year,” Kubik said. “I think the difference for Cole is when he first got here was that there were a lot of guys who were as fast or faster than him that he was training with. So coming from a background where he was always leading his lane in practice or winning every time he swam, he was suddenly in a pool, no pun intended, of talent with people who were ahead of him."
“There are one of two things that can happen: you just stay at the back of the lane and never progress or you set your sights a little bit higher and try to catch the people ahead of you, and Cole did that rapidly,” Kubik added. “He has been an amazing trainer thus far since he has been here.”
His training and motivation has led Cragin to a tremendous start his freshman year. His 100-yard backstroke time of 47.58 ranks him eighth nationally (No. 1 in the Big 12), which is a NCAA “B” cut.
“Cole swam very fast for us at our meet in December—a lifetime best,” Kubik said. “Cole is someone who potentially can be a big scorer at the NCAA level. I think that freshman year is a learning experience, but he definitely belongs. He is not out of the league of the elite level of backstrokers in the country.”
With the season coming to a close, the Longhorns have their sight on their 14th consecutive Big 12 Championship crown and 10th NCAA title, their first since 2002. Although it will be Cragin’s first collegiate postseason, the freshman is excited and ready to step up to the plate—or starting blocks rather—and prove Kubik right.
“Our focus as a team right now is the Big 12 Championship and NCAAs and I just want to be as big of a contributor as I can be,” Cragin said. “I’m excited to get in the water, compete at that level and see what I can do.”